While no product can hold a candle to the top flowchart software on the market, SmartDraw VP certainly holds its own in our review. Though there are some major drawbacks in the help and support options (or lack thereof), SmartDraw’s intuitive design and incredible ease of use mean beginners will have only a slight learning curve. With solid feature sets of diagramming and organizational tools, as well as some outstanding graphic features and adequate text options, SmartDraw remains a solid contender in the top flowcharting applications, earning it the TopTenREVIEWS Silver Award.
SmartDraw lacks only a few of the main diagramming tools we looked for in our review. The most notable deficiency is the inability to add additional connection points to a figure. This is certainly a drawback when dealing with complex or custom flowcharts, but it should not present a problem with more basic designs, as there are multiple connection points already in place.
We also missed the presence of junction jogs, which indicate that two connectors have crossed unintentionally. Again, this will not be a problem if you’re creating simple diagrams, but it could make a more complex multi-step workflow diagram somewhat confusing. And the inability to create multiple text areas is unfortunate, though not as important as the aforementioned issues.
In all other respects, SmartDraw proved itself to be quite the powerful flowchart maker. You can rotate your figures, which is not as common a feature as you might expect. The automatic figure resize can be set to horizontal stretching, vertical stretching or both, a unique attribute in the products we reviewed. In addition, there is a text auto-shrink option for displaying large blocks of text, and it can be turned on or off.
SmartDraw offers a staggering 24 options for connector shapes, including right angles, straight lines, curves, lightning bolts, bevels and more. This is by far the greatest variety we found in any flowchart software we reviewed.
The symbol gallery includes 35 figure options, as well as six vector cookie-cutter shapes that you can add to a diagram. And if you decide, after creating a figure, that you want to change its shape, there are 24 options available to you.
Again, SmartDraw lacks just a few organizational tools, though only one is a major drawback. You cannot scale an entire diagram up or down in size. If you wish to change the size of your entire flowchart, you must change each figure, connector and graphic individually. This is a major design flaw, particularly if your workflow diagram ends up requiring more figures than you initially anticipated.
Fortunately, your canvas does automatically expand as you add more figures, which is helpful if you are creating a diagram without intending to print it. If you do want to print your flowchart, you can create it across multiple pages.
Basic organizational tools like layers, arranging objects within a layer and grouping objects together are available, though there is no container option. Automatic alignment and spacing options are available when you create a document or figure, but you can’t later go back and auto-align or auto-space an entire document. For manual alignment, you can turn the grid view on as a guide. Objects will snap to the grid, and you can set the snap point to the left side of the object or its center.
Comments and notes function as two separate tools for collaborative design and printing guides. And when it comes time to save your work, you can choose from the native file format, HTML format via the export command, PDF or any of the common image files. As a bonus, SmartDraw can also save your flowcharts as Word, PowerPoint, Excel or EMF files.
This is the area where SmartDraw truly shines. Though it, yet again, lacks a few notable features, it offers a number of completely unique tools that make up for these minor drawbacks. Missing from this flowchart maker are preset design themes, a clipart gallery and 3D symbols. The latter two are unfortunate, but not detrimental, since you can just import and embed your own images and graphics. And while design themes would be convenient, the same effect can be easily achieved by combining any of the existing 16 color schemes and 45 graphic styles, then saving them as templates.
SmartDraw’s most unique feature is its Google Maps integration, which means you can create flowcharts that give spatial directions with ease. This flowchart software also creates a number of other documents like floor plans, organizational charts and tables. You can add data charts (including a 3D option) to your flowchart, and it even offers some basic photo editing in the form of brightness and contrast adjustments.
For object effects, your options are literally without limit. In addition to the multiple styles of drop shadows, bevels, interior shadows, reflections, glows and glosses, you can custom-create parameters for any of these effects. In addition, gradients, textures and hatched patterns can be applied to lines or backgrounds.
We appreciated SmartDraw’s intuitive design and easy-to-understand buttons. The layout of the application window will be immediately familiar to anyone who has used the Microsoft 2010 Office products, as it is modeled very closely after Microsoft’s new tabbed layout. Each button is clearly labeled, and visual drop down menus help you know exactly what effect, style or shape you will get.
It’s fortunate that SmartDraw is easy to use because the help and support options are by far this flowchart software’s weakest link. There is an online email form, as well as a contact phone number and FAQs. The Training tab on the product’s website gives you access to video and written tutorials. And the help manual is extensive, at more than 220 pages.
But we had difficulty locating the manual, as it is a separate download that does not come with the software package. You have to navigate to the website’s support page, then find the Documentation link near the top of the page. The link to the PDF user guide download is visible from there. In our opinion, the guide should come with the software, instead of being a treasure hunt for the user.
The website lacks a user forum or message board, something we expected out of such an advanced product. On the other hand, we did appreciate the “Visipedia,” a comprehensive visual guide to various diagrams, accessed through the Training page.
Overall, SmartDraw VP is quite capable of designing beautiful flowcharts. The graphic tools are stellar, with solid text, organizational and diagramming tools to back them up. Its familiar design and incredible ease of use offset the annoying user manual download issues and mediocre options for other help and support. To be sure, this is definitely a flowchart software application worth considering.
SmartDraw has great graphic tools, including some create-your-own options.
The software lacks a few key help and support options.
This is an excellent product for those who are already familiar with flowchart design.