Microsoft has taken the lead in software design with its flowchart software, Visio. In terms of features and tools, there is very little that Visio does not offer. And what it lacks, it makes up for with unique bonus features found in few – if any – other flowchart makers. Pair these exceptional tools with an easy-to-use interface and a strong set of help and support options, and it’s no wonder Visio earns our Top Ten Reviews Gold Award for the best flowchart software. It sets the standard for the rest to follow.
Visio earns a perfect score for diagram features. Though it lacks 3D shapes, this isn't a feature that many programs include and generally is not needed for creating impressive diagrams and flowcharts. Besides, Visio has included many other tools you won't find in any of the other flowchart programs we reviewed, including expanding groups, real-time collaboration and the ability to create charts from a data source such as Excel.
Visio also stands out thanks to its unique master shapes tool. With this, you can create a master figure that works much like a master page in illustrator software. That is, you can create a figure with certain properties, then create other figures that are based on the master. When you make a change to the master, the change is reflected in all the figures that are based on it. This makes universal changes across a flowchart easy and worry-free.
Connectors join to figures via predetermined connection points, but you can add points anywhere on a figure manually for extra control. And the shapes of the connectors themselves can be changed to right angles, straight lines or curves.
The symbol gallery contains scores of figure shapes in every category imaginable. There are also rectangle/square and ellipse/circle cookie-cutter shape creators for user-drawn shapes. While you can’t change an existing figure’s shape once it’s been placed in the flowchart, replacing a figure is as easy as creating a new one and dragging or copying text from the old figure to the new.
Microsoft has included important tools in this flowchart maker. The grids and guides work beautifully. There are smart guides that appear when you're aligning items by hand, then disappear when you drop the item into place. The snap-to-grid function is available, and you can even adjust the strength, as well as what part of the figure (center, edge, etc.) snaps.
Visio’s lack of a clipart gallery was quite surprising. Without this option you will need to embed or import images and graphics from you own computer hard drive. Of course, the application does make up for this a bit with great spell check and thesaurus tools, which are standard in Microsoft products, but not necessarily in the world of flowcharting as a whole. There is also an automatic function that reformats the layout of your page, just in case things get a bit too convoluted.
As we expected, text and paragraph formatting options for your flowcharts are exceptional in this software – up to par with even the best word processing applications. As for visual design, we loved the themes, color schemes and graphic styles available. There are 30 themes to choose from that include graphic and color presets, or you can choose from one of the 33 color schemes or 16 graphic styles alone. If you want, you can create your own theme, color scheme or graphic style, then save it for future use. There are 16 object effects to choose from, and they can be applied to every figure within a document. To apply one of these effects to an individual figure, just use the graphic styles.
Perhaps the best part of these visual effects is that you can preview them before applying them to your document; just hover your cursor over the effect in question and your document will display as it would if you applied it. Remove your cursor from the effect and the document returns to normal.
You can fill objects or shapes with gradients, as well as with preloaded textures and patterns. For background fills, you can use a solid color, gradient or one of many preloaded sample images and designs. For connector line styles, you can adjust the weight and color, or choose from many dashed line styles.
Big companies often have convoluted help and support systems. While Microsoft’s isn’t the easiest to navigate, it is quite packed with options and features designed to help you. You can contact support staff directly via email, telephone or live chat. The website also offers FAQs and a user forum section where users can help each other. And in the in-application help menu, there are some video tutorials to get you started. The help manual itself connects to the online help database, though there are quite a few help articles available even if you don’t have an internet connection.
Despite lacking a few convenient tools, Visio remains the top contender and best option in flowchart software with its drop and drag feature, design editing tools and real time collaboration. Easy enough for beginners and advanced enough for seasoned pros, with a number of unique tools, Visio is certainly your best choice for creating flowcharts.
Visio has a nearly flawless feature set that includes tools like master figures and real-time collaboration.
A few graphic elements, like clipart and 3D shapes, are missing.
Visio's extensive features and intuitive design make it a great option for beginners and experts alike.