SmartDraw 6: The ‘Swiss Army Knife’ of Business Diagramming Software (updated)

SmartDraw 6 is the ideal program for first-time users to create a variety of business diagrams, including organizational charts, process diagrams, timelines and more. Yet it also packs a lot of advanced features for experienced users, and is an excellent value no matter what your diagramming needs.

SmartDraw 6 is the “Swiss Army Knife” of business diagramming software. Easier to use than competing programs like Visio, SmartDraw combines exceptional power and flexibility in a polished, easy to use and inexpensive package.

SmartDraw allows you to create numerous types of common business diagrams, including:

  • Process flow charts
  • Organizational charts
  • Concept maps
  • Timelines
  • Network diagrams
  • Floor plans
  • Basic engineering drawings
  • GANTT charts
  • Data flow diagrams
  • Decision trees
  • Mechanical diagrams
  • Maps

Unprecedented ease of use

SmartDraw 6 is aimed squarely at the needs of the casual business user. The program’s developers made SmartDraw easy to use from the get-go, starting with drag-and-drop placement of symbols and other elements into the drawing space. SmartDraw comes with over 50,000 symbols, templates and example files, plus you can download additional symbol and element collections from the company’s Website.

Another cool feature that helps first-time users get proficient with this program faster (and helps experienced users organize templates, symbols and other resources) is The SmartDraw Explorer. This window, located to the left of the main work area, offers drag-and-drop access to templates, symbols and examples that you can use as “starting points” for many types of diagrams. You can also import, create and store your own custom symbols and templates in the Explorer library.

“Smart” Symbols

SmartDraw’s drag-and-draw interface allows you to add any one of thousands of predefined shapes with a single click. Right-clicking on a symbol brings up a context-sensitive menu that allows you to customize its appearance and behavior in numerous ways, including border style and color, fill color, text alignment and much more. SmartDraw even allows you to control how a symbol will behave as you add text to it (expand horizontally, vertically, shrink the text to fit the symbol, etc.).

Connectors are easy to add between symbols, and can be easily customized in numerous ways using the right-click commands. SmartDraw Professional, the top of the line program, even allows you to create your own shapes with SmartDraw’s freeform drawing tools, and then use them as you would any other shape.

Handling of text fonts and styles is extremely flexible; you can even combine several fonts styles within a single shape. However, editing text properties isn’t as easy as it could be. The only way to do so is via a “text” drop-down menu. A text properties palette or text editing tools in the toolbar would make this feature much easier to use.

Automatic connectors speed the drawing process

One of SmartDraw’s most powerful features is the use of “automatic connectors,” which help you to create regular arrangements of shapes for organization charts, fishbone diagrams, network diagrams and flow charts. Automatic connectors are special line objects to which both shapes and other lines can connect.

For example, if you’re creating an organization chart using an automatic connector, you first drag the top box into the drawing space. Next, you drag and “snap” an automatic connector to the bottom of this first symbol. As you continue to drag rectangle symbols into the work space and position them beneath the automatic connector, it not only grows new links to which these symbols can attach, the connector also grows horizontally to accommodate the additional symbols and it spaces them evenly. This feature alone is a real time-saver, whether you’re an experienced or first-time user.

Another powerful feature of SmartDraw is its ability to transform any text or symbol in your drawing into a hyperlink – to another SmartDraw diagram, a Web address, a document or even another program. This enables you to organize the assets of an entire project, using SmartDraw as a gateway to any associated files, documents and Web resources.

MS-Office Compatibility

SmartDraw Professional is designed to be fully compatible with Microsoft Office programs. You can embed SmartDraw files into Word, Excel and PowerPoint files as OLE objects – which means the object is a live copy of your SmartDraw file, which you can continue to edit by double-clicking on it. You can also drag objects – such as Excel charts – from MS Office files into your SmartDraw diagrams, for even more power and flexibility. These image objects then behave just like any SmartDraw symbol.

Flexible Publishing Options

SmartDraw gives you multiple options for publishing your diagrams:

  • You can print them directly from SmartDraw,
  • You can distribute your SmartDraw files to others, and enable them to view your handiwork with a free SmartDraw viewer program,
  • You can export your diagrams to a number of popular graphics formats, and
  • You can embed them in MS-Office documents and files (more on that capability follows below).

In addition, SmartDraw makes it easy to publish your diagrams to the Web in three different ways. First, you can publish it to SmartDrawNetwork, a document hosting service that the company offers free to users of its software. You can export your drawings to Web-compatible image formats, including JPG, GIF and PNG. And you can export them to HTML files, so you can share them on your Web site.

All of this adds up to an amazing selection of powerful publishing options. You can publish and share your drawings in the way that makes the most sense to you and the project you’re working on.

Business Applications of SmartDraw 6.0

SmartDraw.com has clearly made a major commitment to helping business users get the most out of SmartDraw 6.0. The company’s Web site contains extensive resources on creating many types of common business diagrams, including:

Most recently, SmartDraw.com launched a new Business Process Management resource center, which provides a valuable overview of BPM, and how SmartDraw Professional 6.0 can enable it. This online resource center contains information on BPM standards and methodologies, business case studies, SmartDraw templates and examples.

Conclusion

Whether you’re an entrepreneur who needs to add a process diagram to a report – but has never used diagramming software before – or an experienced technical artist, you’ll find much to love about SmartDraw Professional 6. It blends ease of use, power and flexibility in a great package that just keeps getting better and better with each new release. SmartDraw 6 is available in a downloadable 30 day trial version from the company’s Web site at http://www.smartdraw.com. The Standard version of SmartDraw costs $69 – a bargain for the amount of functionality it offers! – while the Professional version is $129. If you aren’t yet convinced about SmartDraw’s value for the dollar, why not download a 30-day trial version and see for yourself?

The uses of SmartDraw are almost endless, as you can see from the company’s big list of examples. If your job involves any kind of business diagramming, I strongly urge you to try SmartDraw!

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