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Need to create diagrams, flowcharts, circuits, or other kinds of entity-relationship models? Microsoft Visio is without a doubt the best software for that, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best choice for you.

Visio may be the industry standard in the corporate world, but it comes with a huge drawback: it’s expensive ($299 for the standard version as of this writing). Can’t afford that? Then you’ll be happy to know that several open source alternatives exist for the low, low price of FREE.

We’re going to highlight the two best ones here, but if you don’t like them for whatever reason, you can scroll down to the bottom of the article for even more options to explore.

Diagram Creation With Dia

Dia has been the go-to Visio alternative for many years. What I like most about it is the first impression that you get when it launches: clean, simple, with an interface that’s familiar and easy to navigate. Quite reminiscent of Visio, in fact:

visio-alternative-dia-interface

At the bottom left, you’ll see that Dia starts out with a set of flowcharting symbols. This is great and all, but you can select other “sheets” from the dropdown menu if you want. Dia comes with all kinds of symbol sets, including circuits, networks, UML, and more:

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visio-alternative-dia-example

You’ll be able to create your first diagram in mere minutes. Drag-and-drop a few symbols onto the canvas, then connect them using the various types available in the toolbox: lines, zigzags, arcs, circles, curves, etc.

Dia also supports layers, making it a lot easier to manage complex charts, and moving elements between layers is as simple as hitting a hotkey.

visio-alternative-dia-editing

Snap to grid, easy resizing, text labels, image insertions — Dia has it all. Anything you can do in Visio can be done in Dia as well. The only real downside is that Dia can’t open Visio VSD files, but it can handle most other diagramming formats like XML, EPS, and SVG.

DownloadDia (Free)

The website for Dia hasn’t been updated since 2014, but don’t let that stop you. The app ran perfectly fine on my system running Windows 10 version 1607. No hiccups at all.

Diagram Creation With LibreOffice Draw

Have you heard of LibreOffice? As far as open source competitors to Microsoft Office go, you won’t find a more solid and robust alternative.

Back in 2015, LibreOffice received a big update that brought it straight into the limelight Is the New LibreOffice a Better Microsoft Office Alternative? Is the New LibreOffice a Better Microsoft Office Alternative? LibreOffice, a long-time contender of Microsoft Office, just received a makeover and important updates. After being held back by niggling bugs over the years, has LibreOffice finally found the winning formula? Read More . What used to be an okay-but-problematic office suite had started closing the gap — and in early 2016, it actually began to outshine Microsoft Office in some ways Is LibreOffice Worthy of the Office Crown? Is LibreOffice Worthy of the Office Crown? LibreOffice is the king of free office suites. It's unlikely to replace Microsoft Office in a business environment, but it's an excellent alternative for casual users. Here's what's new in LibreOffice 5.1. Read More .

LibreOffice is far from perfect, but it’s a respectable option for fans of open source software. The app that should interest you is LibreOffice Draw, the Visio counterpart in this office suite.

visio-alternative-draw-interface

LibreOffice Draw supplies two things for you: shapes and lines. You use the shapes to represent diagram entities, and you use the lines to connect them according to the entity relationships. It’s perfect for creating flowcharts, but you can do more with it if you want (like desktop publishing or PDF editing).

First you have to open the Drawing toolbar, which you can do through View > Toolbars > Drawing. Grid snapping is on by default, but you’ll want to change the snapping sensitivity by going to Tools > Options, navigate to LibreOffice Draw > Grid, change the values under Resolution to your intended grid size, and change the values under Subdivision to 1.

visio-alternative-draw-example

LibreOffice is surprisingly easy to use once it’s set up properly. You can draw shapes, connectors, lines, curves, symbols, arrows, thought bubbles, and even 3D objects. If you’re already using LibreOffice as your main office suite, forget Dia and learn to use Draw instead. The learning curve isn’t much worse at all, and you can use it for more than just diagrams.

DownloadLibreOffice (Free)

Other Free Alternatives to Visio

Dia and Draw may be the best available right now, but a quick web search will turn up plenty of competitors that are just as good in many ways. Keep in mind that these are NOT open source unless specifically noted in the description.

  • yEd Graph Editor — Very similar to Dia, except much more powerful and proportionally harder to use. It has an automatic layout feature that can instantly rearrange a diagram to be clutter-free and more readable, which is fantastic for big and complex flowcharts.
  • Lucidchart — A very solid alternative to Visio in a lot of ways. It’s web-based, so you can access it from anywhere, and packed full of features that make diagramming easy. Check out our review of Lucidchart Lucidchart Is the Visio Alternative You've Been Waiting For Lucidchart Is the Visio Alternative You've Been Waiting For You might not have heard of Lucidchart before, but I bet you've heard of Microsoft Visio. Read More for a more in-depth look at what it can do. The free plan is limited to 60 objects, no revision history, no Visio import/export, and can only publish as HTML, PDF, PNG, JPEG.
  • draw.io — A no-login-required web-based diagramming tool that may not be the slickest in appearance, but can certainly get the job done. Diagrams can be saved to Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, or locally. The interface is clean, the results are acceptable, and it’s open source.

How Do You Create Diagrams and Flowcharts?

Remember, Visio is a powerful piece of software meant for business situations. You probably don’t need that much power, so you probably don’t need a strict “alternative” to Visio. Indeed, you might fare better with one of these simple diagramming apps instead 8 Diagramming Apps for Better Brainstorming on the Go 8 Diagramming Apps for Better Brainstorming on the Go Life can be busy and chaotic. These mind mapping and brainstorming apps can help you keep track of your inspirations and ideas for a better thought process. All just a screen tap away. Read More .

Or if you have Microsoft Word, which is a much easier cost to justify since you can use it for so many other things, you can just use that to create stunning flowcharts and diagrams How to Create Stunning Flowcharts With Microsoft Word How to Create Stunning Flowcharts With Microsoft Word Used with imagination, flowcharts can simplify both your work or life. Why not try out a few flowcharts with one of the easiest tools on hand – Microsoft Word. Read More . You’d be surprised by how much Word can do.

What are you creating flowcharts and diagrams for? And which Visio alternative do you like best for that? Are there any that we missed? Share with us in a comment down below!

Originally written by Karl L. Gechlik on October 6, 2009

  1. Xeedo
    November 8, 2016 at 12:24 pm

    You could also use Google Slides!

    I was surprised that it handles connectors. It's free, integrates with Drive and desn't require to install additional software. For basic charts I think it's enough.

  2. Marco V. Jacquez
    November 7, 2016 at 6:06 pm

    I use LibreOffice Draw, it can open visio files which is a plus for me since I have many visio files.

  3. Tal
    November 7, 2016 at 5:06 am

    Nice article

  4. Saifur Rahman Mohsin
    January 30, 2015 at 6:22 pm

    I use Gliffy Diagrams on Google Chrome. It's more cleaner and simple to use

  5. Sebastian
    January 13, 2010 at 6:01 am

    ARIS Express is another alternative, which is also free-of-charge (http://www.ariscommunity.com/aris-express). It can also import Visio files for further editing.

  6. Yvan
    October 25, 2009 at 10:22 am

    I was surprised at how well OpenOffice Draw does flow charts. In addition to common shapes, you can add connector nodes to any shape or image making it quite flexible.

    Unfortunately it doesn't import Visio files.

  7. Gates VP
    October 11, 2009 at 4:28 pm

    I've had very good success with Gliffy
    gliffy.com/
    it's actually a Flash app hosted in a browser, bit it worked very well for me.

    Even worked great for exporting and eventually printing.

  8. Pavel
    October 9, 2009 at 7:08 am

    This is another free alternative - http://www.nevron.com/Products.DiagramDesigner.Overview.aspx

    It has much more features and types of shapes, as well as the ability to apply automatic layouts on the created diagrams.

  9. Sergey
    October 8, 2009 at 3:51 am

    Recently i've discovered a super-simple, super-light weight "diagram designer"
    http://meesoft.logicnet.dk/DiagramDesigner/

    It's also free. It is very basic, but very intuitive. Also it can export to many formats, including wmf, emf, and various bitmap formats.

    Highly recommended

  10. Bill
    October 7, 2009 at 12:43 pm

    In response to dig_boy in order to get around the box manipulations and resizing I've found it works best to simply export the diagram as a png and print it in gqview (in linux) and it works great. I actually used DIA to create an entire diagram of our companies disaster recovery, failover and load balancing network topology and it works great. Even printed it out on a plotter printer in 36x24 poster size and it still looks great. Hope this helps

  11. dig_boy
    October 7, 2009 at 8:10 am

    I was using Dia up to Version .096.1 and I liked it for the most part but got entirely fed up with its export and printing capacities. It was abysmal at printing text within boxes -- it would always crowd the text or overspill the box when it looked fine on the screen. It also was impossible to get the margins to come out right on teh first try. Exporting to images left Dia-crisp images looking terribly pixelated to the point of unusable. And metafile export was just plain buggy wrong. Please note that I was only doing dirt-basic box diagrams with lines.

    I really wanted to like the program but it just couldn't do the things I wanted... and then I found EDraw Mind Map (http://www.edrawsoft.com/) - a free version of its pay product - and my whole world changed. It is a top-line product that may not overlap Dia or Visio with its features but did the kind of things I needed. I never worried about printing or image export again. Love it! For the record though - I hope Dia has gotten better since 096.

  12. Lanni
    October 7, 2009 at 6:30 am

    The program seems to have all the merits. I haven't fully explored the software, however the site could use some revamp. The program has the ability to create more than one image. Given that fact, I would suggest providing a wider view of the programs capabilities in this site. I'll make reference to images "via4" and "dia5". I recognize the reference you would wish to make to the relative comparison to a "pay for" program. Why not display a few more options provided by "freeware" software. Give the people a choice. Pay for "this," or be happy with "Free."

  13. Pradeepraj
    October 7, 2009 at 5:53 am

    Will i be able to open a VSD file using DIA? Could someone confirm if is there any other alternative softwares which can open a VSD file for editing?

  14. Joseph
    October 7, 2009 at 3:02 am

    I love DIA, it's what I use as it works on both my Windows and Linux machine, allowing me to use a common interface for both of them. I never thought about it as a Visio alternative to be honest, but I guess it can classify as that :) Glad to see that someone has taken notice of this wonderful program.

  15. lefty.crupps
    October 6, 2009 at 12:13 pm

    > Open source is a wonderful thing
    Open Source is a development model; the Free Software licenses is what allows you to have access to this application and (if desired) the source code :)

  16. Gary
    October 6, 2009 at 10:30 am

    DIA also comes in a portable version at PortableApps.com. Here is a link to the application: http://portableapps.com/apps/office/dia_portable

  17. Igor T
    October 6, 2009 at 8:47 am

    Dia is a little limited in terms of quality of the pictures. If you want quality output I would use inkscape. Inkscape has the problem of not having stencils...

    Also Dia does not allow rotation of pre saved stencil drawing which is really cumbersome...

    If anyone knows of any plugin for inkscape to allow for stencil support it would be nice :-)

    I

  18. Thomas P
    October 6, 2009 at 7:43 am

    Nice article. However, Dia is not the only or most popular alternative. For other open source alternatives to Visio go to http://www.osalt.com/visio. Or just use main page on osalt.com to search for virtually any open source alternative.

    T

  19. Ross Goodman
    October 6, 2009 at 7:29 am

    You can also simply copy the installed directory onto your USB stick and take it with you !

    Ross

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