Diagrams: Tools and Tutorials

Being a web-developer means not only being able to design web-sites or program their functionality. Sometimes it also means to be able to explain complex issues clearly and be able to present to your potential customers reasonable and convincing arguments – in order to find the best compromise between the customer’s wishes and the standards you respect. In fact, it is essential to make sure the customer understands which advantages you are actually offering and why this or that layout and markup are better for a given web-project.

Developing web-sites over the last few years, we’ve been stumbling over the same problem over and over again: how can I visualize my idea easily and quickly? Since human being is used to visualize things, trying to understand the idea behind them, recently we’ve spent hours googling for useful tools and tutorials which would help us to create images – mostly, diagrams, charts, chart-flows etc. Links checked: May/14 2008.

List of nifty tools for drawing diagrams, charts and chart-flows

List of nifty tools for drawing diagrams, charts and flow charts


  • Creating Graphs, Part I undCreating Graphs, Part II by Wolfgang Bartelme. Two detailed how-to-tutorials, which explain how you can create professional, visually appealing Diagrams with Adobe Illustrator.
  • Illustrator Charts by Veerle Pieters. A step-by-step tutorial for Adobe Illustrator, which explains how to create flexible Charts which are visually appealing.
  • Charting in Microsoft Excel by Jon Peltier. A detailed how-to about the use of tools, which are integrated in Microsoft Excel.
  • CSS Diagrams describes a way to create CSS-based Charts.
  • CSS For Bar Graphs
    describes another approach for presenting graphs with CSS and XHTML.

Free Web-Tools

  • Gliffy Gliffy.com is a free web-based diagram editor. It enables you to create and share flowcharts, network diagrams, floorplans, user interface designs and other drawings online. Registration is required.
  • James MacFarlanes’ Ajaxio is a simple Ajax-based tool, which uses Prototype and script.aculo.us.

Free Software

  • 1st Chart creates high-resolution diagrams with the Chart-Elements you provide. The page doesn’t have an English version yet.
  • JGraphpad is a powerful, easy-to-use, feature-rich and standards-compliant open source graph component available for Java. Application areas include Process diagrams, workflow and BPM visualization, flowcharts, even traffic or water flow etc.
  • yEd – Java™ Graph Editor is a powerful graph editor that is written entirely in the Java programming language. It can be used to quickly and effectively generate drawings and to apply automatic layouts to a range of different diagrams and networks.
  • Graphviz is open source graph visualization software. It has several main graph layout programs, web and interactive graphical interfaces, and auxiliary tools, libraries, and language bindings.
  • Unified Modeling Language (UML) is a non-proprietary, object modeling and specification language used in software engineering. With various UML-Tools (German version only!) once can create not only small sketches and simple organisation diagrams, but also complex systems and computer models.
  • XML/SWF Charts is a simple, yet powerful tool to create attractive web charts and graphs from dynamic XML data. The XML source can be prepared manually, or generated dynamically using any scripting language (PHP, ASP, CFML, Perl, etc.). The Official tutorial explains exactly, how you can use XML/SWF for your personal projects.
  • DIA is a gtk+ based diagram creation program released under the GPL license. DIA can be used to draw entity relationship diagrams, UML diagrams, flowcharts, network diagrams, and many other diagrams. It is also possible to add support for new shapes by writing simple XML files, using a subset of SVG to draw the shape. It can load and save diagrams to a custom XML format (gzipped by default, to save space), can export diagrams to a number of formats, including EPS, SVG, XFIG, WMF and PNG.
  • JFreeChart is a free 100% Java chart library which creates charts such as bar charts, line charts, pie charts, time series charts, candlestick charts, high/low/open/close charts, wind plots, and meter charts.
    JFreeChart is licensed under LGPL license and requires Java 2 platform (JDK Version 1.3 and higher).

Leading commercial products:

  • OmniGraffle: the premier diagramming application for Mac OS X creates flow charts, org charts, network diagrams, family trees, project processes, office layouts – or anything else that can be represented by symbols and lines. (”Standard”-Version costs $79.95, “Professional”-Version $149.95).
  • Microsoft Visio: the Microsoft Office business and technical diagramming program solves every problem you could ever think about. Microsoft Visio is integrated in the Microsoft Office. The price is appropriate for the quality Microsoft Visio delivers.
  • Mindjet MindManager is a powerfult software-package which can be used for drawing Mindmaps, Brainstorming-Ideas or organization diagrams.
    Bloggers from Switzerland can get Mindjet for free until the 31st of August 2006 (more in German on SuperDeluxe). All you need is to describe your weblog, provide its URL, choose the language of the Mindjet MindManager in an e-mail you have to send at blog@mindjet.ch. MindManager Basic (Mac and Win) costs 230.84 €, MindManager Pro – 346.84 €.
  • SmartDraw is also a powerful Software-package, which is extremely easy-to-use and includes 1000s of professional-looking business graphics that you can modify and make your own. Price: $197.

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