Make Charts, Forms, Maps–And More–With SmartDraw VP
By Clare Brandt, PCWorld
Imagine that your boss asked you to provide a graphic mere minutes before a meeting. Or you need to add a sales map graphic to Powerpoint. Or you need to create an accurate engineering diagram. When you have a graphics project to pull together in a hurry, accurately, and with some shiny bells and loud whistles, you need a program like SmartDraw VP ($297, seven-day free trial). Billed as the world’s first “visual processor,” SmartDraw VP works like a word processor, but churns out graphics rather than words.
SmartDraw VP includes templates for pretty much any graphic you’d ever need to create–some more usable than others–including cause and effect models, charts, decision trees, engineering models, floor plans, flowcharts, forms, graphs, mind maps, regular maps, network diagrams, org charts, presentations, project management models, and timelines. Plus it includes unique forms, drawings, and templates for particular professions, such as accounting, education, health care, law enforcement, paralegal, and more.
Once you choose your template, SmartDraw VP’s Smart Panel, library of shapes, and help menu automatically customize to contain relevant items. For example, if you need to create a floor plan, open a template and the SmartPanel will supply drag and drop furniture, fixtures, walls, windows, etc. You can access all of SmartDraw’s library components regardless of the template you’re using. However, the help menu–which acts like a step-by-step cheat sheet–while great for modifying a template, isn’t searchable, which is frustrating if you’re looking for something outside of your chosen template.
SmartDraw can export HTML; PDF; or BMP, Enhanced Metafile, GIFF, Metafile, JPEG, PNG, and TIFF, image files. Alternatively, place your graphic directly into Microsoft Project, Outlook, or Office Suite (but not the Oracle OpenOffice.org equivalent). Animated and sequenced presentations are easy to create in SmartDraw, and export seamlessly into Microsoft Powerpoint.
SmartDraw VP uses Microsoft Office 2010‘s interface as a model, including the tab-oriented ribbon and menu groupings, which is great if you are familiar with Office 2010 and annoying if you’re not. I don’t use Microsoft Office 2010 much, so the Ctrl+Z shortcut got a lot of use until someone pointed out the swooshy arrow thing that I didn’t recognize as an undo button. A bigger problem: The pop-up menu items are barely legible with my 1920 by 1080 pixel screen, and even at SmartDraw’s recommended resolution of 1280 by 1024.
For one-time fee of $297, SmartDraw VP comes with unlimited support and a free one-hour SmartDraw team training session, including Q&A, over GoToMeeting. The company really pushes its “Platinum Protection Plan”, which cost an additional $50 per year and gives you priority support, a backup CD, and free access to patches and upgrades. SmartDraw’s free trial lasts seven days, adds a watermark to anything you create, and includes printing restrictions. After downloading the trial, SmartDraw currently gives you a $100 discount coupon to apply to the cost of purchasing the full version.
Compared to Microsoft Visio, the industry standard for creating org charts, mind maps, and infrastructure diagrams, SmartDraw holds its own for around the same price. What SmartDraw offers that Visio does not is the ability to customize maps, create accurate 3D charts and graphs, animate slides for PowerPoint, and generally draw anything quickly, efficiently, and relatively artistically. If this is what you need from a visual processor, SmartDraw is a great alternative.
SmartDraw VP is less about business administration and more about communicating visually. If you need to quickly create and share effective, clear graphics, and don’t mind the aggressive marketing plan and constant push to up-sell, try SmartDraw.