There’s a lot of crossover with modern graphics software. Photo-editing packages such as Photoshop Elements can handle line drawings, too, and drawing packages such as CorelDraw can handle photos. However, there’s one area of graphics that requires more specialist software: charts and diagrams. Flow charts, floor plans and so on use familiar symbols and shapes, which you’d probably expect to create using drawing software. However, with dedicated charting software, they’re all built in.
A common feature of many diagrams is connectivity – the lines that connect boxes together. With an ordinary drawing package, if you move boxes around they get disconnected, and you then have to edit the connecting lines. With specialist charting software, everything moves together to make your task easier.
Charting software of this type is widely used in business, but is usually expensive. However, the online Gliffy utility is free of charge. The free Basic service allows you to save up to five charts at a time, visible to other Gliffy users. To have more charts on the go at once or to keep them confidential costs US $5 per month. Our walkthrough is based on the free Basic service.
1) Go to www.gliffy.com. Click Get Started Now and choose a template for your chart. We’re using Org Charts and the first example in that category, State Government. Click ‘Create document’ at the bottom right of the screen.
2) The canvas will appear with the selected template displayed, ready to edit. Make sure you can see it all by selecting ‘Fit to screen’ from the Zoom menu at the right of the toolbar. The organization chart we’ll create is a simple one with a Managing Director at the top, three directors in the next row, then a row of six staff with pairs reporting to each of the directors. We produced this by deleting some of the boxes. To delete an element, select the Pointer Tool (the arrow) in the toolbar, click on an item and press Delete. Alternatively, drag the mouse to select a group of objects and click Delete.
3) Now we can change the words in the boxes. Well start with the top box; make it more visible by selecting the Zoom tool and dragging round the area you want to view. With the Pointer Tool selected again, double-click on the text and edit it in the normal way. You can also alter the formatting; you’ll see there’s now a Text Properties area displayed to the right.
4) The diagram shows the right information, but it’s not exactly what we want. The top box ought to be taller and the same color as the others. Select it using the Pointer Tool and, when the handles appear, drag the bottom handle down to make the box taller. With this still selected, choose a new color for both the fill (the left-hand paint pot icon) and the outline (the right-hand paint pot icon) in the Shape Properties on the right. Finally, because there’s a large gap between the top two rows, select the top box and drag it down – the connecting line will shrink accordingly.
5) Select Save from the File menu; you’ll be asked to sign up for a free account if you haven’t already. When that’s done, enter a name for your chart in the Save dialog box and click Save. The chart is saved in a proprietary format on the Gliffy website so you can access it later. Before you can use it in another document, you need a version in a familiar graphics format on your PC. Select Export as JPEG from the File menu or choose from the other export formats. A new window opens, and you’ll see a box asking whether you want to open the file or save it to disk. Click on Save, name the file and choose a location on your hard disk to which you can save it.
6) Now you can create a chart from scratch rather than from a template. Select New from the File menu; this time, select blank under Categories. The Library on the left of the screen includes shapes to drop into your chart, arranged by type. Select Floorplan, and you’ll find symbols relevant to architectural drawings, with sub-categories such as Structure and Living Room. As well as library shapes, there are tools for drawing circles, rectangles, text, lines and connections (for symbols that can be connected) in the toolbar.