OmniGraffle 6 Review

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Omnigraffle 6

By: Ioannis Smyrnias

OmniGraffle

What is Omnigraffle?

Omnigraffle is an application, which allows for diagrammatic representations of information (e.g. scientific figures, poster presentations, flow charts, mind maps and more). Its plethora of tools and the improvements over the previous iterations of the software in the latest version 6 make it a compelling alternative (see below for other options) for creating beautiful illustrations. Herein, I will discuss the several improvements in omnigraffle 6 and explain why I think is an excellent choice, compared to other similar software packages, especially in the scientific community.

Omnigraffle 6 Features

One of the first things that excited me in omnigraffle 6 is the support for images. Instead of cropping images when you are only really interested in part of them, you can now mask them, change their opacity or set them to repeat according to your needs. Where this comes especially handy is when you need different panels of the same figure to appear in different places in your canvas. Using the masking feature, you avoid having to import the image multiple times and cut away the unnecessary bits.

Another great improvement over previous versions of Omnigraffle is the removal of floating palettes and windows. This is a significant difference to the previous layout and a lot of people were initially concerned with this change as they enjoyed the option to use their main canvas on one display and the floating palettes on another in a multi-monitor setup. I found this arrangement, however, to be frustrating and the floating palettes were frequently getting in the way, especially on single-monitor setups or the cramped displays of a MacBook. In Omnigraffle 6, instead of floating tools, the Object Inspector and Stencil Palette are now dynamic sidebars incorporated into the main window and appear as columns down the side, only showing the tools you need when you need them. Having used version 5 myself, though for a short period, I prefer the default view of the new sidebars over the movable windows of the previous version.

The new inspector is a great addition in the Omnigraffle 6. It dynamically switches to the correct tools depending on what you are working on at any given moment. Moreover, several new tools appear in that section, such as the new fill and stroke styles with new freehand and ‘casual’ style stokes, and the Geometry inspector, including options to combine shapes, add images, zoom in and out with a ‘ridiculously’ high max setting of 6400% and editing/masking directly on the canvas. A Guide icon next to each canvas is a perfect tool when it comes to alignments of objects, as you can drag Guides where you need them and lock them in place. More detailed information on the new features in Omnigraffle 6 can be found in Omnigroup’s release notes page.

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At its heart, Omnigraffle is a tool for creating diagrams, flowcharts, organisation charts, space planning and figure panels for scientific papers. The Omnigroup offer various templates and shape collections called Stencils for creating these type of documents. An extensive library of amazing stencil packages are available by Omnigraffle’s support community for $24 a year and can be found at Graffletopia. For instance, if you are working on a new floor plan for your new house, you can choose a space-planning template from your stencils library, where you can drop walls, doors and furniture objects where they belong. A Science section at Graffletopia offers several templates that can be used as a starting point for creating a more complicated scientific illustration using Omnigraffle.

Omnigraffle Standard v Pro and the iPad App

Depending on your needs, you can choose between the standard and pro version of Omnigraffle. The standard version will cost you $100 (or £70), whether you buy it from the Mac App store or directly from the developers. It will take another $100 to upgrade to the pro version.[1] Omnigroup have set up discount options for existing customers, however, you will have to buy directly from them as the Mac App store does not offer upgrade pricing. The extra features you get in the Pro version include sharing content between canvases, tables, resolution-independent scaling, presentation mode, Visio support, and most importantly, applescript support, more export options, multiple editing windows and Xcode import for the developers. More complete information on feature comparison between the two omnigraffle versions can be found here, as well as in the Omnigraffle 6 user manual available for free as an iBook from the iOS App store.

Feature comparison would be not be complete without mentioning that there is also an iPad version of Omnigraffle. At the time of writing this (June 2014), the first version of Omnigraffle for iPad has been removed from sale as version 2 is in development. This is a very honest approach from Omnigroup, especially if you bear in mind their recent announcement that version 2 will not be available for a few more months as it will require iOS 8.

Obviously, I am in no position to know anything about the new Omnigraffle for iPad; however, if it is anything like the first version, it will be a great app, which will complement the Mac version nicely, supporting most of the main features that can be found in its ‘big brother’ app. More details on what was possible in Omnigraffle 1 for iPad here. The main advantage of having both Mac and iOS versions of the same app with very close feature parity is the ability to work on your projects from whichever device is at your disposal at any given moment. This is possible due to the excellent ‘homemade’ syncing service provided by the Omnigroup, called Omnisync server. This service is not specific to Omnigraffle and can be used for all of the Omnigroup suit of apps, allowing you to store and access files from the company’s other software packages, such as Omnifocus and Omnioutliner. I have to admit I am not happy with the need to maintain one more cloud service in addition to iCloud, Dropbox and Onedrive and having my data scattered in all these places. Nonetheless, Omnisync server is what works best for the company and, actually, works very efficiently. It remains to be seen whether Omnigroup will reconsider using iCloud for their syncing in the future, now that Apple have announced some significant improvements to their iCloud service coming in iOS 8 and later.

Onigraffle Alternatives on Windows and Mac Computers

The reason why I like Omnigraffle is because I find a lot of similarities, as well as improvements, to my previous software of choice for diagrams and illustrations, CorelDRAW by Corel. CorelDRAW is a professional graphics design software, and frankly a bit of an overkill for my needs and others, unless your expertise relies heavily on such a tool. I started using CorelDRAW many years ago and it is an excellent package that does everything I needed and much more. However, the lack of a native CorelDRAW Mac app since version XI, its price and the plethora of complex options available, which sometimes complicated things and involved a steep learning curve for new users, made me look towards Omnigraffle’s direction.

Another excellent Omnigraffle alternative is Adobe’s Illustrator (AI). I have never used it myself, but several colleagues of mine have and I only hear good things from them, except for Adobe’s latest adoption of a subscription model in order to own their software, which put off a lot of previous owners of AI. When it comes to simple illustrations and diagrammatic representations, Microsoft’s Powerpoint might prove adequate, as long as expectations are kept low.

Conclusion

Having tried some of the alternatives to Omnigraffle, I think that Omnigraffle provides a good balance of features vs price requested compared to its competitors, which when combined with the availability of an iOS app, makes it a clear winner in my eyes. When it comes to creating scientific publications and/or poster presentations, Omnigraffle is an excellent tool for such tasks. It has its drawbacks (it is a bit expensive, but still cheaper than others and slightly overwhelming the first time you sit in front of a blank canvas), which are, however, easily outweighed by the benefits of a nicely designed and hugely powerful package of features and options. If you are in doubt, you can give it a go first, as Omnigroup give their customers the option of a two-week trial, as well as a 30-day, no questions asked, money-back guarantee on all products sold from Omnigroup’s online store.


  1. Editor’s Note: The Omni Group offers educational discounts on all its products when purchased from their online store. OmniGraffle is $59.99 and OmniGraffle Pro is $119.99

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