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Design stylish, detailed diagrams with yEd

26 August 2014, Mike Williams

yEd Graph Editor is an interesting free diagram designer with some unusual features.

The core interface works much like many similar applications. You’ll choose your symbols from a palette (flowchart, UML, ERD, BPNM, network, computer, more), drag and drop whatever you need onto the page, and position them as you like. Symbols may then be customised with text, colours, URLs and more, before you join them up with lines to represent your structure or ideas.

This is well implemented, too, making it very easy to pick up the diagramming basics. If you’re drawing a line between two elements, say, you don’t have to select a Line tool, look for “handles” to draw from, or anything similar: just click approximately over one symbol, hold the left button down and drag to another, release and the line appears.

The bundled symbols are another plus. You’re not restricted to the plain boxes offered by some of the competition: while it has some of those, yEd also offers bright colours, drop shadows, and some appealing vector graphics which look great even when resized to fill the entire page. Whether you need to produce a complicated technical document, or something simple for a presentation, yEd should be able to help.

GEDCOM support means yEd can even display simple family trees

YEd can import data from GraphML files, XLS/ XLSX spreadsheets, GML/ XGML and more. But the real surprise was support for GEDCOM, the genealogy format: yes, the program really can import your family tree. And it’s smart, too, even allowing you to choose exactly which tags to import and display.

Export options are another highlight. You’re not just restricted to saving your graphs as regular images (GIF, JPG, PNG), the program can also export EPS, SVG/ SVGX and PDF. There’s even an HTML page with a custom Flash viewer, complete with its own chart panning, zoom and print controls. If you really did create a diagram based on your family tree then this could be the ideal way to present it on your website.

We had a few minor issues with the interface. If you double-click on a symbol, for instance, we’d expect the focus to be on its caption, so we could start typing immediately. With yEd, this only works if you double-click the caption itself; move away by a pixel or two and nothing happens at all.

Once you understand these few quirks, though, yEd Graph Editor works very well, and overall it’s one of the better free diagram designers.

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