What is mind mapping software?

Mind mapping tools helps you visualise your ideas, emphasising the relationships between them and the overall hierarchy. One of the greatest strengths of mind mapping software is how it facilitates casual, free-flow brainstorming that can be gradually made more coherent.

The best mind mapping software tools have several features for creating and tweaking a visual representation of an upcoming project or an elaborate set of thoughts you’re trying to converge. Now that we understand what this software does, let's talk about the best options you can try out.

What is the best free mind mapping software?

The best mind mapping tools should do substantially well in aspects like the user interface, administrative capabilities, integrations, and free plan features. On that note, let’s compare the top six tools in these categories.

The top 6 best mind mapping software tools are:

  1. ClickUp
  2. Microsoft Visio
  3. Miro
  4. SmartDraw
  5. Lucidchart
  6. MindGenius

1. ClickUp

The beauty of ClickUp’s Mind Map feature is how it brings order to creation and examination. You can create diagrams based on specific structures (task mode) or just freestyle the drawing (blank mode).

When examining your work, you can apply filters and fold certain branches to decongest a diagram and expand those you want to focus on. This leads to a better viewing experience, especially when explaining sub-topics to a colleague. You’ll also be able to record and voice clips of your screen while folding and expanding the map, making your explanations more engaging.


Some tools have a static approach where the entire diagram only looks different (detailed or summarised) after editing and saving the changes. Moreover, ClickUp improves diagram examination thanks to its simple lines, basic shapes, clear fonts, colour coding and contrast, and icons. These help you present descriptive information in the leanest and most understandable manner.

It also offers multiple sharing options if you want to collaborate with other people while giving them varying permission levels. ClickUp is excellent for students since they can start with the Free Forever plan, then easily share ideas and collaborate in one workspace when tackling a topic over a term/semester.

Pros

  • Offers many navigational approaches to brainstorming and collaborating on projects
  • Has several features in its free package

Cons

  • No edit permissions on the free plan
  • The user experience may be a little too sophisticated for some people

2. Microsoft Visio

Visio has over 1000 templates and customisable shapes, which enable you to add common visuals like flow charts, Venn diagrams and pie-charts to your brainstorming diagrams. This pays off later when you want to transform or incorporate your mind mapping diagrams into pitch decks/presentations, reports, proposals, infographics and more.


Essentially, your mind maps will look more professional and closer to something you can use to communicate to others without making too many changes. Visio fits right in with Microsoft 365 and has two modes of delivering functionality; the web app and the desktop app.

Remember that ideas don't wait for you to log into some cloud account. They simply arrive and demand to be developed. So if you’re often on the move doing field work and sometimes find yourself in places with low connectivity, you can still work with Visio on a mobile device and keep your ideas flowing.

One standout trait that makes Visio one of the best mind mapping software tools out there is the level of accessibility it offers. With features like Narrator, Accessibility Checker, and High-Contrast support, people with disabilities like Arthrogryposis can easily create diagrams and navigate different content.

Pros

  • Over 250,000 shapes to choose from
  • Excellent at UML diagram drawing

Cons

  • Can’t customise predefined shapes
  • Slower on older PCs

3. Miro

Miro offers a sleek approach to using mind maps, with options like curvy or angular drawing styles. This gives your mind maps some personality so team members can get a free-spirited or formal vibe depending on the state of mind you want them in when collaborating.


You can also rely on video communication if chat feels slower and you desire a richer human connection when brainstorming with teammates. Additionally, Miro has an auto-arrange feature to help you present every node with a hierarchy in mind so you can easily make sense of the whole diagram.

This tool doubles down on viewing modes, giving you the option to break down the diagram into frames representing different levels. So when you are explaining the map to others, you can scroll through these levels as slides in a presentation.

Pros

  • Variety of built-in communication features
  • Simple but dynamic interface with emojis, colour variations and more

Cons

  • No high-quality PDF exporting on the free version
  • Unstable zooming on larger projects
  • Guest accounts are restricted to paid plans

4. SmartDraw

While many of the tools mentioned offer numerous templates for mind mapping, SmartDraw zeroes in on the diagram types to make topic-specific work easier. Going beyond chart-based and graph-based diagrams, SmartDraw also facilitates schematic diagrams.

For instance, if you're using mind mapping techniques as an architect, an electrical or mechanical engineer, SmartDraw makes you feel at home. You can draw and edit directly on circuit layouts, floor plans, machine components, and more. From engineering to event planning, healthcare, education, emergency planning, network design, and various other categories, SmartDraw has you sorted.

It also has settings for these topics, including the ability to draw according to a specific scale/metric and use symbols. Aside from its engineering might, SmartDraw also speaks to developers on a deeper level since they can create apps for generating diagrams from data and add them to its UI as extensions.

Pros

  • Easily customisable schematic diagrams.
  • Plenty of self-help content.

Cons

  • Can’t switch between horizontal and vertical workflows
  • A very lean feature set in the free trial

5. Lucidchart

Lucidchart’s true power lies in its ability to attach numerous details to a single element in a diagram. For example, you can zoom in on a shape, add comments, team member profile information and photos, status icons and more. These help to present information about that element in a summarised manner, with the option to expand.


This software also has an in-editor chat and collaborative cursors to help teams work together without taking their eyes off the diagram and getting lost in other side-panes and views. You also have the option to combine this tool with Lucidspark and access a virtual whiteboard with sticky notes, freehand drawing and other features that mimic brainstorming with typical office stationery.

Lucidchart may not be the best mind mapping software from a student's perspective, especially since its free plan has minimal functionality and speaks better to organisations. It also doesn't support as many integrations as ClickUp, but it works well on iOS and Android, so it can still work for students who spend plenty of time on their mobile devices.

Pros

  • Many industry-specific templates
  • Splendid cloud architecture insights

Cons

  • Looks outdated
  • Lacks some common shapes

6. MindGenius

If you’re looking for something that lays out your work very simply while offering adequate administrative capabilities and navigation options, MindGenius might do the trick. But, its ace is the Solution Finder feature, which enables guided brainstorming.

Basically, this feature allows you to take a question-answer approach when working. For instance, you may start with a problem such as, "How do we increase profits by 10%?" Solution Finder will then help you bring all relevant facts closer, whether it's the cost per unit produced, monthly purchases, pricing and more.

You’ll then have a diagram with shapes representing different questions, each with branches that detail all the factors to consider when answering that question. Consequently, you won't inadvertently dismiss any information needed for solving the problem.


You’ll also have everything side-by-side, with a clearer view of the relationships between various factors affecting an outcome. And if you like personalising your work environment, MindGenius lets you select a background image for your diagram. So you can put something that relates to the topic and spurs your creativity.

Such features that encourage self-expression while keeping the user focused on their goals make MinGenius one of the best mind mapping software for students.

Pros

  • User-friendly interface
  • Assisted mind mapping

Cons

  • Tricky when using templates with embedded graphics
  • RTF editor for notes isn’t straightforward

Wrapping Up

While there's no doubt that every tool mentioned above is amazing in its own way, you can hardly shove ClickUp away from the top spot. It works for the users looking for something simple and those who need a tool that will handle complex demands further down the road. ClickUp packs many great features into a dashboard that you'll find engaging and continuously explore.

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