Drawing the diagrams

Every so often, someone asks me what tools I use to draw the diagrams. Years ago I was perfectly happy with Visio, but since Microsoft bought it, it became so bloated that I’ve been forced to drop it (it would take minutes to start on my laptop) and revert back to PowerPoint.

Cisco provides great icon libraries (including the visionary “space router” icon shown on the right) in Visio and PowerPoint format and I’m lucky enough to have an older version where the colors of the devices are not light blue but a darker shade of blue/green/gray. Drawing connections between the devices is obviously easier in Visio than in PowerPoint, but if you keep the diagrams simple, you can work around the limitations.

Export from PowerPoint to JPEG/PNG has always been a nightmare with dubious results (although it looks like the copy/paste from PowerPoint to Paint Shop Pro produces reasonable quality in some cases). To work around this, I’m using SnagIT from Techsmith to capture the screen (Paint Shop Pro also has a screen capture utility, but SnagIT is so much easier to use) and trim/resize the images.

After the image is trimmed and resized, I need to add the final touch: replace the white background with PNG transparency so the diagrams look good in our Wiki, where the images are shown in a light gray frame. I use Paint Shop Pro as I happen to have it installed (SnagIT does not have this functionality), but any other decent image manipulation tool or even a PERL script with ImageMagick (which I am too lazy to write) would do.

11 comments:

  1. I have to be honest and say that this seems like a lot of work just to get a PNG onto the web when a simple "Save As" from Visio does the trick. From memory, I first started using Visio at version 4, and although I agree with you that (in the best Microsoft tradition) it has bloated since those days, I have also never had any major performance problems all the way through to the latest 2007 version.

    Maybe it's time to upgrade your laptop? ;-)

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  2. Is there really something called a "simple network diagram" ? =) . The icon color isn't much of a problem , you could always macro them in photoshop and make them any shade of any color.

    I personally use Dia (Diagram Editor) which works under *nix. I use the cisco icons too (bw) in Dia and it can produce some very nice diagrams.

    It also works for windows too.

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  3. @Robert: PPT also has the "save as" button, but I've never been enthusiastic about its results. I want to control the size of the icons and have somewhat antialiased picture ... but for a simple job, direct save into HTML/PNG is the best.

    Just tried the PPT save-as-PNG functionality. Works, but the text looks so 1970ish.

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  4. i prefer inkscape (Cisco SVG icons - http://notjustlinux.blogspot.com/2009/05/eps-to-svg.html)

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  5. the "space router" icon triggered me to download the latest version of the library - was still using the one from 2003 :-) - not a problem really as for 80% of the diagrams i draw the basic set switch-router-firewall-host is sufficient.

    as finding the new set did cost me several minutes of surfing around on cco i thought the direct link might be useful for others aswell: http://www.cisco.com/web/about/ac50/ac47/2.html

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  6. Thank you for posting the icon's. I've given up looking for them, and just been using the default Visio Icon's

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  7. Cisco uses the new icon library: http://www.cisco.com/en/US/solutions/collateral/ns340/ns414/ns742/ns982/SBA_dg.pdf
    have someone extracted icons from this?

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  8. I used dia forever... I remember when the included Cisco icons were monochrome only. I continued to use dia even when I transitioned to my Macbook about two years ago. Earlier this year though, I discovered OmniGraffle Pro which does so many good things and makes diagramming a real pleasure. Plus it's got some limited interoperability with Visio. I can open most documents, use all the stencils, and export to the Visio XML format.

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  9. I use Network Notepad You can load the cisco icons and it is a free utility 8-) http://www.networknotepad.com/

    Tony

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  10. Tony thanks for that Network Notepad link. I think I will be testing it out in Wine on Linux tonight.

    I just wanted to toss it out there that for my Wiki I use Graphviz http://www.graphviz.org/ you don't have to "draw" anything you just learn the syntax for the drawings and you feed it in to wiki page. Once you save the page and view it your Wiki generates a PNG file of the drawing for you and presents it on that page. You can draw boxes and connect them differently. If you have PNG files like the Cisco Icons you can put them in the drawing too. I like it because it turns a drawing into a Wiki Page so everyone can have input on it.

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  11. Why should he upgrade? It works for him.

    Hell, if microsoft stops providing updates to your old OS and programs, then you can always install linux on it and then you can keep the machine doing whatever you did before, forever. Until linux is no longer updated. :-D

    You shouldn't throw out old hardware that works. It's bad for the environment and costly.

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Ivan Pepelnjak, CCIE#1354, is the chief technology advisor for NIL Data Communications. He has been designing and implementing large-scale data communications networks as well as teaching and writing books about advanced technologies since 1990. See his full profile, contact him or follow @ioshints on Twitter.