I'm looking for a tool to help me draw architecture diagrams in "napkin" style (not sure what else to call it). I've seen a few blog posts and presentations with diagrams like this:

enter image description here

Any ideas what kind of software I can use to create these diagrams? Originally I thought they might be hand-drawn in Illustrator or something but I've seen a few of them all in very similar style, so I'm assuming it's actually a specific tool, but am happy to be corrected.

  • 3
    Which OS must it run on? How much are you willing to pay? Please edit your question and integrate these details :)
    – Izzy
    Jun 3, 2016 at 16:12
  • 2
    I really like this question. I think the point is that "napkin" diagrams are not good because they are fast to create, but because they look informal. People don't fixate on details with informal diagrams or user interface mockups - they focus on the idea. Formally styled content creates expectations of "perfection", and people will inadvertently fixate on things like flowchart boxes not being aligned, or the same size, etc.
    – Tim Holt
    Feb 15, 2019 at 21:47

4 Answers 4


You might want to try Excalidraw.com, which is free & open-source (MIT) collaborative whiteboard app that lets you make hand-drawn like diagrams and easily export them to PNG, SVG, or as a link for others to edit (see below).

On top of that, communication to our server is end-to-end encrypted so even if you collaborate with others, it's fully private and our server can't read the data. This also applies when you share the diagram via link. Read our blog post on encryption.

You can read more in our intro blog post Rethinking Virtual Whiteboard.

excalidraw diagram

You can open & edit the above diagram directly on excalidraw via this link: https://excalidraw.com/#json=4708281654181888,a_leiY1rJAEXDvxZCZYP2Q

Disclosure: I'm on Excalidraw team. You can be, too (https://github.com/excalidraw/excalidraw).


From the style of the drawing, it looks as though the software whose output you have seen might perhaps be Balsamiq?

(Even if the output is not actually from Balsamiq itself, it might be a suitable tool to do what you need: "Balsamiq Mockups is a rapid wireframing tool [...]. It reproduces the experience of sketching on a whiteboard, but using a computer.")

  • 1
    Thanks, will check that out! I've been using sketchboard.me which actually seems pretty good, doesn't give me the same style as I asked for above but lets me "sketch" pretty quickly - and it's free :)
    – Matt
    May 11, 2017 at 12:50
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    Did you finally decide what yo use? Others would be interested
    – Mawg
    Oct 10, 2017 at 10:37
  • Balsmaiq is not free, but also not terrible expensive (it is a monthly subscription, though, not a one off) 2 Projects $9/month or $90/year Perfect for solo developers, or if you just want to kick the tires. Includes Auto-Hibernation. 20 Projects $49/month or $490/year Our most popular plan. Suitable for most companies and teams. 200 Projects $199/month or $1,990/year For bigger teams who have more than 20 projects.
    – Mawg
    Jan 8, 2018 at 9:59
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    Please attach a screenshot showing Balsamiq being used to create a "napkin-style" diagram, thanks! :-)
    – Nicolas Raoul
    Mar 2, 2019 at 9:07

yEd Graph Editor can be pretty quick when you get used to it.

  • The speed comes from the automatic arrangements (optional) of objects and custom/non-custom shapes and clip-artish objects.
  • It is powerful (scalable), so when your napkin diagram grows, it won't suffer.
  • It is free and runs on Linux/Win/Mac.
  • 2
    Please attach a screenshot showing yEd being used to create a "napkin-style" diagram, thanks! :-)
    – Nicolas Raoul
    Mar 2, 2019 at 9:07

I used Zwibbler in the past in order to do exactly that. The following is an example of basic diagram I've drawn with this tool:

However, since they shut down their free offer, I mainly used https://www.draw.io Their tool is free, open-source and quite user-friendly. You can take a look at their starting templates by clicking on "Create New Diagram" on their home page.

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