Pencil, one of the best free software for drawing shapes, website wireframes, flow-charts

We have been introducing good free software and online tools, after testing them for various parameters. The two most important aspects that we keep in mind before recommending a piece of software is its being (i) free from harmful code and (ii) sturdy and dependable. 

In this post, let's talk about a free, open-source sketching tool, Pencil, that can make documents with different shapes. [Before we move further, let us be sure to download it from the official website; on the web, old versions with limited features are available, which might not work properly.]

Pencil is very simple and highly resourceful for some simple tasks for which we do not need to buy expensive and hard-to-learn software.

The tasks that Pencil can do beautifully and easily include:
  • Drawing flowcharts and similar diagrams. If you have MS Word or any other Office Suite installed on your computer, you can draw such diagrams using them. However, shapes do not always behave normally on Word, etc when you try to place many of them in a diagram. Pencil does that easily. In addition, it has many more shapes.
  • Drawing wireframe of a website. All website creators first make a sketch of the webpages (mostly the homepage or the theme/ template) which is called wireframe. This is very handy when you have to discuss the basic layout of the proposed website or blog with colleagues (or if you are a web-designer, to share with the client). If you are a blogger thinking of hiring a web designer, you can make a quick wireframe to tell the designer how different elements on your blog should look like. 
  • Making drawings that involves the interplay of shapes and a bit of text, e.g. for tutorials and explaining the layout of a place.
  • Making shapes for use for more complex works. For example, it is time-consuming to draw shapes in professional image editors such as Photoshop and Gimp. One can make shapes in Pencil and export them for use in these programs. In Pencil, there are many ready-made shapes and stencils that can't be expected in professional all-purpose programs (e.g. web breadcrumbs).
We compared many other free or online programs of similar nature but chose this one. It has some special features not available on others.

Main features of Pencil sketching program

  • The tool is very simple. You just have to drag a shape/ button/ web-object (These are called stencils) from the sidebar to the 'document' pane. A number of templates with objects are also available on the web.
  • Different objects can be aligned against the page or with other elements.
  • Text can be added and aligned with most common shapes.
  • Text can be overlaid on any object, and there is also a 'rich text box' which allows text to be formatted in many ways within a box.
  • You can import clipart directly from OpenClipart.
  • You can import any image by copying that image from any image-viewing or image-editing program or a webpage and pasting it on an open document.
  • It can save the drawing/ document in many formats such as PNG, SVG, PDF or even as a webpage.
  • It is available for Windows, iOS, Android and Linux OSs.
  • Pages created by Pencil can have hyperlinks, that make it possible to show how an element works within a document.
Earlier versions had poorly laid menus. The new versions (The current one is v3.1) are feature-rich and each object has a large number of options, some of which can be stored for re-use also.
drawing sketching tools software

How to sketch with Pencil?

There is no need for a guide as menus are intuitive and anybody who has worked on image editing software or even online sketching programs would be able to work efficiently after some experimentation. However, if you are new to such programs, this is a quick starter:
  • Download from the official website, and install.
  • Click on 'Create a new document' that appears in the middle of the screen. 
  • There is a collection of stencils on the left pane [if hidden, click on the button on the left margin]. It has many groups of collections. Click on any one object and drag it to the document. Work further on the document by dragging, reshaping, maneuvering shapes and so on. 
  • Click on the 'Properties' button on the right margin. It will give numerous options whenever an object is selected. To change dimensions by exact number of pixels, use the options that come on the top bar of the screen.
  • Complete the work. Save it for future use. 
  • Export to any format that you want, by using the menu at the top left of the screen. If you want to export a part of the drawing to PNG, select it and right click to export it to an image.
Final notes:
  • Pencil is not being actively updated. Its last version is 3.1, released way back in 2019. (But it works well with 64-bit computers.)
  • If you want to explore a highly professional program for vector graphics, go for Inkscape. It is free.


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