A whiteboard app for sketching and designing by hand
InVision Freehand has a leg up on other virtual whiteboard apps when it comes to supporting freehand drawing, but it's slightly behind the pack when it comes to included templates, support for images and videos, and other features.
Whiteboard apps offer people a way to virtually brainstorm, collect, and sort through ideas, whether on their own or with a group. They’re a subcategory of collaboration apps that help make remote work immensely better and more productive. There often isn’t much differentiation among whiteboard apps, but InVision Freehand is a little different. As the name perhaps implies, Freehand is focused on letting you draw, sketch, and otherwise design freehand.
It’s not as adept at helping you create visual materials for other business needs, however, such as org charts or animation to share on social media. There are other apps that do fulfill those needs. Flowchart and diagramming apps are best for making org charts and other kinds of diagrams, while Canva and Visme specialize in helping anyone create professional-looking visuals for marketing use. While Freehand is one of the better choices of apps if you intend to incorporate freehand drawing, we’ve found that Miro has more features and is generally better for most users. That’s why Miro remains our Editors’ Choice pick in this category, followed very closely by Mural.
Freehand is available in three plan types: Free, Pro ($9.95 per person per month), and Enterprise (custom pricing). For the Pro plan, you get a discount for paying annually instead of monthly. You can also get a free trial of the Pro plan, with no credit or debit card required.
The Free and the Pro plan are very similar with three key differences. 1) With the Free plan, you’re restricted to having only three whiteboards at any given time. 2) You cannot have private folders in the Free plan, only public ones. 3) You cannot make custom templates in the Free plan.
The Enterprise plan is the same as the Pro plan, but it comes with added administrative features, such as enabling single sign-on, requiring multi-factor authentication, and so forth.
Compared with other whiteboard apps, InVision Freehand charges a competitive rate. Most other apps charge about $10 per person per month for a plan that’s suitable for small businesses or teams. That’s what you pay for Freehand, and you pay even less if you opt into an annual contract instead of paying monthly.
Competitor Conceptboard charges close to $10 per person per month only if you pay annually for a Business account, so what you in fact pay is $114 per person per year.
Our top pick in this category, Miro, has paid accounts starting at $10 per person per month. Mural, which similarly has a free account, starts its paid plans at $12 per person per month. Stormboard charges $10 per person per month for its Business accounts.
Lucidspark has a different pricing scheme, but it generally works out to be about $9 per person per month. The difference is you pay a flat annual fee for up to a certain number of people. For example, a group of 10–15 people costs $1,620 per year, regardless of whether there are 10 people or 15. It works out to be equivalent to $9 per person per month as long as you have the maximum number of people on your team.
To create an account, you sign up using an email address and create a password. Enterprise accounts have other options, such as single sign-on.
To start using Freehand you’ll most likely do so in one of two ways. You can work via the web app, which works well, or via Microsoft Teams with a plug-in that lets you use the app there. InVision also offers a companion app for iPad and iPhones, but it’s meant for designing and prototyping, rather than being a mobile version of the full web app experience.
The web app is not only reliable but also impressively fast. When coediting a board with other people synchronously, you see an icon on screen for each person. Their movements appear on your screen almost exactly at the same time as they are made, with virtually no appreciable lag. As people add text to the board, you see their text as they type it. Collaboration therefore happens in as close to real time as you could possibly expect.
Freehand automatically saves your file while you’re working on it and creates versions of it that you can revert to, although the way versioning works is odd and unhelpful. You’ll always see a version from the last time you closed your file, but otherwise there isn’t a standard interval for saves. If you want to be able to restore more recent versions, you have to open the version history frequently. I know that sounds odd. It is odd. Here’s how Freehand explains it: “Freehand displays saved versions at various frequencies, depending on how recently the work was completed before opening the version history: past minute: every 10 seconds; past hour: every 5 minutes; past day: every 60 minutes; past week: every 2 hours; past month: every 12 hours; more than a month: every 3 days.”
Most whiteboard apps come with a large library of templates. They typically contain marketing resources (customer journey, customer profile, and so on), templates for running brainstorming sessions and meetings, diagrams and flowcharts, planning and strategy templates, and more.
Freehand offers a minuscule selection of templates compared to what other apps offer—just 22 at the time of our testing. Some of these templates were created by InVision and some are labeled as created by other companies and brands, such as Asana, Salesforce, and Xbox. The selection is noticeably lacking in templates for diagramming—there’s one flowchart template, but nothing for org charts—as well as templates for agile teamwork and mind mapping.
Whether you start from a template or a blank canvas, you’ll need a few tools to add content to your board. Freehand’s options are standard and mostly unremarkable. You can add sticky notes, text, lines with various endings (arrowhead, node ending, and so on), basic geometric shapes (though no library of shapes, objects, and icons), uploaded images, comments, and a grand total of seven emoji.
There’s also a pen tool for adding content freehand. When using the pen tool, you can choose to have the app smooth shapes for you or leave them as-is.
You can also draw in other apps, namely Sketch and Photoshop, and publish those images to a Freehand board, where you can then ask other people for feedback and comments. You need a plug-in called Craft by InVision to do this quickly and easily. When you upload content in this way, you can then go back to your original file, update it, and sync the new changes back to Freehand.
You also get frames, a standard tool among whiteboard apps for turning a section of your canvas into a slide to use in a presentation.
To add images to your board, you can upload them from your computer or, as mentioned, publish them from Sketch or Photoshop.
What you don’t get is an integrated image search tool that lets you look for royalty-free images to use without leaving your board. Some whiteboard apps, including Mural, offer this feature, which allows people to incorporate simple images quickly and efficiently.
You can upload videos from YouTube and Vimeo to your canvas, but you have to use a special add-on tool to do it, and the embedded videos didn’t actually play in our testing. The tools are free and easily accessible from a right-side menu, making us wonder why they’re add-ons rather than part of the standard toolset. In any event, when you paste a link to a YouTube or Vimeo video using the tool, the video appears to embed on your board, but as mentioned, in our testing they didn’t play.
Miro not only supports embedded videos, it also gives you options to display additional kinds of media. For example, you can paste a hyperlink to a web page onto your board, choose instead to show a preview of the page, or clip an entire web page and display it. Freehand doesn’t offer any of these options for displaying media.
On the right side of the interface are other add-on tools you can use, notably one that lets you add Google Workspace files, such as Google Docs, to your canvas. Again, it’s unclear why these tools aren’t incorporated with the standard toolset on the left side of the interface.
In addition to embedded Google files, you can also pull in charts, graphs, and other data-driven visuals using an add-on called Mode. The graphs you include are linked back to their original data so they update in real time with changes. Miro has a similar feature, but most other whiteboard apps do not, so we appreciate seeing it in Freehand.
Another feature that could be improved is how Freehand handles exporting your canvas to an image. When you choose to export, the app doesn’t offer any options for the file type or size or for what to include or exclude. It just spits out a PNG file. It would be better to be able to choose your preferred file type, decide whether you want the comments to appear in the final product, and so forth.
Freehand supports collaboration well. It’s easy to invite people to join a board with you and give them the correct permissions of access in the process. If you invite someone who doesn’t have a Freehand account, they can create one quickly and easily without a lot of hurdles, although they must create an account to join your board.
An increasingly common feature in whiteboard apps is for one person to take on the role of a presenter and force everyone else on the board to see it from the presenter’s point of view. This feature exists in Freehand, but it’s hard to find. You activate it by pressing a button that appears to be a Play button, a right-pointing triangle. When you click it, a dialogue appears on screen that says, “Everyone is following your view.” Click the same button again and the dialogue says, “You stopped presenting.” It’s a fine feature to have, but finding it and understanding how it works could be easier.
You can set and launch a timer to keep brainstorming sessions, meetings, and other activities to a number of minutes you set. This feature isn’t unique to Freehand, but it’s nice to have. The timer appears as a countdown clock while you work and optionally rings when it runs out. This kind of timer shouldn’t be confused with proper time tracking apps and functions, which are used to keep track of the number of minutes and hours a person works in order to bill a client for their time.
InVision Freehand is a decent whiteboard app if your team does a lot of design work. If several people on your team usually sketch and design in the design apps that are best suited to those activities, Freehand may be a worthy choice because it lets designers stick to their existing workflows, sharing the designs with everyone else in Freehand.
Other whiteboard apps, however, are better at providing a place to collaborate, also offering more templates, better versioning and better search features. Editors’ Choice winner Miro makes it easy for people to visually collaborate and communicate even if they have little to no artistic skill or experience thanks to it excellent collection of templates and tools. Consider, too, the highly rated service Mural, which also offers an excellent and varied collection of templates to help nonartists get started.
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Jill Duffy is a contributing editor covering productivity apps and software, as well as technologies for health and fitness. She writes the Get Organized column, with tips on how to lead a better digital life. Follow her on Twitter (below) or get in touch on the Jill Duffy contact page.
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