17 of The Best Mind Mapping Tools (Online, MacOS and Windows)

Mind mapping has come a long way since its introduction in the 1970s. With the power of computers this thinking technique might have entered its golden digital age.

17 of The Best Mind Mapping Tools (Online, MacOS and Windows)
Chris' mind map for this story. Canva

Mind mapping is a very powerful tool for taking notes or thinking through a problem. Each mind map will be as unique as the mind creating it and can be as plain or crowded as you want.

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It was devised in the early 1970s but has become incredibly popular ever since. Many millions of people around the world have benefitted from this technique to organize their minds and lives.

If you have never heard of it before you are in for a treat. 

Given the nature of the topic at hand, this article will include a fair amount of images and videos to help you understand and use this powerful technique.

And, just before we get started, good luck on your journey to mastering mind mapping from all at the IE team.

What is mind mapping?

Mind mapping is defined as "[a] graphical technique for visualizing connections between several ideas or pieces of information. Each idea or fact is written down and then linked by lines or curves to its major or minor (or following or previous) idea or fact, thus creating a web of relationships." - The Business Dictionary.

It was first developed by Tony Buzan (A British Researcher) in his 1972 book Use Your Head.

Mind mapping can be thought of as a type of visual thinking tool that will help you structure information in such a way that will help you to better analyze, understand and assimilate information to improve memory recall and stimulate creating new ideas.

It can be used for pretty much anything but is a great way of working through a problem (like project management) or improving your memory recall on a particular topic - especially during study. It is also considered by many of its proponents as a powerful tool for making and/or taking notes. 

For many who use this technique, they find it helps your brain to remember (and think) instead of 'getting in the way'. It is, therefore a kinesthetic means of 'brainstorming' and/or note-taking. 

mind mapping tennis example
An example of a mind map. Source: mindmapping.bg/Wikimedia Commons

A truly great mind map should be simple and, as oppose to traditional note taking (like linear text), information is laid out in such a way that it more closely simulates how your brain actually works. Creating one is both an exercise in analytics and artistic creativity and, as such, engages your brain to a much great extent than the simple act of note-taking or transcribing.

"Like other mapping techniques, its purpose is to focus attention and to capture and frame knowledge to facilitate sharing of ideas and concepts." - The Business Dictionary.

Each and every mind map will be unique to the subject and, more importantly, the person creating it. To be fully effective any mind map, and its myriad of tendrils, will consist of just a few words to focus the mind on a particular subject.

The idea is that these 'keywords' will act as aide memoires or prompts to retrieve larger amounts of information you are familiar with, understand or have memorized. In this way it allows your mind to 'connect the dots' between information that you have absorbed, or discussed, throughout your studies or whilst note taking during a meeting or lecture or solitary problem-solving.

How is mind mapping useful? Who is it best suited for?

Mind mapping is useful for pretty much anyone at any time. If you need to take notes, think through a problem or simply want an effective method to help retain information during study you might want to give mind mapping 'a crack'.

As it is an activity that requires you to write and draw it is both fun a fun and engaging project to undertake. According to people who use the technique regularly it can take some time to get used to but "once you break the ingrained habit of linear note taking, you won’t look back." - Litemind

Mind mapping has many fantastic benefits over more traditional note taking or brainstorming techniques. These include, but are not limited to:-

- Mind maps are fun to make, honestly;

- They help jog your memory, often in very surprising ways;

- Mind maps actually make note-taking fun;

- They help focus your mind on the task at hand and, more importantly, help organize your thoughts;

- Mind mapping in a universally understandable process that others will intuitively understand once you show them yours;

- It is a very efficient means of taking notes as you connect ideas together with ease irrelevant of the order in which they are written down and;

- They provide a closer match to how your brain functions as opposed to linear notes or lists. For this reason, you can easily assimilate the information just by glancing at the diagram.

Mind mapping generic
Source: Safety Professionals Chennai/Wikimedia Commons

As you get more accustomed to the technique you will find the process easier when you start adding sketches and make good use of color throughout.

What are the disadvantages of mind mapping?

Mind maps do, you might be surprised to learn, have their problems.

- They can feel awkward at first. Adjusting from more traditional linear methods to this one can take some practice but is worth the investment in time.

- The process can stall if you lack knowledge on a subject. As this process makes heavy use of keywords or short phrases it does require you to have at least a basic knowledge of the task at hand. This can, however, be seen in a positive light as it will serve as a great way to expose the areas where you need to improve your knowledge of the problem at hand.

- They take up ALOT of space. They take up a lot of space on a piece of paper. For this reason, it might be better to create your mind maps on larger paper sizes like A3 rather than A4. You can, of course, just use mind mapping software where size is not an option (more on these later). 

Despite these problems, it is still an incredibly powerful thinking and note-taking tool that will really 'get your creative juices flowing' as they say. 

Mind map examples with images

We've already included some examples in the introductory sections above but, as with any new subject, it is always useful to show some worked examples. 

The following range from basic hand-written ones to some more aesthetically pleasing examples. These are far from exhaustive, as you can imagine. 

The following 5 are great examples but you don't need to make them as 'pretty' as these if you don't want to do. It's your brain and your mind map so, make it how you want it.

Mind mapping example #1 - It can be used in any language

The following example just goes to show that your native tongue is irrelevant when it comes to creating mind maps. Granted you'd need to know the language to understand the finer details but the use of images helps you get the gist of it.

Mind mapping chinese example
The law of mind mapping in Chinese. Source: Mickey Sun/Wikimedia Commons

Mind mapping example #2 - It doesn't have to be fancy

The following example of a mind map shows that you don't need to make them super-decorative. This simple handwritten one will be the kind of example you'll generate as you learn the process through trial and error.

Of course, these are also the kind of mind maps you'll create if time is short and you just need to jot down the basic concepts. You can always 'beautify' it later.

Mind mapping basic
Source: Marco Antonio Torres/Flickr

Mind mapping example #3 - They can get very complex

This example of a mind map for a business just goes to show how complex, and large, they can get. You don't need to aim for this level of complexity but if your mind takes you there follow it.

You can always simplify it later or focus, and expand, on one or more areas later.

Mind mapping complex example
A more complex example. Source: mindmapping.bg/Wikimedia Commons

Mind mapping example #4 - An example of a software created one

The following is a great example of one created using a purpose-built software application. It also serves as a good example of the range of topics that can be adressed using this technique.

The following mind map was created using the Coggle web app.

mind mapping technical example
Source: Lurched95/Wikimedia Commons

Mind mapping example #5 - The master class 

As your skills and confidence grow using this technique you will be able to produce practical works of art. This one is a prime example.

It might look crowded to amateur eyes but the creator has truly mastered the technique and, if you take the time to study it, you will really begin to understand their thought process. 

mind mapping advanced example
Source: Jean-Louis Zimmermann/Flickr

As you can see the limit of this technique is your imagination. You can create overly complex and crowded mind maps of your own but remember the time and tested principle of...

"KISS: Keep it simple stupid"

Free online mind mapping tools

The following are a selection of great free online mind mapping tools. These are far from exhaustive and are in no particular order.

1. Coggle is great for creating mind maps

Since we mentioned Coggle earlier in the article it would be remiss of us to omit this great tool. It comes in various forms from "Free" to "Awesome" to "Organization". 

The free version is a great way to 'try before you buy' and it comes with a lot of cool functions and options to make your mind map very colorful. It is definitely worth a try. 

Mind mapping Coggle app
Source: Coggle

2. Freemind is a handy free online mind mapping tool

Freemind, as the name suggests, is a free online mind mapping tool. It is also very handy for generating mind maps when you are offline.

It comes with the benefit of being open sourced but has less of the 'bells and whistles' of other apps detailed in this article. It's not the easiest to get used to, especially if you are a beginner but it gets the job done. 

Think of it as a 'no frills' mind mapping option. It's definitely worth looking at if nothing else.

Mind mapping Freemind app
Source: Freemind

3. Mindmup lets you create and store your map for free for 6 months

Mindmup offers a good looking and intuitive mind mapping service for free. You can, of course, take up their offer for their premium options of "Personal Gold" and "Organisational" if you wish but this depends on your needs.

The free service lets you save maps up to 100kb in size and lets you save them to your Google drive too. Any maps created are only stored for up to six months though so bear that in mind.

Mind mapping Mindup app
Source: Mindmup

Paid online mind mapping tools

The following are a selection of great paid-for online mind mapping tools. These are far from exhaustive and are in no particular order.

4. Bubbl.us is a simple yet powerful mind mapping app

Bubbl.us is a great web-based mind mapping tool. As mind mapping is a rather personal process which app is 'best' is a matter of personal taste. 

Bubbl.us is focussed on pure mind mapping. It’s one of the simplest cloud brainstorming apps available. 

It offers free and paid for versions of its software but bear in mind the free version only allows you to build 3 maps and limits the tools it offers. The paid-for service starts at $4.95 a month which is billed for annually. 

mind mapping apps Bubbl.us
Source: Bubble.us

5. IdeaFlip is tailored for group brainstorming

IdeaFiip is an online-based mind mapping service that is specifically targeted for use by groups. This doesn't mean you can't use it alone though.

Because its based on the web it can be accessed and used from any desktop or tablet device. Plans start from $9 a month for individuals or small teams and can reach up to $145 for Enterprise level solutions. 

The Enterprise version comes with other team management features too.

Mind mapping apps IdeaFLip
Source: IdeaFlip

6. Lucidchart isn't technically a mind mapping app

Lucidchart, unlike others on the list, is strictly speaking a mind mapping app. It is, instead, an online diagramming application that can be used for many different tasks including, of course, mind mapping.

It is very flexible and can be used to diagram out other things like process flows. Lucidchart is used by the likes of Netflix, Spotify, and Ford.

Single user Basic licenses start at $4.95/month while licenses for Teams start at $27/month for three users. There’s also a limit free tier if you only want basic features and Enterprise scale solutions require tailored quotes from the company.

mind mapping lucidchart
Source: Lucidchart

The best free mind mapping software for MacOS

The following are a selection of great paid-for mind mapping tools for use on MacOS. These are far from exhaustive and are in no particular order.

7. SimpleMind Lite is free but limited

SimpleMind Lite us a free mind mapping tool for MacOS but is limited, as you'd expect, compared to its premium version. It is a very simple 'piece of kit' and it pretty intuitive to use.

Like other mind mapping apps, you get to choose your theme (color etc) and can simply add nodes to your growing map with the click of a button.

Text can be quickly added too by clicking the T icon and double-clicking where you want to put it. It also comes with Undo and redo buttons, zoom functions and easy deletion and clipboard options. 

Mind mapping SimpleMind
Source: itunes/SimpleMind

8. XMind: Zen comes with a selection of templates to get you started

XMind: Zen is another free mind mapping app for MacOS. Unlike others on the list, it also offers you some templates to get the ball rolling.

Adding nodes is very easy and you can easily move them around the virtual page.

mind mapping XMind Zen
Source: iTunes/XMind

9. QMindMap Lite is limited in features but completely freeform

QMindMap is another great free mind mapping app for MacOS. It's not as fancy as other apps but is completely freeform. 

Adding subtopic nodes is easy and you can type text by double-clicking on shapes.

mind mapping app QMindMap Lite
Source: iTunes/QMindMap

The best paid mind mapping software for MacOS

The following are a selection of great paid-for mind mapping tools for use on MacOS. These are far from exhaustive and are in no particular order.

10. iMindMap is one of the best for MacOS

iMindMap is one of the better mind mapping apps on our list and is one of the best for MacOS. It is leagues ahead of its competitors. 

iMindMap is feature rich and is also very easy to use. It tends to get roaring reviews. Licenses start at $100

mind mapping iMindMap
Source: iMindMap

11. MindNode is great and not too expensive

MindNode does everything its competitor can do but for less money. It has a pleasant and intuitive user interface and also acts as a mind mapping tutorial for beginners.

It can also sync with iCloud, which is nice and licenses start from $40

mind mapping MindNode
Source: MindNode

12. Mindomo is great but is subscription based

Mindomo does everything that a mind mapping software should do, but with a twist. Unlike many others on this list is allows your include/attach audio notes, go into a presentation mode and it also has a cross-platform capability.

Despite this, its pricing strategy is a little annoying. It doesn't offer one-off paid for licenses but rather opts for a subscription-based model ($36/6 months). It does, however, offer a free version but that is heavily limited, as you'd expect. 

mind mapping Mindomo
Source: Mindomo

The best free mind mapping software for Windows

The following are a selection of great free mind mapping tools for use on Windows. These are far from exhaustive and are in no particular order.

13. One to rule them all - MS Paint

Never underestimate the power of MS paint. Although MS paint is not, strictly speaking, a mind mapping app it is highly versatile. Whether you agree or not it is free and usually comes pre-installed on all window machines. 

mind mapping ms paint

14. Freemind is on Windows too!

Freemind here again. This open source mind mapping app for Windows (and other platforms) is not the easiest to get to grips with but it is free.

It is only usable by one user.

mind mapping freemind windwos
Source: Freemind

 

The best paid mind mapping software for Windows

The following are a selection of great paid-for mind mapping tools for use on Windows. These are far from exhaustive and are in no particular order.

15. XMind can also be used on Windows!!

XMind is a great mind mapping applications and is not only available on MacOS. It is one of the more professional mind mapping apps out there and has, like others, different levels of plans.

XMind comes in a variety of flavors and starts for $9.99/6 months on mobile. You can just bite the bullet and buy XMind 8 for $129.

mind mapping XMind windows
Source: XMind

16. Mindomo has free and paid for plans on Windows

Mindomo is not exclusive to MacOS - it can also be downloaded and installed on Windows and Linux. Like MacOS it does have a free, but limited version, as well as different levels of subscription payment plans.

For the cool features like backing up in Dropbox, adding video or audio files or exporting in other formats you will need one of its paid plans. 

mind mapping mindomo windows
Source: Mindomo

17. Scapple is a classic amongst mind mapping apps

Scapple is a classic example of mind mapping software that can be found out there. It was designed by the same team who developed Scrivener as a means for authors to outline their projects.

It costs $12 and does have a free trial period. Scapple integrates with Scrivener so you’ll need both apps to get the most out of it. It's also available on MacOS.

mind mapping Scapple
Source: literatureandlatte