The Best 4 Brainstorming Tools for 2018

Let your ideas flow with these mind mapping tools

Colleagues brainstorming in a tech start-up office
Gary Burchell / Getty Images

Brainstorming tools, also known as mind mapping software, can help you collect ideas and collaborate with colleagues to bring them to life. Options range from text-based tools that mimic a whiteboard to visual platforms that let you chart out related ideas and hash out a plan to make them a reality. We looked at the full landscape to find the best, from free options to premium offerings to identify the top products for all the various brainstorming techniques.

The tools below enable users to capture ideas and connect them in a flowchart format. Mind mapping software records brainstorming sessions, also help individuals and teams discover themes and contradictions before deciding what to tackle next.

Here are the four best brainstorming tools, according to our research.

Best Free Mind Mapping Software: Coggle

Coggle mind mapping software
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Coggle is an online mind mapping tool with both free and paid versions. It's a visual tool, where users can build diagrams, connecting a theme to a collection of ideas. Users can create organizational charts, mind maps with one or more central themes, and workflow sketches.

Pricing and Features
The free version includes three private diagrams and unlimited public diagrams, access to the full change history (versioning), and an array of export options.

Otherwise, the Awesome plan ($5 per month) includes unlimited private and public diagrams, high-resolution image uploads, and collaboration features. Finally, the Organization plan ($8 per user per month), aimed at companies, includes everything in the Awesome plan as well as branded diagrams, bulk export, and user management.

Why We Chose It
Its commenting and chat features make for easy collaboration, and its seamless integration with Google Drive is convenient. If you don't mind sharing your mind maps outside of your team, the free version is very generous.

Best Mind Mapping Software for Small Teams: Mindmeister

Mindmeister mind mapping software
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Mindmeister, like Coggle, is web-based, and thus a good choice for remote teams that use a mix of operating systems. The software can also grow along with a company with options for single users all the way up to enterprise organizations. It also integrates with MeisterTask project management software and has apps for Android and iOS.

Pricing and Features 
Mindmeister has free and paid plans. The free version (Basic plan) includes three mind maps and a handful of import and export options. The Personal plan ($4.99 per month) is best one user teams and includes unlimited mind maps, additional export options, including PDF, and cloud storage. The Pro plan ($8.25 per user per month) is good for larger teams and adds Microsoft Word and PowerPoint export options and customization features. Finally, the Business plan ($12.49 per user per month) has 10 GB of cloud storage, a custom domain, bulk exports, and multiple admin users.

Why We Chose It
Mindmeister updates in real time making it easy to collaborate from different locations or even side-by-side. The Pro and Business plans make it easy to take ideas and turn them into presentations and eventually bring them to fruition.

Brainstorming Software Tool with Software Integrations: LucidChart

Lucid Chart mind mapping software
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LucidChart is an online concept map maker, and like Mindmeister, it can work for individuals, small teams, and large corporations. It shines when it comes to software integrations so you can take your brainstorming sessions and move them into the software you use every day, such as cloud storage, project management software, and other tools.

Pricing and Features
LucidChart has five plans: free, basic, pro, team, and enterprise. The free account is a free trial with no expiration.

The Basic plan ($4.95 per month paid annually) includes 100 MB of storage and unlimited shapes and documents. The Pro plan ($8.95 per month) adds professional shapes, and Visio import and export. The Team plan ($20 per month for three users), as you might guess, adds team-friendly features and third-party integrations, while the Enterprise plan (pricing available upon request) offers license management and robust security features.

Why We Chose It
LucidChart easily connects with the rest of your personal and business software. Third-party integrations include Jira, Confluence, G Suite, Dropbox, and many more.

Best Brainstorming Tool for Writers: Scapple

Scapple mind mapping software
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Scapple is a writer-focused brainstorming tool from Literature & Latte, a company that also owns Scrivener writing software. As such, it's heavy on text and has an open-ended format. Users drag their notes into the Scapple and export and print them.

Pricing and Features
Scapple is available as a download for Windows and MacOS ($14.99; $12 educational license available). It also offers a full-featured 30-day free trial, which is extended to 15 weeks if you use the software only two days a week. Scapple is a real word that means "to work roughly or shape without finishing," which certainly applies to brainstorming sessions.

Why We Chose It
When your ideas are words, a flexible tool like Scapple is essential. Scapple only helps you get words on the page and organize them any way you wish. You can also drag your notes into Scrivener, which helps you format your work and get it ready for submission.

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