Whether you’re explaining scientific research or discussing a PTA fundraiser, charts can help your audience quickly grasp complex numerical relationships. Chartsmith 1.2.3, from Blacksmith Technologies, lets you turn raw data into spiffy graphs, but a few interface quirks and frustrating documentation may sometimes slow your progress.
From Data Entry to Dragging and Dropping
Getting data into Chartsmith is a snap. Chartsmith’s Data Viewer has a standard rectangular grid for numbers, with space reserved for labels along the top and left side. You can enter data manually, cut and paste it from any other application, or import it from tab-delimited text files or Excel files.
In programs that support OS X services, such as TextEdit, you can also select the data with your mouse and choose a graph style from the Chartsmith Services submenu, and Chartsmith will automatically transfer the figures into a new document.
After you’ve entered all the data into the Data Viewer window, Chartsmith generates a chart using a default style that you set in the program’s Preferences window. Chartsmith’s repertoire of a dozen chart types is less extensive than that of its primary competitor, Red Rock Software’s
; October 2003) — Chartsmith doesn’t represent 3-D surface plots, for example. (Blacksmith plans to add more charts late this year.) However, Chartsmith makes it easy to change designs as you enter the data, and you can specify a different type of graph for each data series.
Chartsmith’s interface relies extensively on dragging and dropping. For example, you can drag a swatch from Chartsmith’s color palette onto any chart element to alter the element’s hue. If you press the option key while you’re dragging the swatch, you can preview the effect before you commit. Chartsmith also lets you drag entire charts into the document windows of other running applications — including Microsoft PowerPoint — in PDF or TIFF format. In addition to letting you export individual charts in several graphic formats, Chartsmith lets you save an entire document as an Apple Keynote presentation (mmh; April 2003). If the file contains multiple charts, each one becomes a separate slide, and you can even choose which Keynote theme to use for the presentation.
Chartsmith’s chart-editing interface suffers from a few annoying inconsistencies. For example, to set attributes for most chart elements, you first select the component with the mouse and then click on an icon to reveal an Inspector window (see “Inspector Gadgets”). But to hide or reveal the chart’s legend or grid, you have to select options in the Data Viewer window; there are no corresponding controls in any of the Inspector windows.
Unlike other chart components, which display handles when you click on them, the chart background doesn’t give you any visual feedback to let you know when you’ve selected it. I also encountered sporadic screen-refresh problems while I was resizing text, and the program occasionally truncated the text labels at the tops of the bars in one of my charts.
Part of the frustration I felt when dealing with Chartsmith’s interface was caused by the program’s lack of a reference manual. Three tutorial documents do a good job of introducing the program’s features, but they’re no substitute for an indexed guide. Chartsmith’s online help provides more detail, but finding the answer to a specific question using Apple’s Help Viewer seems to take forever.
Macworld’s Buying Advice
Despite a few rough edges, Chartsmith is a highly capable charting tool that’s easy to use once you learn its idiosyncrasies. It sells for less than half the price of DeltaGraph, and even lower educational pricing makes it attractive for students and teachers. You can download a demo, with only printing and exporting disabled, from Blacksmith’s Web site, so it’s easy to audition the product before you buy.