ChemDraw 16: A first look

[Update March 1. ChemDraw 16.0.1, ChemDraw 16.0.1 press release principally addressing stability and usability issues on the Mac platform has been released.]

[Update Dec 26. ChemDraw 16 is now internally approved to run under MacOS Sierra. Please read this post in conjunction with my brief Sierra update]


I got my hands on the shipping version of ChemDraw 16 last week and so have been busily assembling factoids and tweeting a bit about it over at @MartinStoermer

First things first. My test platform is a 2011 27” iMac with 8 GB RAM, Running MacOS 10.11.6 (El Capitan), and Microsoft Office 2011 (14.6.8). The release of ChemDraw Professional that I am reviewing is version So up front I will say that this is not a review of ChemDraw 16 running MacOS Sierra. I hope to study ChemDraw under Sierra in a later post, but as of the time of posting Sierra is not a supported platform according to Cambridgesoft. [Update Monday 14th: I made a Sierra boot disk and ChemDraw 16 runs. Not sure about all functionality but round trip editing WORKED with Word 2011, PowerPoint 2011, ChemDraw 16.]

Much of this review is concerned with it’s interoperability with Microsoft Office 2011 (specifically Word), as probably the vast majority of theses and papers in (organic) chemistry written on Macs would be written with this or older versions of Word as leapfrogging software package upgrades have a long, and sometimes chequered history together on the Mac. For my previous posts on this subject see here, here, here, and here. But first let us go through a few of the new features.

New features of ChemDraw 16, taken from the flier.


ChemDraw 16 new features from official flyer

ChemDraw 16 new features from official flyer


Versioning and Autosave.

Versioning is a feature most Mac users will be familiar with, but now happily ChemDraw fully utilises versioning on the Mac so that all saved versions of a file are accessible from within that file via the “File – Revert to… – Browse All Versions” menu. If you have not used this feature before this is what it looks like. A flip-through interface where you can step back to previous versions of a Document.


browse versions interface in MacOS

*This is not Chemdraw, just a PNG file in Preview


This does not mean that users can get lazy however, I still recommend doing the odd “Save As…” to keep what are now redundant copies. Autosave simply means that items left open and unsaved when you quit the app will reopen when the app is run again. Incidentally, “Save as…” is now a hidden menu item in recent Mac OS’s, a “feature” I find a bit annoying. But it is easily accessed by holding down the Option key while using the File menu.

High resolution monitor support.

According to the release, multi-monitor and Retina display support is improved. I don’t have a high res monitor and haven’t tested multi-monitor systems yet.

Some fun stuff.

When gleefully tweeting that I had gotten hold of the new software I immediately tweeted that ChemDraw now had emoji enabled, so yes, you can use a Dog as an atom label or in any text box really. This is because behind the scenes, ChemDraw now supports Unicode, the underlying technology that runs emoji, among other things.



Cats of course are not excluded, and mice, which in this #ChemNobel year lead to some appalling puns.

And this Rodentaxane:

But the main thing we are interested here is not the new features but rather how does the new version fare with round trip editing. One of the reasons I am running a 5-year old version of Office is that the history of round trip editing is somewhat disappointing. In Ye Olde Days once you had pasted a ChemDraw picture or Scheme into a Word document, you could subsequently edit the structure by double-clicking it and ChemDraw would be launched. You could make your changes and then save it, and be returned to Word with the amended scheme in place. The technology used here was OLE (Object Linking and Embedding) developed by Microsoft. Microsoft dropped OLE support in 1996 in favour of their ActiveX controls. This never worked on the Mac version of ChemDraw due to changes in the OS but did work in the Windows version. Mac users had to copy the picture to the clipboard in Word, and paste it into an empty ChemDraw window and edit it. Then they had to copy the new structure or Scheme in ChemDraw and return to Word, and paste the amended scheme in. If anything went wrong, you ended up with an uneditable blue bounded box

The dreaded blue-bounded box. Your ChemDraw figure is no longer editable.

The dreaded blue-bounded box. Your ChemDraw figure is no longer editable.

This process of round trip editing and has proven to be problematic nearly every time a new version of either Word, ChemDraw, or MacOS comes out. The nature of the way ChemDraw structures were copied to the clipboard also changed along the way. The format changed to an enhanced PDF that contained both a bitmap version, and the underlying vector information (in CDXML) that described the structure. So why does this continue to be a problem?


Firstly it is important to know that when a new version of ChemDraw is in development, CambridgeSoft write it to be compatible with the current RELEASE version of the operating system, not the version currently in beta testing. The same with Word/Office compatibility. Development versions of ChemDraw are tested with the current release versions of Office and one or two versions back. Thus this iteration of ChemDraw is not explicitly supported under Sierra. I strongly recommend users NOT to upgrade to Sierra if you plan on using this or other versions of ChemDraw. I am in the process of setting myself up a Sierra boot disk to see whether and where it breaks. My suspicion is that it won’t, just that some Sierra features may not work. So stay tuned for an update to this post

Based on years of experience I am always loathe to update my Mac Operating system or Office version without first knowing that everything will work together. So currently I am using Office 2011 and the new ChemDraw 16 on my home computer (running El Capitan). Our IT department at work is also conservative with updates. The default system configuration for users in our group is an El Capitan Mac, with Office 2011 and ChemDraw Professional 15. And we can do the round trip editing just fine.

So the biggest question for us at least is “Does ChemDraw 16 do round trip editing with Word 2011?”. And the answer is Yes! I did my standard test and am happy to report that I had no issues.

Round trip editing with Word 2011

Round trip editing with Word 2011

But wait you say, Not everyone uses Word 2011. Some people use 2016, or even Office365. Some people use one of the various OpenOffice trees. I don’t have any of those to test currently. I’m certainly not about to go out and buy a new Word. Most of my actual writing these days is done in Scrivener and I only use a late-stage export to RTF if I need to conform to some template. But the release material suggests that the last two versions of MacOS (Yosemite and El Capitan) are supported, as are Microsoft Office 2011, 2016 and 365. So I expect that round trip editing will work just fine with them too.

Incidentally, the above procedure also works for Powerpoint and Excel 2011 editions:

Round trip editing with Powerpoint 2011

Round trip editing with Powerpoint 2011

However for some of my writing, and I know several colleagues do too, I use Pages and Keynote instead of Word and Powerpoint. Sadly for me, a ChemDraw object pasted back into ChemDraw via Pages (v 5.6.2) or Keynote (v 6.6.2) was no longer editable. You get the familiar bitmap image with a blue bounding box, but it is not editable, beyond simple resizing. I have had reports that this does work for some users but I have not been able to reproduce this on my test system. I may install the new ChemDraw on my work laptop and see if a different machine might do it, if there is some weird machine-specific bug but I can’t do that just yet.

In all other features that I’ve looked at, ChemDraw 16 looks and behaves a lot like the previous versions. Everything is pretty much in it’s familiar place, except minor changes to the Scifinder Link button, and a new icon to go to ChemDraw Cloud. ChemDraw Cloud is a whole new web application that I hope to review at a later date.

The Main ChemDraw 15 Toolbars.

The Main ChemDraw 15 Toolbars.

The Main ChemDraw 16 Toolbars.

The Main ChemDraw 16 Toolbars. Links to ChemDraw Cloud and Scifinder are circled.

ChemDraw is available in several versions in addition to the Professional version I’ve reviewed. Rather than go through each in turn I suggest you go to the official product pages (here) which gives you the brief outlines. Remember that The Full ChemOffice Suite with ChemDraw E-notebook, Chem3D is a Windows only product.

About martin

almost on holidays
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3 Responses to ChemDraw 16: A first look

  1. Thanks for the very thorough review.

    Did you check out the ChemDraw Cloud version that comes with ChemDraw Professional?

    FWIW, and as much as I hate passing the proverbial buck here, round trip editing in Keynote and Pages doesnt work due to limitations on Keynote and Pages rather than ChemDraw itself. We rely on the clipboard being able to transfer the chemical information (CDX format) rather than just text/images/PDF. Keynote and Pages unfortunately strip out the chemical information from the PDF we pass to the clipboard (the PDF provides the image in case the chemical information is lost). Any change to that behavior would have to come from Apple and not us.

    • martin says:

      I’ve only had a quick chance to play with it due to some setup issues to do with multiple ChemDraw/PE support accounts all pointing to the same email address. When I’ve had more of a chance to investigate I may put up an extra post.

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