Monday, May 16, 2016

Googlink: Using Google Drawings like a Thinglink

Google Drawings is often overshadowed by the other Google Drive tools such as Docs, Sheets, Slides, and Forms. However, it is an excellent tool for students and teacher to do many tasks including graphic organizers, teaching math, and desktop publishing (see here for examples of each).

One more educational use for Google Drawings is to create an interactive multimedia poster. This is very much like creating a Thinglink. Let’s call it a Googlink.

If you are not familiar with Thinglink, it is a powerful online tool that lets users annotate images with pop-up text, pictures, videos, weblinks, documents, and more. It can be a great way for students to demonstrate their learning. You can see many examples of Thinglinks here:

Although Thinglink is an excellent tool, its free version does have some limitations. As an option, Google Drawings can be used very much like Thinglink, and might be the perfect alternative for you and your students.

See below for information on how to use Google Drawings in a similar way as Thinglink to create, edit, and share interactive multimedia posters, as well as a sample Googlink to test out.

Thinglink versus Googlink

As I mentioned before, Thinglink really is an excellent tool, and I certainly encourage students and teachers to use it.

It offers a free version that many users may find will meet their needs. The free version does have some limitations though including limits on the number of students and types of icons (only 10 icons in the free version).

If want more options and customization you would need to upgrade to the premium version of Thinglink for $35 per year.

As an alternative, Google Drawings can be used in a similar manner, sort of like a Googlink. Some benefits of Google Drawings would include:
  • No cost
  • Unlimited users
  • Unlimited choice of icons (through the many image options in Drawings)
Of course Drawing is not an exact replacement for Thinglink as there are features unique to each that the other does not have. Still though it is a good free option with a lot of potential for schools.

What is a Googlink?

If you are familiar with Thinglink, then you already know what a Googlink would be. For those who are not, here is the gist:

  • The user chooses an image they would like to annotate. This could be a diagram, a map, a painting, a photograph, or such.
  • The user then adds icons on top of the image. These could be simple shapes, or they could be icons for videos, pictures, documents, web links, and such.
  • The user then adds a hyperlink to each icon that links out to a related resource that explains, elaborates, or further illustrates that portion of the image.
  • The links might go to a video the student has recorded, a video on YouTube, a document they student wrote, a website, an online image, a map, a slideshow, or anything else that can be accessed online.
  • The user then shares their final product so other people can click on the links to open the related resources and learn what the user is explaining.

Uses for a Googlink

In school students could create a Googlink as a fun and interactive option to show their learning of most any content. Examples could include:

  • The parts of an insect
  • Key locations of a battle on a map
  • Examples of geometric shapes in real life
  • Their interpretation of different lines in a poem
  • Steps in a lab experiment
  • An “About Me” poster
  • And much more...

Example Googlink

As an example I put together a very simple Googlink to demonstrate how this could look. Use the links below to test it out. Be sure to click on the various icons in the Googlink to open the linked resources.

To open the Googlink as a Google Drawing on its own click here: Google Drawing link

To open the Googlink as a Drawing embedded in a Google Site click here: Google Site link

Creating a Googlink

Below are the basic steps for using Google Drawings to create something like a Thinglink.

Create a new Google Drawing

To create a new Google Drawing:

  • Go to your Google Drive, then click “New” then “More” and then “Google Drawing”.
  • A new blank Google Drawing will be created.
  • You can give it a name by clicking on “Untitled Drawing” in the top left corner.

Add the Base Image

Next you will want to add the image you will be using for the base of your Googlink. This is the picture you will annotate with links to websites, videos, documents, other images, and more. You can add the image in several ways.

  • Click “Insert” then “Image” and then upload the image, take a webcam snapshot, choose an image from your Drive, search the picture, or more.
  • Or click “Tools” then “Research” and search for an image to drag and drop into your Drawing.
  • Or find an image online and then drag and drop the image from its website into your Google Drawing.

If you need to resize your Drawing to match your base image, you can click and drag the bottom right corner of the Drawing, or you can click “File” and “Page setup”.

Add the Shapes and Icons

Next you need to add the shapes or icons on top of the image that people will click on to get to your related resources. There are several options for adding these images.

Add Images from the Research Tool

  • Probably the easiest way to add icons to your Googlink is through the Research Tool.
  • Click “Tools” then “Research” top open the Research Tool panel.
  • Type what you want in the search box such as “video icon” or “document icon” or such.
  • Choose “Images” from the drop down menu at the left of the search box to just get picture results.
  • When you find an image you want, click, drag, and drop it onto your Drawing.
  • As needed you can resize it and drag it to the correct location.

Add Shapes

  • Click “Insert” then “Shape” then choose the shape you would like to add.
  • Your cursor will now turn into crosshairs so you can click and drag out the shape.
  • As needed you can resize the shape and drag and drop it to the needed location.
  • If needed, you can click the “Fill color” (paint can) button to make the shape hollow so you can see through it.

Add Images from the Insert Menu

  • Click “Insert” then “Image
  • You can then upload an image, take a webcam snapshot, choose an image from your Drive, search the picture, and more.
  • As needed you can resize the image and drag it to the correct location.

Add the Hyperlinks

Now you want to add hyperlinks to the icons or shapes so they will link out to your related resources.

  • Click the icon or shape to select it.
  • Next click the “Insert link” button in the top menu bar.
  • Paste in the link to the video, picture, Google Doc, website, or such.
  • Note: If linking to a Google Doc, Slideshow, or such, be sure you have shared the file properly so other people will be able to view it.

Share your Googlink

When you are all done adding hyperlinks to your Drawing, you are now ready to let other people view and click on your Googlink. One option for this is to share the Drawing.

  • Click the blue “Share” button in the top right corner of the Drawing window.
  • To share with specific people, enter their email addresses in the “People” box.
  • To make the Googlink viewable by everyone, click “Get sharable link”.
  • For permissions, you only need to give people View rights to be able to view and click on your hyperlinks. They do not need Comment or Edit rights.

Embed your Googlink

Another option for sharing is to embed your Googlink on a Google Site. When you add a Google Drawing to a Google Site, all of the links in the Drawing stay live, so people can still click on them to open your related resources.

  • Open the Google Site webpage you want to edit and click on the "Edit page" (pencil) button.
  • Click “Insert” then “Drive” then “Drawing”.
  • Select the Drawing you created for your Googlink.
  • As needed edit the “Length” and “Width” values to match your Drawing.
  • Save the changes to your page.

People will now be able to view your Google Drawing on the site and click the links you have put inside of the Drawing. As always though, make sure you have properly shared the Drawing and the Site as publicly viewable so people can access them.


Google Drawings is an easy to use, but powerful and versatile tool, that can be used by students and teacher for many applications including a Google version of a Thinglink. If you would like to learn more about using Google Drawings in general, feel free to access my detailed Google Drawing help guide here: Google Document link

If you have suggestions for other ways to use Drawings like a Thinglink, or if you have examples of your own to share, please share your ideas in the comment section below.


  1. Here's my sample I created today!

    Is there a way to add an icon and have it offer pop-up text that the student has written? Thinglink does offer this, but I was unable to do the same in Google Drawings.

    I have recently started training faculty on the use of Thinglink, and they love it! But, you are correct that it does have some limitations. Google Drawings looks like a great free resource that offers a bit more flexibility.

    Thanks for sharing!

    1. Lynn, that is such a great example! I really like what you created. If you do not mind, I would love to use that as an example when I share about this in the future. Thanks!

    2. Lynn, I love your example. Great use of Eric's excellent suggestions. Is it OK to share this as an example with faculty with whom I am working?

      I think there are also advantages to "keeping" folks in the Google suite of apps. Too often, my students (and colleagues) go into "tool overload." Although I love ThingLink, I think that this alternative application in Drawing is super.

    3. The problem I run into is when I share drawings with students they move things around and sometimes delete the drawing or parts of it. I want to be able to lock my things in place yet still allow students to annotate over top of the drawing. Is this possible, or do the kids just need to be careful not to delete/move things around.

  2. I really like the idea! Thanks for sharing.

    +Lynn I could not figure out how to do that either. An idea I had that might do a little bit of what you want would be to have the students make a comment on each icon and then mark resolved. You could still see them when you click the comment button, but it would hide them otherwise

    1. Problem with using Comment is that the only people who can see them are folks with Comment of Edit permission. People with View Only permission won't see comments. How much text are you trying to show? One option is to put a text box over the image - type your text and make the box large enough to "cover" the image. Text boxes, by default will be clear so the image will show through. Then you can hyperlink the textbox so that anyone who clicks the text and/or the associated image will be taken to the hyperlink.

    2. Great suggestion by Jennifer! Yes, that is correct that comments only show up if you have comment rights (or higher). Using a linked textbox would be one good option to try.

  3. I'd noticed the same on the original example, that in the first example (just the drawing) - you had to click to open the link; in the 2nd example of where it was embedded in a site; it opened nicely, but as a new tab, rather than a popup. Wonder if that could be controlled in sites?

  4. I found the tutorial really useful. Thanks a lot. I have just tried something online and embedded it in my website :

    1. That is a really nice example! That makes a great version of what we used to call an "image map" when designing websites. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Thanks to you. I wish I could create " speaking images" and not only images with iperlinks..... I will try to implement what you have been teaching thanks to your fabulous website. THANKS

  6. Thanks to you. I wish I could create " speaking images" and not only images with iperlinks..... I will try to implement what you have been teaching thanks to your fabulous website. THANKS

    1. You could link your icon to an audio recording using something like vocaroo.

  7. I wonder if this is possible .... imagine a drawing with links to several other drawings, all drawings are embedded on different pages of one google site .... would it be possible to force the links to open in the same tab som you 'stay' on your site and not open tabs again and again?

  8. Just a note on this: I think that it might work very well to use a single slide in Slides to do the same thing. The reason I think it might be a bit easier is that it would alleviate the need to create a Google Site and embed the drawing.
    All the user would have to do is click "Present" and they'd have the active "Googlink".
    What do you guys think?

    1. I like that idea. I think it would work. I want to give it a try.

    2. I like that idea too. If you set it to publish to the web it automatically be ready to click!

      I am going to do this with my students on the planets next week!

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