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Trade Ideas vs. ThinkorSwim – Which Platform is Better?

By Dave

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Trade Ideas vs ThinkorSwim

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Scanning for trading opportunities is key to staying one step ahead of the market. There are many platforms you can use for stock scanning, but Trade Ideas and ThinkorSwim are at the front of the pack. Both of these platforms offer an incredible level of customization and automation, although there are important differences in how easy they are to use and how they’re priced.

So, is Trade Ideas or ThinkorSwim the better platform for your trading? We’ll compare the two platforms head-to-head to help you decide.

About Trade Ideas and ThinkorSwim

Trade Ideas launched in 2002 as a comprehensive stock scanner for professional and institutional traders. The software has earned a reputation as one of the most customizable scanning platforms available today, and it’s broadened its appeal by adding artificial intelligence features that not many competitors can match.

Trade Ideas vs ThinkorSwim - Trade Ideas

ThinkorSwim is a trading platform owned by TD Ameritrade and offered for free to all of this broker’s account holders. The platform goes beyond stock trading to offer charting, alerts, and real-time trading for options, forex, and futures. In fact, access to a front-end options platform played a major role in TD Ameritrade’s decision to acquire ThinkorSwim in 2009. This software also comes with its own built-in scripting language, thinkScript, to enable traders to build fully custom scans, alerts, and indicators.

Trade Ideas vs ThinkorSwim - ThinkorSwim

Trade Ideas vs. ThinkorSwim: Similarities

Trade Ideas and ThinkorSwim share many of their core features in common. 

Stock Screeners

Trade Ideas is essentially a screening software, whereas ThinkorSwim is a more comprehensive platform with a powerful stock screener built in. There are important differences in the advanced capabilities of these screeners, but for moderately complex scans, they are roughly comparable. Both scanners include a combination of technical and fundamental parameters that you can use to screen stocks. 


Both Trade Ideas and ThinkorSwim offer excellent interfaces for backtesting a trading strategy. Trade Ideas goes a little bit further in this respect, since it calculates a probability of profit over time based on historical market conditions. However, ThinkorSwim’s backtesting tool is just as versatile in terms of how much you can adjust entry and exit parameters. Overall, the two platforms are very comparable when it comes to testing out a strategy on historical data. 

Trade Ideas vs ThinkorSwim - Trade Ideas Backtest

Mobile Apps And Alerts

Each of these platforms is available through mobile apps for iOS and Android, enabling you to monitor your trades and watchlists from anywhere. You can also set up fully customizable alerts, including SMS alerts, based on your stock screens.  

Trade Ideas vs ThinkorSwim - ThinkorSwim Alerts

Trade Ideas vs. ThinkorSwim: Differences

Trade Ideas is built slightly more narrowly as a stock screening platform than ThinkorSwim. But, it comes with some highly advanced automation features that ThinkorSwim can’t match.

Artificial Intelligence

One of the most impressive things about Trade Ideas is Holly, the AI-based trading assistant that’s baked into the platform. Holly simulates several million trades after hours to curate a handful of active trading strategies that you can review before trading begins the next morning. These strategies are used to pick trade ideas, which are then grouped into channels for you to analyze. You can decide which strategies, if any, play to your broader trading goals.

Trade Ideas vs ThinkorSwim - Holly

Holly has been extremely successful since it was launched in 2016. The AI algorithm has outperformed the S&P 500 by five-fold over the past five years. To capitalize on this success, Trade Ideas has now introduced two modified versions of Holly that traders can use to get access to more strategy ideas each day.

ThinkorSwim doesn’t currently offer any machine learning or artificial intelligence features for automated trading or stock screening. 

Screener Customization

Both ThinkorSwim and Trade Ideas offer endlessly customizable stock screens. But the way that these two platforms go about this flexibility is somewhat different.

Trade Ideas uses a more traditional approach, by which you can choose from a multitude of parameters and relate them using logical operators and equations. You can also modify the parameters to create your own custom indicators to some extent. To help you get started, Trade Ideas includes a large number of pre-defined screens. 

ThinkorSwim also offers a wide variety of parameters, but customizing the defaults and setting up complex screens requires diving into thinkScript code. This requires a relatively steep learning curve since traders essentially need to learn a new language to build a screen or custom indicator. However, at the end of the day, this coding approach makes ThinkorSwim much more flexible than Trade Ideas.

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Trade Ideas vs ThinkorSwim - thinkScript


Charts are essential to acting on scanner results and evaluating the quality of trade ideas. So, it should come as little surprise that both Trade Ideas and ThinkorSwim offer charts. 

That said, the charts in ThinkorSwim are far superior to those in Trade Ideas. Trade Ideas enables only minimal customization and visual analysis – just enough to help you initially sort through ideas that are surfaced by the scanner. ThinkorSwim, on the other hand, gives you access to hundreds of chart overlays, advanced drawing tools, and custom indicators. In fact, the only thing that is arguably missing from ThinkorSwim’s charts is automated trendline analysis, which would be useful for implementing an automated trading strategy.

Trade Ideas vs ThinkorSwim - ThinkorSwim Charts

Trade Ideas vs. ThinkorSwim: Pricing

One of the most important differences between Trade Ideas and ThinkorSwim is pricing. A Basic plan for Trade Ideas costs $118 per month or $1,068 per year – no small sum. If you want access to backtesting or AI-based trading strategies and ideas, which are essential to this platform’s edge, you’ll need a Premium subscription for $228 per month or $2268 per year.

Trade Ideas vs ThinkorSwim - Trade Ideas Pricing

ThinkorSwim, on the other hand, is free. All you have to do is open a TD Ameritrade brokerage account. You don’t need to keep a minimum account balance to retain access to the software, and a basic account doesn’t incur any fees if you don’t trade with it.

Which Service Is Better?

Whether Trade Ideas or ThinkorSwim is better depends on your goals and your budget for trading software. Whereas ThinkorSwim is free, Trade Ideas is a major investment that only makes sense for traders who are participating in the market full-time or nearly so. ThinkorSwim is also a broader platform that includes more features for charting and trading assets like options, futures, and forex. 

In terms of the scanners themselves, though, Trade Ideas comes out on top. The backtesting tool is slightly more capable than what ThinkorSwim offers, and the ability to harness AI-based trading strategies every day can make a marked difference in your trading. Customizing screeners is also significantly easier since you don’t need to touch code, even if ThinkorSwim’s screener is ultimately more flexible. For professional traders looking for the best screener that money can buy, there’s simply no competition to Trade Ideas.


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Trade Ideas And ThinkorSwim Alternatives

If you’re looking for a platform that’s cheaper than Trade Ideas but easier to use than ThinkorSwim, you have several alternatives. 

TradingView combines a powerful stock scanner with very strong charting tools. It still comes up short of ThinkorSwim for technical analysis, but it stands out for allowing you to apply one indicator on top of another to create custom combinations. The interface is user friendly as well. However, TradingView is still pricey, with paid plans starting at $14.95 per month (a limited free plan is available).

FinViz is also worth a look. This software offers a comprehensive stock screener at a modest price, and it’s significantly easier to use than either Trade Ideas or ThinkorSwim. However, its backtesting and charting tools leave something to be desired, so this isn’t necessarily the best choice for advanced traders.

Conclusion: Trade Ideas vs. ThinkorSwim

Trade Ideas and ThinkorSwim are two extremely powerful stock screening platforms that you can use to spot opportunities that most other scanners wouldn’t surface. Trade Ideas stands out for professional traders who can make use of AI-based strategies and who aren’t fazed by the platform’s premium price tag. ThinkorSwim is a free software that entails a steeper learning curve, but offers more advanced charting tools and matches Trade Ideas on most features except automation.

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Dave has been a part-time day trader and swing trader since 2011 when he first became obsessed with the markets. He focuses primarily on technical setups and will hold positions anywhere from a few minutes to a few days. Over his trading career, Dave has tried numerous day trading products, brokers, services, and courses. He continues to test and review new day trading services to this day.

1 thought on “Trade Ideas vs. ThinkorSwim – Which Platform is Better?”

  1. I’ve tried both and am about to move back to Trade Ideas. The problem is the user has to constantly hit the “Scan” button in ToS (and it will hang if you scan too frequently). If memory serves, the Trade Ideas windows fill up automatically, right? (That’s my question and perhaps one of the annoying differences worth mentioning here.)


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