At one time, designing a kitchen meant relying on architects and interior designers to produce a reliable plan with paper and pencil. For any serious kitchen plan actionable by a contractor, this is still the best route. But technology has evolved to the point where do-it-yourself homeowners can develop a kitchen plan so detailed that it acts as a major jumpstart for working with the professionals.
Types of Kitchen Planners
There are two types of paid and free programs that can help with kitchen planning. First, there are generalized home design tool packages that have especially strong kitchen design components. Second, there are basic consumer-level CAD design programs that allow you to create anything under the sun from scratch or from crowdsourced templates. This type allows you to start your kitchen design from a blank canvas or work off of one of the open-source kitchen designs created by other users.
Unfortunately, what you will not find is a robust consumer-level, kitchen-only software planner. A few programs and apps that purport to be kitchen-only planners indeed are, but they are heavily focused on a single company's product, such as cabinets.
Several forms of white-label software are available that a company may re-brand under its own name. So, if you run into kitchen design software that looks suspiciously similar from one company to another, that may be the reason why.
Focus on Kitchen Planning
Though it is difficult to find kitchen-only planners, at least choose a software planner with a strong emphasis on kitchens.
Component spacing is so critical in kitchens. Except for bathrooms, most rooms in the house have leeway when it comes to spacing. Bedrooms, living rooms, offices, and most other rooms have few permanent fixtures, and any furniture can always be moved around.
Kitchens are densely packed with large and unmovable fixtures that all must work well together. Kitchen space design is an exacting science. A design tool with a strong kitchen component that addresses design parameters will tell you exactly where you are getting things right or wrong.
Kitchen Design Software
Home design tools tend to wax and wane over time. But SmartDraw has only steadily improved over the years. Hardly the new kid on the block, SmartDraw has been around since 1994, and it is used by many Fortune 500 companies and thousands of public and private companies and institutions. This might prompt the question: Why all of that attention just for a kitchen design program?
That is because SmartDraw is more than a kitchen design program or even a general home design tool. It produces about 70 types of visuals, including flowcharts, graphs, and schematics. And this is where the robust kitchen angle comes into play. SmartDraw programmers and engineers have carved out a respectable section devoted to homes and kitchens. SmartDraw's clean interface is a joy to use.
While the software is fairly expensive for a consumer-level tool, the upside of SmartDraw is that it is not cluttered with exhortations to purchase kitchen products, a downside found in some free programs.
Clean and precise
Extras such as flowcharts, graphs, and schematics
Free and moderately easy to learn, SketchUp Free is a basic design tool that has a considerably more powerful and expensive cousin called SketchUp Pro.
Though the association is now severed, SketchUp is the software on the list with the most impressive pedigree: Google. Developed by Google, SketchUp was acquired by Trimble Navigation in 2012. But SketchUp's maker culture flavor survived the move, and the software is heavily used by the home remodeling crowd. Woodworking guru Ana White even employs SketchUp to configure her winning furniture designs.
With SketchUp, there is no need to create your kitchen designs from scratch. Go to the voluminous 3D Warehouse, where fellow users have uploaded kitchen designs that you can manipulate once you fire up SketchUp on your own computer.
Strong fan base and supportive community
Very robust and versitile
Huge warehouse of designs
Only peer support is available
Steep learning curve
Don't be put off by Prodboard if it loads in your browser and you are confronted with Russian text. In Chrome, all you have to do is right-click, then hit "Translate to English"—problem solved.
Prodboard is a simple-to-use dedicated web-only kitchen planner from a company based in Ukraine. Though Prodboard is mainly designed to be white-labeled to furniture stores and other home-related companies under their own brands, you can still use Prodboard as a consumer. The only difference is that you will not be able to purchase products within the software.
One significant downside is that Prodboard does not allow the user to walk through the plan.
Crisp, clear graphics
Measurements display even in 3D view
Dedicated closet planner
No walk-through option
IKEA Home Planner
Home Planner is a web browser-only tool that allows you to start designing instantly, without setting up any kind of account (though you will need an account to save your plans).
This planner scores high marks in the area of cabinet placement. Some other planners allow ghost cabinets to overlap or merge. But with IKEA's program, cabinets either fit or they don't fit, which is the way real cabinets work. Like any free retailer-sponsored planner, this one is hardly brand-agnostic. It will steer you only to IKEA kitchen products and will create a running shopping list. But you can still use the tool to design the room, even if you don't intend to buy from IKEA.
IKEA Planner can be temperamental. It is highly recommended that you set up an account before creating your plans. Home Planner will obliterate your kitchen plan if it is created before setting up an account.
Simple visuals for simple designing
Notepad for jotting down ideas without influencing the plan
Very buggy and prone to freezing up
User cannot create an account after creating a plan
Punch! Software Home Design Studio
Punch! design software is a lot more complex and ambitious than it may appear on the surface.
Part of the Encore Software company, which produced the venerable but now defunct Encore 3D Architect, Punch! offers a wide range of design tools for all tastes and abilities.
From the relatively simple and inexpensive Punch! Home Design Studio Essentials, on up to the professional-level Punch! Home & Landscape Design Architectural Series, at least one of these programs is sure to be right for you. Punch! is available for web browser and for Windows and Mac download.
Kitchen Collection Pack: a significant bonus
Large library of kitchen-related elements
Inability to import your own textures
Expensive extra content packs
Space Designer 3D
Space Designer 3D is a web browser-based, award-winning, heavily used general home design tool that offers ease of use because its system is entirely online, with no download required.
Space Designer 3D's photorealistic graphics provide an accurate representation of what your final product will look like. Like Prodboard, this is the consumer-facing version of a product that is intended to be white-labeled by other companies.
High monthly cost for premium version
Best Mobile Apps For Kitchen Planning
Because there is always "an app for that," it naturally follows that there are mobile device apps dedicated to home and kitchen planning.
Several hundred apps for this purpose are spread between Android and iOS platforms. The small screen format of smartphones makes most mobile apps less effective at creating kitchen floor plans than the software designed for desktop and laptop computers. However, if you must go mobile, at least consider a tablet—certainly so if you are a design professional.
Houzz Home Design & Remodel App
Houzz' app won an award from The New York Times as one of the best for home improvement. Yet clearly, based on user reviewer, this design app is difficult to use and buggy. But this app still receives high marks because Houzz is a huge power player in the home improvement area. Even if you primarily use other kitchen planners, it helps to have the Houzz app on board as a supplement.
This planner lets you take pictures of your kitchen, load them to the Houzz app, then superimpose products such as lamps, cabinets, stools, and sinks onto that picture. The result is not perfect, but that's not the goal. Instead, the app provides you with a rough idea of where elements can go and how they might look. You can find this app on both Google Play for Android Phones on the Apple App Store for iPhones.
The Planner 5D app, available for both iPhones and Android phones, excels at creating floor plans. Working off of Planner 5D's catalog of over 3,000 elements, you can create photorealistic 3D renderings of your dream kitchen.
Like most kitchen design software, Planner 5D also has a 2D mode. This is the origin behind the somewhat cryptic name: 3D plus 2D equals 5D.
The Planner 5D app with limited usability is free, but the catalog of elements comes at an extra charge. Kitchen design software companies appear and disappear with regularity. But Planner5D UAB, the Lithuanian company behind Planner 5D, is business and still is fully supporting its product.