Not long ago, if you wanted to design your kitchen, you had to rely on architects and interior designers to produce a reliable plan. Now, the market is flooded with software design tools to help you plan and render areas of your home for remodel.
Is there any kitchen design-specific software available for homeowners? Not really. In the free-or-inexpensive category, your choices fall into two areas: 1.) Generalized home design software packages with a good kitchen design component; or 2.) CAD (computer assisted drawing) programs that require you to produce your kitchen designs from scratch (though "scratch" is not exactly right, and I will cover this later).
In the area of free software tools, we mainly find software that, yes, is free but misses the mark a bit. "You get what you pay for" is true in this case, because kitchen design is a very specialized type of design which the free tools do not adequately cover. Kitchens have parameters you need to stay within (for example, you need to maintain a certain spacing between cabinetry units), which the free tools do not really address.
So, unless you're a homeowner willing to pay over $1,000 or more for professional-quality kitchen design software, your choices are:
Truly free and moderately easy to learn, SketchUp is a basic design tool (i.e., not just for kitchens), and its more powerful version called SketchUp Pro currently costs $695.
SketchUp is heavily used by the home remodeling crowd. Woodworking guru Ana White even employs SketchUp to configure her winning furniture designs.
Why create your kitchen designs from scratch? Go to the 3D Warehouse, where fellow users have uploaded kitchen designs that you can manipulate once you install SketchUp on your computer.
- Cost: Free.
- Plus: Strong fan-base; you'll always find support from fellow users. SketchUp is incredibly robust and versatile.
- Minus: Only peer support available. SketchUp has been known to frustrate users to the point where they look for other, simpler, and often paid design software. So be patient and take your time learning the program.
Find it: SketchUp
2. IKEA Home Planner
IKEA's planner formerly was one of the few free kitchen-only design tools. Now its scope has expanded and it is called IKEA Home Planner.
Home Planner is a clean, easy-to-use 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 in the area of cabinet placement. Unlike other planners that allow "ghost" cabinets to overlap or merge, with IKEA's program cabinets either fit or they don't fit, which is the way real cabinets work. Like any commerce-based planners, this one too creates running shopping lists, but these lists are not obtrusive.
IKEA Planner can be a temperamental program and it is highly recommended that you set up an account before creating your plans. Planner has been known to obliterate plans made prior to setting up an account.
- Cost: Free
- Plus: Simple and free, this planner produces moderately attractive 3D renderings of your future kitchen.
- Minus: Buggy and poorly maintained. No walk-through capabilities.
Find It: IKEA Home Planner
Prodboard is a simple to use dedicated kitchen planner from a company based in Ukraine. It is mainly designed to be white labelled to furniture and other home-related companies under their own brand. However, you can still use Prodboard on the company site. The only difference is that you will not be able to purchase products. Autopick feature randomly selects wall, floor, and cabinet elements, if you so choose.
- Cost: Free.
- Plus: Crisp, clear graphics with measurements that display even in the 3D version. Prodboard has has a dedicated closet planner, a rarity in 3D home designers.
- Minus: Walk through not possible.
Find It: Prodboard
Predictably, you're better off spending a few bucks on paid kitchen design software.
The tools work smoother, and they are more in tune with kitchen design needs.
1. Encore 3D Home Architect Design Suite By Encore Software
Not limited to kitchens, 3D Home Architect lets you choose kitchen counters, floors, lighting, appliances, and more. Users report that this offering from Encore is mediocre, at best. Drawings rendered by 3D Home Architect are more for your own usage, rather than for handing off to an architect or contractor.
- Cost: $35-70.
- Plus: Ease of use. Not incredibly detailed or realistic, but Encore 3D does help you block out the basic spaces.
- Minus: Model kitchen designs are a bit uninspired. Honestly, this is fairly middle-brow stuff.
2. Custom Cabinet Software
This Tracy CA-based company produces high-end software for "cabinet design, pricing, and manufacturing...designed specifically for the custom cabinet maker." Even though this software concentrates only on cabinetry, keep in mind that cabinets comprise a good 75% of the kitchen itself. This software is worth a look if your design focus is cabinetry.
- Cost: $400 per year and up.
- Plus: If you make cabinets, this is pretty much the ultimate solution for you. Technical support is included in the price.
- Minus: Too specialized for most homeowners; high continuing costs.
3. Punch! Software Home Design Studio Pro
Punch! design software is a lot more complex and ambitious, and with prices that match this ambition. Still, if you want kitchen design software with more oomph! than an Encore 3D, this is the way to go. One criticism of Punch! Home Design Studio is the lack of ability to import your own textures.
- Cost: $250+
- Plus: Professional-like kitchen design software, with all the associated strengths.
- Minus: Punch! software does have a learning curve, but nothing you cannot master in a weekend.
Find It: Punch Design Software
Now we're getting serious. SmartDraw straddles the line between weak off-the-shelf design software and those prohibitively expensive packages.
How serious? It even has its own "Dummies" book.
- Cost: around $200 for one user.
- Plus: powerful software.
- Minus: generalized design software that includes features you may not need.
5. Space Designer 3D
This new offering is an award-winning, heavily used (over 5 million users) kitchen designer that offers ease of use because its system is entirely online--no download required. Its photo realistic graphics provide an accurate representation of what your final product will look like.
This product is offered only a month-to-month basis, with per-month costs ranging from about $10 to $50. More robust business plans are available, too.
Unlike some other paid products, Space Designer 3D can be accessed on your smartphone.
- Cost: $10 to $50 per month
- Plus: Very realistic graphics
- Minus: Very expensive: the least expensive plan of worth costs $50/month.
Find It: Space Designer 3D