8 Best Kitchen-Planning Software Programs and Apps

Designing the Kitchen with Software
Laptop, tablet, and desktop computers are best for kitchen planning. Maskot/Getty Images

At one time, designing a kitchen meant that you had to rely on architects and interior designers to produce a reliable plan with paper and a pencil. Now, the market is flooded with powerful computer programs and mobile apps that allow the homeowner to plan and render any area of the home for remodeling. But what about kitchen-specific design tools?

There are two types of paid and free programs that can help with kitchen planning. First, there are generalized home design tool packages that happen to have especially strong kitchen design components. Second, there are basic 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.

It's important to choose a software planner with an emphasis on kitchens because 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. But kitchens are densely packed with large and unmovable fixtures that all have to work well together. Kitchen space design is an exacting science, and a design tool with a robust kitchen component that addresses design parameters will tell you exactly where you are getting things right or wrong. Fortunately, there are several software programs that meet this need.

SmartDraw

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 over 250 thousand public and private companies and institutions. This might prompt the question: All of that attention just for a kitchen design program?

That's 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 component" 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.

  • Platforms: Web browser, Mac, Windows
  • Pros: Clean, precise, and eyeball-friendly display
  • Cons: Steep annual price

SketchUp

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.

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 computer.

  • Platforms: Web browser only
  • Pros: SketchUp's strong fan-base means that you will always find support from fellow users. For a free program, SketchUp is incredibly robust and versatile.
  • Cons: Only peer support is available with SketchUp Free. SketchUp has been known to frustrate users to the point where they look for simpler, paid design software. So be patient and take your time learning the program.

Prodboard

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 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.

  • Platforms: Web browser only
  • Pros: Crisp, clear graphics with measurements that display even in the 3D version. If you need help getting started, the Autopick feature randomly selects wall, floor, and cabinet elements. As a bonus, Prodboard has a dedicated closet planner, a rarity in 3D home designers.
  • Cons: Prodboard has no walk-through option.

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 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.

  • Platforms: Web browser only
  • Pros: Super-simple visuals make kitchen designing simple. A separate little notepad next to the plan lets you jot down ideas without influencing the plan.
  • Cons: IKEA Planner can be a temperamental program and it is highly recommended that you set up an account before creating your plans. Home Planner has been known to obliterate plans if they are made prior to setting up an account.

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.

  • Platforms: Web browser, Mac, Windows
  • Pros: A significant bonus is the Kitchen Collection Content Pack, an add-on that imports a massive library of kitchen-related elements to Home Design Studio.
  • Cons: Punch! Home Design Studio lacks the ability to import your own textures.

Space Designer 3D

Space Designer 3D is an award-winning, heavily used (over five million users) general home designer that offers ease of use because its system is entirely online, no download required. Its 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.

  • Platforms: Web browser only
  • Pros: Gorgeous rendering and realistic graphics make you feel like you are in the kitchen.
  • Cons: High monthly cost

Best Mobile Apps

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. If you must go mobile, at least consider a tablet. But a couple of mobile apps for kitchen design do stand out:

Houzz Interior Design Ideas

This app won an award from The New York Times as one of the best for home improvement. 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) and the Apple App Store (for iPhones).

Planner 5D

This 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. Of course, Planner 5D also has a 2D mode (thus, the name: 2D + 3D = 5D), which is how you initiate new kitchen floor plans. The app with limited usability is free, but the catalog of elements comes at an extra charge.