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).
So, unless you're a homeowner willing to pay over $1,000 or more for professional-quality kitchen design software, your choices are:
Free Software1. HomeStyler by AutoDesk
AutoDesk's free home design software is thankfully online-based: it works in your browser, so no cumbersome software to download.
- Cost: Free.
- The Good: Geared more for home and kitchen design than Google SketchUp, which is a general design tool. Also, I like the ability to choose brands, such as Kohler, Merilat, Flor, Sherwin-Williams, and others.
- The Bad: Produces only very rudimentary renderings. Also, no walk-through ability.
It's 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 "wins" 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. Naturally, the planner create running shopping lists.
But it's a temperamental program. I highly recommend setting up an account before creating your plans. In one instance, I created elaborate plans, then followed the prompt to begin an account. This action obliterated my plans and wasted about 2 hours of my time.
- The Good: Simple and free, this planner produces moderately attractive 3D renderings of your future kitchen.
- The Bad: Buggy and poorly maintained. No walk-through capabilities.
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.
Truly free and moderately easy to learn, Google SketchUp is a basic design tool (i.e., not just for kitchens), and Google's more powerful version called SketchUp Pro currently costs $495.
Important Tip For Surviving SketchUp: Use Previously Built Kitchen Designs. Why create your kitchen designs from scratch? Go to Google's 3D Warehouse, where fellow users have uploaded kitchen designs that you can manipulate once you install SketchUp on your computer.
- Cost: Free.
- The Good: Strong fan-base; you'll always find support from peers.
- The Bad: Only peer support available. Like other Google products, Google sends it onto the market and forgets it. Also, I found SketchUp a bit difficult to learn.
Paid SoftwarePredictably, 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.
- The Good: Ease of use. Not incredibly detailed or realistic, but Encore 3D does help you block out the basic spaces.
- The Bad: Model kitchen designs are a bit uninspired. Honestly, this is fairly middle-brow stuff.
2. punch! Software Home Design Studio Propunch! 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+
- The Good: Professional-like kitchen design software, with all the associated strengths.
- The Bad: punch! software does have a learning curve, but nothing you cannot master in a weekend.
3. SmartDrawNow 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.
- The Good: powerful software.
- The Bad: generalized design software that includes features you may not need.
Discontinued: AutoCAD® Freestyle by AutodeskPremium software manufacturer Autodesk promoted this CAD-for-homeowners software only a few years ago. Freestyle was meant to be a rarity: an easy, homeowner-accessible design program to help produce accurate renderings to hand off to an architect or contractor--without them laughing at you (by contrast, see 3D Home Architect). At only $79-$149, Freestyle was priced just right for most homeowners designing their own kitchens.
Then guess what? Autodesk abandoned Freestyle. On January 31, 2011, Lisa Crounse at Autodesk announced that her company would be dropping Freestyle and all support for it. Sorry! Their suggested alternative is HomeStyler, a free online program with many limitations.