Online Tools for Planning A Space in 3D

Break out the 3D glasses! Okay, not really. Put them away. This blog will not be coming to you in any additional dimensions today.

As you saw in our latest kitchen planning post yesterday, I finally bit the bullet and learned me some Google Sketch-Up (as many of you recommended) to help us plan our kitchen renovation. But having been a loyal user of in the past and having recently become acquainted with Ikea’s Kitchen Planner, I thought I’d give you my take on how these three 3D modeling tools stack up against each other… because there’s actually not a clear winner in my book. Each have pros, cons, and a different scenario where they might take the win. is what we’ve used to create just about every digital floor plan you’ve seen on our site (like this one), so we’ve got a soft spot for it. But when I gave it spin last week to render our new kitchen plans, here’s what I observed:


  • No software to download. It just loads in your browser.
  • Easy & fast to use. I find the interface very user-friendly, so if you’ve got your room measurements handy you can have a simple whole house plan done in a matter of minutes.
  • Good finish options. They have a lot of standard finishes, like flooring, with adjustable colors so you can bring more life to your drawing.
  • Nice library of furniture. Floorplanner comes stocked with dozens of furniture options (chairs, tables, rugs, plants, appliances, etc) to help decorate your spaces. You won’t find perfect matches to your real life items, but you can usually find something similar.
  • 2D or 3D: It lets you easily toggle between a 2D and 3D view.


  • Only kinda free. You can create one plan for free, but after that you may have to fork over some dough.
  • Limited kitchen designs. Kitchens are probably one of the toughest rooms to design, so Floorplanner is quick to fall short when it comes to trying to precisely layout a kitchen (I could only find one type of base cabinet, for example).
  • So-so 3D rendering. I like the look of their 3D rendering, but it’s a bit clunky to navigate around and I had issues with things not showing properly (see below how my counter got wonky and my rug disappeared from the kitchen). Also, I found the only thing I could change in the 3D version were my wall colors, so I ended up working in 2D most of the time.

BEST USE: In my very humble inexpert opinion, Floorplanner is best if you’re short on time or technical skill and need to create a 2D floor plan (of one room or even your whole house). It’s also great for testing out furniture arrangements thanks to their library of stock furniture and the ease at which you can move things around in your virtual space.

On to the next one…

Ikea’s Kitchen Planner popped up on my radar when we were considering their cabinetry for our wall-to-wall office desk. Having had a good experience with that, it was actually the first place that I turned to when deciding to plan our kitchen’s new layout in 3D.


  • It’s free. There is some software to download, but once you do that you can access it anytime on their website using your free log-in.
  • Allows multiple designs. I’ve saved three or four different files (aka different kitchen layout options) and so far I haven’t hit any “max projects limit” like I did on Floorplanner.
  • Works with real life products. Ikea lets you design using real products from the catalog (and not just cabinets and counters, but chairs, tables, etc) so you know there’s some “reality” to your design when it comes to size/layout/planning. It even offers to print out a shopping list when you’re done. Convenient, but only if you’re getting everything at Ikea.
  • Works with real life finishes too. Like above, you can pick from a range of cabinet sizes, front styles, drawer & shelf configurations, finishes, colors, hardware, etc to get a very customized look. Obviously it’s limited to Ikea’s real life finish options, but they’re pretty plentiful.
  • A real-ish 3D rendering. Continuing the “real” theme, I thought Ikea’s 3D view was the most life-like of all of the three tools.
  • 2D and 3D. Like Floorplanner, you can quickly toggle between these two views. However, Ikea’s version gives you equal editing capabilities in both options, so I found myself working mostly in 3D, which was nice.


  • It’s just kitchens. Unless I’m missing something, Ikea’s software only lets me create one room in my plan (which makes sense since it’s supposed to be just for planning your kitchen) but as someone who needed to see how things would look in the kitchen from the dining room (through a doorway) it fell short.
  • It’s just Ikea. Since the cabinets and furnishings are only Ikea, you may have trouble finding pieces that suit you if Ikea-style isn’t your thing.
  • Limited decorating options: I’d understand just being limited to Ikea furniture, but it’s also limited to only kitchen-appropriate Ikea items. So I wasn’t able to render a rug or an armchair to create a seating area near the fireplace. And why are “decorative items” limited to just plants? Can’t a brother get a fruit bowl?

BEST USE: Designing a kitchen (surprise!) especially if you plan to use Ikea products. But even if you don’t, a lot of their sizes are standard enough that you can get a good idea of what you might also be able to find elsewhere. Just don’t expect to “decorate” your virtual kitchen very much.

Google Sketch-Up is new to me as of a couple of weeks ago. I turned to it after being frustrated by Ikea thwarting my multi-room design (and after a bunch of you sang its praises). I’m still pretty new to it and feel like I haven’t unlocked all of what it can do (like apparently I can turn off the guides that you see in my screenshots below). Nevertheless, we’re becoming fast friends.


  • It’s free. Like lots of products in the Google-verse, it costs $0 to download.
  • It’s offline. While some may see having to download software a “con,” I liked that I didn’t need to be connected to the Internet to use it or to access my files. You know, in case we have another Hurricane Irene.
  • It’s precise. Google’s software feels much more “technical” than the other two, so I feel more confident that we can actually make cuts into our wall based on Sketch-Up measurements (with the help of a pro, permit, & architect of course).
  • The possibilities seem endless. If you’ve got the time, skill, and patience it seems like you could render just about anything in Sketch-Up – rooms, furniture, buildings, cars, chihuahuas – so you won’t find yourself limited like the other two sites.
  • Most functional 3D.  Navigating through Google’s 3D rendering is the most intuitive and flexible, it seems. You can look above, below, through, and around every inch of your design quickly and easily. The rendering looks very much like a rendering, but that’s okay.


  • Talk about a learning curve. Being the most technical of the three, Sketch-Up has the steepest learning curve by far. I spent about 15 minutes watching Google’s tutorials before starting and still found myself struggling to hit my groove.
  • No 2D: I find 3D hard to work in sometimes, so not being able to toggle to a simple 2D floor plan was something that I personally missed. The closest I’ve found in Sketch Up is the “Parallel Projection” camera viewed from the top.
  • No built-in furniture library. Unlike the other two which have furniture options built into the software, with Google you have to download it separately from their warehouse (I didn’t know this until a few helpful commenters enlightened me on yesterday’s post, which is why every cabinet, fireplace, chair, and table was “drawn” by me for that sketch – which certainly didn’t help my rendering look any more lifelike). Oh well, live and learn.
  • Somewhat inflexible. I found it difficult to make changes or tweaks along the way. If I wanted to shift my chair a bit, it took making sure all of the right edges and surfaces were selected (and none of the wrong ones) first. This took time and also gave me a lot of accidentally skewed walls and floors along the way. Did I mention I’m still learning? Update: just figured out how to group things/make components. So helpful.

BEST USE: Anything 3D… as long as you’re willing to put in some time to learn it. It ended up being perfect for planning our doorway because I have the most flexibility to render the room AND I can trust the precision of the measurements. Now if only it didn’t take me so long to make changes…

So that’s how Sue John sees it. I haven’t spent more than a few hours with each program, so my comments aren’t based on weeks of research or anything. If you guys have had your own similar (or different!) experiences with these three tools (or others that I haven’t heard of yet) I’d love to hear your thoughts – and tips if you’ve got any.

Psst- We announced this week’s giveaway winner. Click here to see if it’s you.


  1. says

    Thanks for this post. Very helpful. I need to start using SketchUP. When I built my kitchen cabinets, I used a program called Cabinet Planner that was perfect and very similar to the programs above but it gave you cut sheets for cutting plywood and the lumber.

  2. says

    I used Sketch Up once to doodle some stripes on the wall for our office. You can see my subpar results here….

    Less than professional looking, though I liked that the chairs are indeed our office chairs, the bottom of one kept disappearing and I couldn’t turn the other one around. Definitely a learning curve but it was fun to play with :) Maybe someday I’ll use it again!

  3. says

    Have you guys tried “Sweet Home 3d”? It is not online so you can work remotely from your computer, and you vae 2d and 3d at the same time on the same screen. You can create photos and video of your home. Check it out, I really like it.

  4. OntarioGirl says

    I love this 100 times more than the banquette idea (which was also good). So much more function with this layout AND it looks amazing. You can tell how excited you are about it and can’t wait to read all about it :)

  5. says

    Google Sketch-Up reminds me of the 3D modeling software I used in engineering school– Difficult to learn, but once you get it down, its a great tool.

    I’ve been wanting to try to start working on our bathroom remodel plans. Once you create a layout there can you change it later(ie. cut a door in a wall), or does that require a whole new layout?

  6. says

    My hubby is a landscape architect, and used Sketchup in school for a lot of his projects. Now that he’s got a “real job” he uses the even fancier and more technical 3D rendering programs (the not free ones) but I know they still use Sketchup in the office when the need calls for it. It’s amazing what you can do in there with a little knowledge and time.

    • says

      How cool! I’m a landscape designer and we didn’t get to learn CAD or anything in school so that’s good to know that lscp architects use SketchUp sometimes too. I like doing it all by hand, but it’d be nice to at least know how to do it digitally.

      And John, thanks for the informative run-down!

  7. says

    Thanks for posting this. I am a stickler for drawing out my own floor plans, but the 3D rendering is something that may come in handy some day. I tried Google Sketch Up the other night for only like 10 mins, and admittedly that isn’t enough time to learn something. I have used the IKEA program and found it super easy, but like you said its only for kitchens unfortunately. Gonna try later on tonight!

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