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

    A Sketchup tip: Make sure all of your objects are grouped so you don’t have to worry about selecting every surface/line/node. You can have groups within groups within groups, too.

    You can also turn off your edges (or tone them down) which will give it a more polished look. If you really want to get serious about rendering, you have to get a 3rd party plugin, because inherently it sucks at rendering. I think VRay had a Sketchup plugin and there are probably others. Consult your local architecture school for all of the current hacks…lol!

    Excellent work for a few weeks time – I know it is a steep learning curve.

  2. says

    Ooh now I want to try Google sketch up for my house. But it will probably take me loads more time than it took you to understand. Around how long does it take to create each rendering you made?

    BTW, thank you so much for “Can’t a brother get a fruit bowl?” You cracked me up!

  3. Sheena says

    I absolutely love the YouTube video series:

    It basically walks through google sketchup for dummies and is very useful with all the little tips and tricks you can use to do different things.

    Also, if you have a component that you’ve loaded or drawn, put it away from everything else so you can easily select the whole thing and then group everything (cmd + G) for easy selection later. This saves a ton of time. Keep up the good work! It’s a great tool for what you two do!

  4. Stephanie says

    Just out of curiosity, are you getting a new fridge that is more flush with the cabinets when you build your new penninsula? I love the way it looks in the IKEA design, but I think it is because the fridge in the design is less instrusive.

  5. Pip says

    Not quite on topic – though this comparison post helped me see it!I didn’t realise how generous your hallway is – is it really wider than the laundry?

    • says

      Oh yeah- it’s a lot wider than the laundry room! Haha. But that wide hallway is one of the things that sold us on the house. So airy and open and not-alley-like. Haha.


  6. says

    Oh nelly John – you will LOVE sketchup so much more if you use groups! Once you’ve drawn that whatever (chair, object etc) select all of the lines/planes etc that make it up, right click and select ‘make group’. VOILA! now you just have to select one thing to move it. double click on the group to make changes to the object.
    Sketchup is a great program (I’m a commercial interior designer) sooo fast and once you get the hang of it you’ll be able to whip things together quickly – without skewing any walls:)

  7. says

    I tried Ikea’s kitchen planner but could never figure out how to open it once I downloaded the plugin. ARG. Any suggestions? I supposed I could always turn to Google Sketchup….

  8. says

    I have a friend building us a wall of shelving for our laundry room but we live an hour apart so he’s been drawing up sketches in Sketch-up to communicate and it’s been wonderful. I just snapped pictures of the area and took measurements and he was able to get something put together really quickly in that system. I think (I could have misunderstood) that he was able to figure out exactly how many sheets of lumber we’d need with the info on there too so we knew exactly how much it’d cost before diving in.

  9. heather says

    Now these are more my style programs!

    My husband just informed me this winter we’re doing ours in Chief Architect kind of, I honestly don’t know anything about it except it’s some pro thing which allows you to make the entire house and check for building conflicts right down to design details.

    At our office we have B.I.M (Building Information Modeling). I don’t do it, but I do marketing so I’m privy to it. It includes every aspect of the building down to the bolts. It allows you to see the final product, make quick changes and you can fly through wall portions to make sure there are no conflicts (I.E. no wall segments through an HVAC pipe, room for the insulation to meet R-Value, etc.) This is a cool video on it. It’s pretty much for commercial use, but still wicked awesome to see.

  10. says

    Hi John –

    First off YAY 3d!!!! I studied 3d modeling as part of my BFA in digital arts and used it for a long time to make 3d graphics for games and virtual worlds. I got fed up with sitting behind a computer for days on end – so I quit that job and got one working for Dear Genevieve on HGTV as an asst interior designer. The tv business was horrible so that didn’t last long.

    So instead, I tried to combine my love of interior design + computer art and tried to start Dovely Design, doing 3d renderings of design plans (here are some: but it took too long to be profitable. So now I’m back to just working on computers again. boo hoo.

    Anyway – LOVE that you’re promoting this. Its so great to see people take up learning new software. The computer really can help us do so much more than read email and check facebook.


  11. Emmanuelle says

    Thanks for this post.
    I quite agree with your pros and cons.

    On my side, I often use (autodesk homestyler).
    It is good in 2D and 3D, has a great furniture library and decorating tools and has a “snapshot tool” that renders your floor plan as if you had taken the picture yourself.

  12. says

    I LOVE SketchUp! In design school I had to learn AutoCad, (which I have not used once since graduating) but I find myself using (and learning new skills) on SketchUp ALL the time. Start playing around with making things into groups so that you can easily move furniture around. Likewise, layers are great when considering multiple layouts or colors. And scenes are super handy for getting back to your favorite views (and just wait till you start importing your own textures!) Have Fun!!! (and take the time to learn your keyboard shortcuts!!)

  13. says

    Thanks for explaining the differences. I’ve used floor planner and sketch up but not the Ikea one. I used sketch up for like 2 hours and quit because I wasn’t jiving with it but your post makes me want to try again!

  14. Krista says

    Thanks guys, I’ve been thinking about trying Google sketch-up for a while now but have been slightly intimidated by it to be honest. I think I’ll give it a go though!

    PS: John your Glee reference at the end cracked me up so much!

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