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 glee reference! I got it! I never usually get these things, so apologies for being so over-excited.

    Now. If only I could start to get references to things other than TV shows aimed at teenagers. I’m off to the library…

  2. says

    We just started our kitchen remodel and are going with okra cabinets. I loved their kitchen design program, it was probably the reason I felt confident enough not to hire any design help. I tried to work with sketch up but got frustrated. I still want to learn it sometime though

  3. Brettany says

    I definitely second the grouping suggestion – it’s much easier to move things around that way. You can also group like objects (like walls, for example) and turn those off if you need a little more “elbow room” in your 3d model. I used sketchup in architecture school and in a professional office so it’s a great tool – and get’s easier as you go.

  4. says

    SketchUp is very popular with architectural firms, partly because you can export it directly into a real CAD program. It’s quicker than CAD for basic sketches, though. You can also get plugins that allow you to create super realistic ray-traced renderings. There is definitely a lot for you to learn. For example, you can add any surface pattern you want. It is probably easier for people in the architecture industry to learn because it has some common features with CAD program interfaces. One thing that will help you with placing furniture, etc. is creating “groups” and “objects”. You will find that the furniture you download is easier to reposition because it has been created in this way and SketchUp identifies it as a single item.

    One reason that the furniture is a separate download is that it is all created by community members or companies other than Google. Companies like IKEA, Knoll, or Herman Miller produce models af their furniture for designers to use, and more is added every day. There are tons of models publicly available. You wouldn’t want to be forced to download all of them because it would take way too much memory, and you would get annoying updates all the time.

  5. Alissa says

    I think the learning curve is because Sketch Up was designed by architecture students for architecture uses. (Actually met one of the designers.) However, I have to say that compared to some of the other 3D modeling programs I’ve used in architecture school, SketchUp is SUPER fast and intuitive.

    Once nice thing is that since it’s a free (and growing in use) program, there’s a lot of stuff in their model library that other users have already built. Like I typed in “Ikea Karlstad”, and there’s your sofa! You can also type in “Lamborghini” if you wanted to see what one of those looks like as a dining room centerpiece.

  6. says

    If you go to View>Edge Style, make sure the only thing checked is “Edges” — That will decrease the black edge lines. You will probably be happier with that look.

  7. Stephanie Young says

    Here’s my biggest suggestion for Sketchup- components and groups. It makes it easy to change/move an object w/o grabbing everything in your cross box. Once you master that you’re set. Also Layers help too. I agree it’s not great for plans (we use AutoCad in conjunction w/ sketchup) Also Ikea has a whole lotta sketchup block as to many manufacturers.

    Good luck!

  8. says

    For spending only 15 minutes watching videos b4 you started I am really impressed! You’re so right about the learning curve. My first project was a kitchen for a client and every time I work on her design the drawing looks better. Because we are changing her current layout significantly I was also frustrated with the editing portion but I then leaned about groups. It basically tells sketchup not to attach whatever you deem a group to the rest of the drawing leaving you the ability to move something without stretching your whole kitchen in the process. You do have to take an extra step to edit the group but it’a worth it for the flexibility.

    There is another option I can’t remember the name of right now, maybe “make entity”? But and it let’s you make one object and copy it, then if you edit your original object all the copies change too. So, it could have been helpful on your three barstools.

    I’ve also heard about a shadow feature you can add to make your rendering a little more realistic, especially if you bring in some different materials on the surfaces.

    I hope the tips help and the decision making drawings continue :)

  9. HannahJo says

    I used Google SketchUp when I worked for high end commercial architects, FFKR, in Salt Lake City! I ADORE it :) but yes, the learning curve. Oy! If you come from using drafting software, like Auto-CAD, its much less complicated.

    Little adjustments and tweaks are the most frustrating – especially when you find your chair 3 ft below the floor (!?) on a different plane! Stick with it! It gets easier.

    2 hints: you can set your own key commands, which makes things much faster. I kept a list of those commands right next to my two keyboards and two mice and I flew!
    Also, you can easily import a 2d floor plan into Sketchup – this makes creating walls, etc. MUCH easier as you just “pull” them up quickly.

    Good luck!

  10. Debbie says

    when i was in college (700 million years ago) i took an engineering drafting class (i was a graphic communications major) & the part about that class i hate the most were isometric drawings (c.a.d. drawing wasn’t widely known then…like i said 700 million years ago), i just couldn’t draw things to appear correctly in two dimension. my professor took me aside & told me that it wasn’t my fault, that because i was from ND (an extremely FLAT state) that i wasn’t used to seeing in more than one dimension. i found this incredibly offensive, but i still hate isometric drawings. thankfully computers make it so much easier!

  11. Lindsay B. says

    I’m an architect and we use SketchUp all of the time for the majority of our initial design work and then transfer to more sophisticated drafting software (AutoCAD, Revit) after.

    Glad you are starting to understand group and components! Those are so important. My recommendation is that the more things you group (like rooms) and make components (smaller things like furniture) the better you’ll be and the easier it will be to make modifications. Good luck!

  12. says

    for Sketchup, I reccomend you to make as many different groups and layers as possible. The first allow you to move objects around without worrying about sticky edges, the latter to hide/show easily different sets of objects (furniture in a room or the house’s electrical wiring).

    There’s also the option to name a certain object and replicate it as many times as you like (useful for windows or chairs). When you edit one instance, all the others will change accordingly!

    …yeah I like Sketchup very much!^_^

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