Apps And Zerts

Yes, that post title was a Tom Haverford reference, so you might want to grab your super water and sandoozles before we get into the nitty gritty.

As I was trying out some new floor-planning apps to write last week’s post about our office floor plans, I took some screen shots and photos to share with you guys, and then that post felt full of enough graphics and words without them so I thought “eh, I’ll just skip that stuff.” Well, no less than a few dozen of you asked for more info on how the floor plans were made – and lo, this post was born. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes.

We’ve talked about techniques and tools for planning a space back in 2010, and also did this post about software for planning in 3-D back in 2011. As much as those 3-D versions were helpful for planning our last kitchen, we still usually plan in 2-D (like this floor plan that we made of this house’s “before” layout using On that post about our new house’s layout, a few of you mentioned some new phone apps for making floor plans, so I thought I’d use this office conundrum to take a couple for a spin and see how well they work.

Both MagicPlan and RoomScan were free (well, to download… more on that later) and I chose to try them because unlike an app that just helped you enter wall measurements and then noodle around with furniture icons, these two actually promised to create the floor plan for me – no measuring tape required. There may be others out there like these, but they were the only two I found in my search of the iOS App Store. Let’s start with MagicPlan. Its basic premise is that you stand in the middle of your room and spin around in that spot, using your phone’s camera to mark each corner and doorway as you go. And yes, I’m regretting my decision to have Sherry snap photos of me doing this because I just look like a giant nerd.

Here’s a screen grab I managed to capture in the process. You’re supposed to line up each corner of the room along the green axis, where it will then drop a virtual cone. You can also mark doorways (not windows, though) and mark “through furniture.” The latter is a bit difficult because you have to judge for yourself where the corner sits behind the object.

Here were the results of my first attempt. You can see that it was, well, yeah…

Admittedly I was a bit fast and loose with my corner marking since I wasn’t sure how much the app would compensate and adjust. So I gave it another try, trying to be more more careful about dropping my cones precisely where two walls met the floor. The results were MUCH better.

The screenshot above is after I did a bit of adjusting – namely adding two windows and manually fixing some of the measurements. I was kind of disappointed that I did have to break out the measuring tape, just to check things – but if I hadn’t, the app’s measurements would have been within 2-4″ so I’d say they’re pretty reliable for general space planning purposes. Speaking of which, MagicPlan does have some placeholder furniture (including a drumset!) that you can play around with. I liked that it was pretty easy to adjust the scale of things, but so much was locked in the free version that it wasn’t really worth it.

Yup, I was definitely bumping up against the “free” threshold. Since I couldn’t furniture plan in the app, I decided to export it. They offer lots of export options, but most of them come at a price. I tried the one free export option (a PDF and JPG emailed to me) but it’s so watermark-tastic that it’s not really what I need.

Let’s compare that to the other app I tried: RoomScan. After my difficulty getting the hang of marking corners, I was intrigued by the promise of this technique. You basically walk around the room and hold the phone flat against the walls at several points. Seemed pretty dummy proof (and no, I didn’t look any less nerdy doing it).

Here’s a screenshot of what I was seeing on my phone. The instructions they provide as you go are super easy so I felt like I was rocking my first scan… although the rough sketch that it was drawing in the background had me a bit nervous.

The resulting final floor plan was better than the sketch, but it still wasn’t very impressive. You can see the path I walked too, just like I’m Billy from Family Circus.

I tried it two more times – stopping at more points along the wall in my next attempt, and going the other direction in my third. Nothing turned out any better, but like MagicPlan I was able to go in and manually fix the measurements so the room became less askew.

With my room looking better, I couldn’t seem to do anything else with it without purchasing the full version (which is $4.99), but because the free version really didn’t spare me the trouble of busting out the measuring tape, I wasn’t convinced to go pro.

For the sake of experimentation, I did spend the $2.99 to export my MagicPlan layout (the first one I tried) over to Floorplanner, since it automatically sent it to my Floorplanner account with the same email address. I wasn’t able to accomplish much in the Floorplanner app (that’s also free, but it looks to be better suited to a tablet) so I went over to the desktop version that I was used to using and I was right back in my comfort zone… plus I could play with my room in 3-D!

That’s also how I was able to make the three different floor-planning options that you saw in last week’s post (along with our hilariously weird “current office” layout). It was a combination of measuring in MagicPlan, and then adding furniture with

In the end, I’m not sure I’m a total convert to app-based floor plan making – especially if I need precise measurements for building, but for creating a quick mock-up of a space (or even a whole house, since MagicPlan allows you to connect multiple rooms) I’m glad to have it in my back pocket.

Has anyone else had a good or bad experience with these apps? Do you have better tricks to share, or other apps I should try? I don’t think I’ve hit my monthly quota for looking like a doofus while awkwardly holding my phone in a room by myself yet, so feel free to lay them on me. Meanwhile Sherry’s upstairs painting something (it’s like a race against the baby clock), so she’ll be back with those details tomorrow.

Psst- Clara’s having conversations again. This time on the subject of favorite farm animals and another baby name idea…


  1. says

    I love using It’s easy and I love the furniture options (they even have IKEA stuff!). I’ve never paid $ to upgrade or get the non watermarked JPEGs. Their watermarks are subtle – unlike the one above!

  2. says

    I’m always amazed at technology and this is no exception. I had to laugh at the Family Circus reference. I now have an overwhelming urge to find paper comics but I know it wouldn’t be the same. But I digress. Playing in 3D would be fun. If I didn’t live in a shoebox, I would probably invest in something like that. Have fun!

  3. says

    I haven’t tried any of these apps yet, but these things are definitely on my to-do list! My husband and I have an odd L-shaped den and to further complicate matters it’s a two level room with a 17″ drop from one level to another. Throw in a huge fireplace wall and it’s even weirder. I’m definitely going to have to try some type of room planning service out in order to come up with a plan. Do you know if any of these apps would work if a room had more than one floor level?

    • says

      That’s a good question. The first one might since you mark your corners (hopefully it would detect that the level of the floor had gone down) but I don’t think the second one would work for more than one floor level (since it doesn’t matter what height you put it on the wall).


  4. Julianne says

    Neat and worth a try, so I appreciate you sharing. For us, methinks a pencil and graph paper may suffice. :O)

  5. says

    My favorite site to use in Granted it’s not an app so you have to manually make the walls the correct dimensions but there are so many things you can add into your rooms, the 3D images it creates are awesome, you can even have it create a panoramic view, and decide what you see out your windows so you can see it in different sunlights. And unless something has changed VERY recently, it’s free!

  6. says

    One project that looks like it could be very cool for this space is Google’s Project Tango. It’s invite only right now, but this youtube demo is an impressive example of what you could do:

    Currently, we generally use a combination of SweetHome3D (free) for layout planning and Sketchup (free) for anything more “custom.” Neither will measure your room automatically, but they provide a lot of other customization.

  7. Tammy says

    My son is a leasing agent for upscale apartments/condo’s and uses MagicPlan on his tablet when showing clients – he loves it – most of the prospective clients want to ‘see’ how their furniture would fit….so he does it for them.

    I tried it when attempting to rearrange my living room. My end result looked a lot worse than your first attempt. I prefer my paper pen method.

    But I enjoyed reading the different apps you tried and stuff…..

  8. Jess says

    Man I’ve been doing it old school with straight-up AutoCAD. It is more time consuming, but I have the software through my work, and to get dimensions for various future furniture purchases I just Google ‘king bed’ or ‘barrel chair’ and I always find general dims that work. So far I’ve planned our living room and master bedroom furniture placement, plus the plans for a new master bathroom. I’ve also used it to plan a long row of trees so I could give the landscaper a hard copy.

    I like planning to scale :)

  9. Jessica says

    I’ve always just used InDesign and Illustrator to create 2D renderings of rooms before I move stuff around. The vector concept makes everything easier in my opinion.

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