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Best interior design software 2020

Best interior design software 2020
(Image credit: Roomstyler)

Using the best interior design software to plan out changes to your home is essential. Whether you're creating a country kitchen or trying to plan storage for a studio apartment, interior design apps can help you make the most of any space. They enable you to experiment with different decor themes and layouts, to explore all kinds of layouts and to see what the finished results will actually look like in real life. Some are free, others charge fees for certain features. We've reviewed a mixture of both.

Editor's Choice

This program has all the tools we looked for, but so do several others – the difference is in how it executes them. Virtual Architect Ultimate is intuitive, smooth and easy enough for anyone to master.VIEW DEAL ON Virtual Architect

To find the best interior design software we focused on the apps that have been designed for individual users who don't spend all their days designing: while some of the apps we've featured are also good apps for design pros, we're thinking of the hobbyists and home improvers here. Pros should consider the best home design software instead.

To test the software we used a variety of real-world scenarios: spacious living rooms and considerably less spacious studios, kitchens and communal spaces. We decorated the walls and put things on the floors, added furniture and where available, used the apps to produce realistic renders of our designs so we could see what they would look like in real life.

We didn't just focus on features, though. We also noted the apps' performance –many of them run in your web browser, and some get a bit jerky when the designs become busy – and how user-friendly they were for complete beginners. For new users, the help provided – or not provided – can be more important than how many different kinds of side table an interior design app offers. Most of these programs will work on the best laptops and home computers, as they are mostly browser-based.


1. Virtual Architect: Best interior design software overall

Virtual Architect: Best interior design software overall

(Image credit: Nova Developments)

Virtual Architect

Our best interior design software pick for 2020

Easiest home design program to learn
Vast object library
Cost estimator and material sheets
No Mac version.
Tech support by phone costs extra

The primary reason we chose Virtual Architect Ultimate as our top pick is it’s extraordinarily easy to learn to use, even if you’ve never used design software before. Its exhaustive array of design tools allow you to drag and drop objects where you want them, import photos and floor plans, and add furniture, plants, appliances, electronics and more.

Its object library contains more than 7,500 items – the largest library of any interior design program we reviewed. In case you can’t find what you’re looking for in Virtual Architect Ultimate’s library, you have a couple options. It is compatible with the SketchUp database, which houses literally thousands more objects, including furniture, lighting, appliances and more. You can also design custom objects yourself. The software has designer tools for things like cabinets, fireplaces, windows and stairs. All in all, it’s one of the most versatile interior design programs we’ve ever reviewed.

In addition, the application has other useful tools, including a cost estimator and a materials list. Together, these two features give you a good idea of what it will take to bring your design from the digital world into the physical world. You can also export your finished designs in DXF and DWG formats, which are used by architects and contractors.


2. Floorplanner: Best for simpler designs

Floorplanner review

(Image credit: Floorplanner)

Floorplanner

Floorplanner is a superb all-rounder for any kind of designer

Easy to operate
Performs well
Very clear interface
Lacks some features
Pricing structure is complicated

Floorplanner comes from the same stable as Roomstyler 3D, looks similar and does more. It looks and feels very simple but there's plenty here for power users too: it's easy to adjust the dimensions of objects you've dragged into the library, it can automatically generate a list of the products you've used in your design and you can toggle textures or details on and off if things are starting to look a little cluttered on screen. 

The 3D mode is very good, with multiple adjustable cameras and a fun presentation mode that swoops from camera to camera – great for larger, multi-room projects or for showing off to other people. 

The pricing is a little complicated for our taste: in addition to three subscription levels (Free, $5 per month and $29 per month) you can buy credits to upgrade individual projects. This upgrading gives you access to more models and export options. Complex pricing aside, Floorplanner is an excellent app for designing interiors and outside spaces. It's fast, easy to use and very flexible. 


3. Planner 5D: Best for additional features

Planner 5D review

(Image credit: UAB)

Planner 5D

Planner 5D is feature packed, but comes with confusing pricing

Good user interface 
Decent catalog of objects  
Performs well in browser
Very complicated pricing

Planner 5D is free to use... but it isn't completely free: if you want to create high-quality renders they cost more. Renders are sold in bundles: $9.99 for 20 HD images and $49.99 for 200. You'll also need to take out a subscription if you want to unlock the full catalog of objects; if you do, you'll get a few more renders thrown in too. 

Planner 5D is very easy to use, and we particularly liked its 3D mode: it's fast, intuitive and gives you a real sense of how your interior design will look, and its WASD controls remind us of playing video games. It lacks the advanced lighting controls of some other apps, but it produces good results. You can then render the scene into an image at 640 x 480, or 900 x 675 if you've paid for HD images. The catalog has a good range of items and you can edit their dimensions to match items you've already chosen.


4. HomeByMe: Best for visualizing the end result

HomeByMe review

(Image credit: Dassault Systèmes SE)

HomeByMe

The big draw here is the realistic rendering, which is extremely good

Great 3D view
Expansive library of branded objects 
Realistic rendering
3D view is slow 
Pay for renders

One of the things interior design apps can do very well is help you see exactly how a design will look: it's much easier to see whether a particular scheme or layout works if you can see a realistic image. That image may include branded items from the catalog, which includes photorealistic models of big-name products such as Smeg kitchen appliances. 

The images HomeByMe produces are exceptionally good and extremely realistic, but they're also limited: if you're a free customer you only get to make three before it's time to pay for a subscription or one-time upgrade. We also encountered localization issues where, despite choosing English as our app language, all the item information was in French.

These issues take the shine off an app that would otherwise be a five-star proposition: its images really are spectacular, with a level of detail that goes right down to putting apples in a fruit bowl and good control over the lighting. If you're selling designs for other people, those images will more than justify the subscription. 


5. Roomstyler 3D Home Planner: Best free app

Roomstyler 3D Home Planner: Best free app

(Image credit: Roomstyler)

Roomstyler 3D Home Planner

Very easy to use with good results, but branded items can't be resized

It's genuinely free
Decent catalog 
Quite easy to use
Sadly, no real-time 3D
Can't edit branded items

Roomstyler is a free browser-based app that enables you to quickly create rooms and add furniture to them – real furniture, based on scans of actual products. That's a blessing and a curse. A blessing because it means it's effectively one big furniture ad so you don't need to pay for it; and a curse because the branded items are stuck with their correct dimensions, so you can't use them as generic, resizable items. The catalog is very good and there are some good textures for walls and floors including nearly 140 different carpet colors and over 160 kinds of wooden floor.

The app works in 2D for planning, and there's a little 3D view in the top right corner. You can adjust the camera location, tilt and lens type, and when you're happy you can then take a 3D image to see exactly how the results will look. It takes a bit of trial and error to get this right: our first few images set the camera too high so the view of the room was blocked by its own ceiling. 


6. Easyhome Homestyler: A cheaper option

Easyhome Homestyler: A cheaper option

(Image credit: Beijing Easyhome Yundihui New Retail Furnishing Chain Co)

Easyhome Homestyler

A very capable online interior design app that doesn't charge you to see your finished design

No need to pay for all renders
Good view options 
Decent range of furniture
Stutters often
Minor interface issues

There's a lot to like about Easyhome Homestyler, which has an extensive library of furniture rendered in realistic 3D. The interface is nice and simple, the toolset includes a materials brush that you can use to copy textures from one place to another and when you do your planning in 2D there's a little 3D window that you can use to keep an eye on how your design will look. You can also work in 3D mode if you prefer.

Some of the catalog is a little showy for our taste but there are are still lots of good generic items you can use in a variety of styles. It's a shame that the app suffers from noticeable lag sometimes, however, and it can be difficult to select items when things start to get a little crowded. 


7. IKEA Home Planner: Ideal for, er, IKEA

IKEA Home Planner: Ideal for, er, IKEA

(Image credit: IKEA)

IKEA Home Planner

It's trying to sell you IKEA stuff, of course, but it's a surprisingly flexible app

Perfect for IKEA shoppers 
very accurate
Surprisingly feature-packed
No non-IKEA furniture 
Only three rooms

If you can't stand Scandinavian design then of course this is not the app for you. However, you don't necessarily need to be planning a trip to IKEA to benefit from this app: it's a very easy and effective way to create and fit out rooms of all kinds and to try different design ideas to see what works. It's particularly good for small spaces as you can make sure there will be enough room to open cupboard doors and other items.

As you'd expect, the app enables you to automatically create an IKEA shopping list from your finished design, but unlike the main IKEA website it doesn't tell you where you'll find the items in your local store or whether they're even in stock. 


8. Smartdraw Online Edition

SmartDraw Online Edition review

(Image credit: SmartDraw)

Smartdraw Online Edition

A fully-fledged CAD app that just happens to do interior design too

Very good templates 
Powerful software
Very flexible
There is no 3D mode 
Limited textures 
Harder to use

SmartDraw isn't just an interior design app. It's an any kind of design app, as happy doing organization charts, flowcharts and technical drawings as it is putting accessories in alcoves. That means it looks and feels quite different from dedicated interior design apps: because they're simpler they also look and feel a lot less scary. We think SmartDraw is probably overkill for beginners who don't have experience of using CAD apps.

SmartDraw is strictly two-dimensional, which means there's no 3D mode where you can walk through a model of your design. Where it shines is in creating complex floor plans, so for example if you're planning a kitchen remodel it's very easy to create a floorplan you can then give to your contractor or work from yourself. 


Best interior design app for iPad

If you'd rather draw up your design on iPad there are lots of apps to choose from – many of them run on iPhone too but even the biggest phone screen is a bit small to do your designs justice. 

The best-rated iOS app is Home Design 3D Gold. It's very easy to use and enables you to create 2D and 3D floor plans, and it has a good library of furniture, plants and other items as well as good decorative options.

Something you can do on iPad but not on a computer is take advantage of augmented reality. Provided you have a fairly recent iPad running the latest iPadOS, you can overlay your design on real rooms to get a better feel for how it'll all look. It's a really fun and useful use of AR technology.

Home Design 3D Gold is $11.99 but there's a free, cut down version called Home Design 3D for free. It doesn't have the bells and whistles of the paid version but it covers the essentials very well.

What's the best interior design app for me?

That very much depends on the kind of space you want to design, the things you want to put in it and the kind of designing you want to do. For example, if you're just planning to kit out a kitchen with bits from IKEA then that firm's home planner will be all the app you need. If on the other hand you want to visualize your design with images so realistic that you can see the fruit in a fruit bowl, HomeByMe is the one for you. We'll explain each app's strengths and weaknesses in the section below.

How much does interior design software cost?

That's a very good question, because many interior design apps have fairly complicated pricing models: their key features require payment even if you've already paid for the app. Many apps use a points model where you get a certain number of points that you can exchange for features such as realistic 3D renders of your design; when you've used up your points you then need to buy more. 

That means the price you'll pay really depends on what you want to do. If you're not fussed about photo-quality renders you can get a good app for low or no cost; if you want to produce lots of stunning images to wow people, expect to pay from around $9.99 to $24.99 a month depending on how many images you want to create.

What should you look for in interior design software?

There are three key things to look for here. The first one is the app's ability to quickly create accurate rooms so that you can concentrate on the fun bit, which is actually designing their interiors. 

Secondly, there are the available options for decorating the room: can you use accurate colors or are you stuck with a handful of magnolia variants? Can you experiment with different kinds of wood on the floor or coverings on the walls?

And thirdly, there's the catalog of fixtures, fittings and furnishings. There are very big differences between the apps in this respect, with some limiting you to a handful of items you can't customize while others enable you to change the attributes of pretty much everything. Be wary of any big numbers that appear in the marketing materials: many apps offer enormous catalogs of items but keep most of those items locked for users who don't take out subscriptions or buy upgrades.

It's a good idea to be wary of big numbers generally. For example one of the apps we've covered promises hundreds of different templates, which it does provide – but as the app isn't purely an interior design app, most of those templates are not going to help you redesign a room.