Helping clients visualize your design inspiration can make all the difference in landing a project, resolving a design challenge or avoiding misunderstandings (and disappointment) down the line. Although some designers prefer sketching, drawing or rendering by hand, more and more designers are using professional software or apps to create digital images of their ideas or plans.
And why not? With today’s software, designers can create both two- and three-dimensional images, convert photographs into digitally manipulable drawings or floor plans, insert template shapes or actual product images, and print or convert the final image to PDF or PowerPoint format for delivery to the client. Best of all, you can make changes on the fly without having to redraw everything — making time for more profitable pursuits.
While there are dozens of software programs and apps available, most are not suitable for professionals, except for sketching out ideas. For high-quality images, flexibility and precision, you’ll want a program created with designers in mind. The following are the most popular and most often endorsed by other designers.
AutoCAD®, by AutoDesk, continues to lead the industry, although Revit (also by AutoDesk) is gaining in popularity among commercial designers and many interior design education programs. With AutoCAD you can create highly detailed 2-D and 3-D plans and drawings, incorporating lighting, materials, finishes and a variety of visual styles. You can securely share documents and drawings using AutoDesk’s TrustedDWG technology, and a number of mobile apps are available. AutoCAD takes some time and effort to master and comes with a hefty price tag ($4,195 for a single-user license). A scaled-down version, AutoCAD LT, is available at a considerably lower cost ($1,200 for single-user license), but the program can produce only 2-D drawings and lacks some of the features included in the full version.
SketchUp, once Google SketchUp but no longer, is perhaps the most popular drawing program worldwide. The basic version is free but has limited applicability. The aptly named SketchUp Pro is better suited to professional needs, offering more features and flexibility. With SketchUp, now marketed by Trimble Navigation, you can create 2-D and 3-D drawings and plans, faster and easier than with CAD software. The software also can convert a 2-D CAD file into a 3-D drawing and can convert a photo into a 3-D model. SketchUp Pro enables users to share drawings easily with others, and the program offers a library of 3-D objects, online tutorials and a knowledge center. SketchUp Pro also features a more affordable price — $590, including one year of technical support and maintenance.
Designers who primarily work in residential design and remodeling can choose from several more affordable and user-friendly options. Minutes Matter Studio produces only 2-D drawings but is customizable and offers quick room templates (e.g., space plans, kitchens, bathrooms, window treatments and bedrooms), an illustration library and drag-and-drop functionality to simplify image creation. It comes in a desktop version (starting at $497) or an online version for $52.60 per month that is compatible with PC, Mac and most mobile devices.
You can find more specialized programs for single-room design, including 3Dream, which is a web-based 3-D room planning application offering easy-to-use templates and image libraries. This product allows you to draw in 2-D and then convert the finished drawing to 3-D. The Pro version details each item in a room and generates a shopping list. The free version is limited to two projects for one year, but the other versions are very affordable (with monthly rates of $9.99 for the standard version and up to $49.99 for the premium version).
As the name suggests, DreamDraper was created primarily as a workshop tool for designing window treatments, although you can use it to design or visualize an entire room. It offers an extensive image library of window treatments, furniture and accessories, as well as hardware, trim and embellishments. In addition, you can begin your design with a photo or import images of products and fabrics/patterns from vendors. Somewhat pricey, DreamDraper is available as a desktop product (starting at $679) or as a web-based application (starting at $369 per year or $33 per month plus set-up fee).
The good news is that each of these products offers a free trial, so you can test-drive them before deciding where to put your time and money.
Gail Doby, ASID, is the co-founder and chief vision officer of Design Success University. Download a complimentary copy of Doby’s latest ebook, the 2014 Interior Design Fee & Salary Survey. ($179 Value)