Next-level design software
There’s a journey between designing a cabinet in one’s mind and building it in the shop. That may conjure up the romantic notion of a cabinetmaker penciling out a set of shop drawings and then assembling the project with hand tools. But anyone building cabinets for a living knows that a keyboard is a whole lot faster and more accurate than graph paper and a calculator. And a computer-aided design can also make quick work of many other parts of the production cycle.
Design software is relatively inexpensive, easy to learn and use, and you don’t need to own a CNC to start reaping its rewards (although it helps). Any shop building with traditional machines can benefit from electronic design programs.
The process usually begins with a plan view of a room, and once the basics are in place the program can generate elevations and three-dimensional details. The completed set of design drawings can then be used as a sales tool if it generates photo-quality images called renderings that show a completed version of the kitchen, bath or closet. Not all CAD programs do this. Those same drawings may also be used to create a cut list or instructions to the machines that will create the parts, guides for the assemblers and installers, an updatable record for the project manager, and even a summary for the bookkeeper who sends a bill to the client.
CAD software is no longer a stand-alone program. In most software packages it has become an app within a suite of integrated resources that cover a lot of ground from design to installation. CAD provides a bridge to the hands-on side of things through pairing with CAM (computer-aided manufacturing) software. Whether a shop is designing from scratch and drawing every line or importing line drawings from libraries of available outsourced cabinets and components, the principles are the same. Both routes begin with a blank screen and hopefully end with a completed sale and a paycheck.
The following is a brief survey of most of the design and presentation software currently available. It’s intended for shops just moving into CAD, or buying a first CNC, or those who are just not satisfied with a current software package. Be aware that these are just brief signposts. It’s up to each woodworker to follow those signs to the various websites to do a little exploring, and then discuss potential packages with peers, or check them out on chat groups and user forums before making an informed choice.
Draw and render
The design and presentation package from KCD Software (kcdsoftware.com) lets woodworkers create custom projects using an expansive library of pre-drawn elements, but they can also design and save unique units. It offers flexible dimensions and automatic integration between parts, which means that the entire wall gets covered without having to use stock sizes and filler strips. It generates stunning 3D renderings that bring the room to life for a client before a single board is sawn. And its sharing features let the office, shop, installer, suppliers and homeowner all keep up to date. Initial layouts can be roughed in using preset cabinet units with hundreds of door styles, and those can then be tweaked and customized. The shop can easily change the door panel sizes, colors, textures, countertop edging and much more. The basic design package runs $95 a month, and the shop can add optional units that offer more tools such as estimates, cut lists, design-to-CNC machine codes, true shape nesting, labeling, and one-button machining. KCD provides both phone and online support.
Mozaik Software (mozaiksoftware.com) offers “complete CNC software” for $125 a month, or separate modules for less. Mozaik Design ($50) is aimed at custom cabinetry and intricate casework builders, and it integrates seamlessly with SketchUp. A woodworker can design in plan and elevation views and use frame, frameless, inset, and full overlay libraries in the same drawing. The program allows for creating unique door and drawer styles, adding hardware with specification documents, and selecting various materials, textures, countertops and custom molding profiles. Autofill functions quickly fill a space, a wall, or an entire room with library or custom cabinets, and the designer can use Product Editor to shape and section cabinets as desired. Users can add shelves, partitions, trays, and other items, shape individual parts as necessary, and create detailed product and part drawings. Photographic renderings can be added from SketchUp, along with wall elevation drawings, detailed plan views, bird’s-eye perspectives, 3D views, estimates, and order lists. Mozaik Design can run on tablets, too.
Cabinet Pro (cabinetpro.com) is a CAD/CAM generator that delivers a lot more than design, including shop drawings, 3D renderings, cut lists, panel optimization, labels, direct CNC code, grain matching, and more. A shop can design cabinets, entertainment centers, offices and the like in 3D, and all the appropriate CNC machining is automatically inserted. Unusual in this market, the company lets a shop buy the software (starting at $1,575) or rent it (starting at $65). Cabinet Pro is a software solution for both small and large shops, and it generates detailed 3D renderings.
The woodworking and cabinetmaking package from EnRoute (thinksai.com, $107.99 a month) includes everyday cutting, nested-based production, and creative design. Enroute Complete is a comprehensive solution for 2D, 2.5D, and 3D routing and engraving. It includes design, toolpath and output capabilities, rapid texture with ready-to-use templates, the ability to draw freehand using a stylus or mouse, and vectorization that converts artwork to lines and contours.
Cabinet Vision from Hexagon (cabinetvision.com) a single, fully modular software package that goes from design to manufacturing. A shop can buy only the features it needs, so the software can evolve and grow with the business. It’s highly scalable and cost-effective. Its intuitively simple parametric function lets a shop use previously drawn cabinets and custom designs and resize elements without having to reprogram. Its xRendering feature creates photo-realistic renderings in minutes so a shop owner can work with customers to make changes to designs in seconds including wall coverings, countertops, wood species, stain colors, and hardware. There is no current pricing available on the Cabinet Vision website, beyond an invitation to enquire about subscription rates.
CabMaster’s design software (cabmastersoftware.com) covers cabinets, closets and kitchens, and it offers simple drag and drop designing that makes it easy to modify cabinets. There is an extensive library of hardware, too. It creates plan and elevation views that can be enlarged to show more precise detail and includes a simple 3D rendering module with an advanced photo view option.
Programs that build
CabWriter (cabwritersoftware.com) is a flexible and affordable SketchUp extension for custom cabinet shops, and Version 6 has just been released. The CabWriter program builds on the ease of use plus the powerful 3D modeling capability of SketchUp, and it adds parametric cabinet and closet design and drawing, cut lists, shop drawings, optimization, and CNC integration. Easy to learn and use, its exclusive Story Stick makes for fast and easy placement of cabinets that are drawn exactly to the user’s specifications.
Microvellum Software (microvellum.com) is based on AutoCad and it contains advanced tools for 2D drawing and 3D modeling. It has industry standard CAD tool sets and a product library. Designers can explore how parts will function and fit together in a detailed 3D drawing environment. Clients and emplyees can visualize every detail of a project, and the program allows for importing from a 3D model warehouse or a BIM object site
Autokitchen (autokitchen.co.uk) was the first kitchen planner to include the AutoCAD OEM engine, and the latest Pro version is powered by a brand-new engine working in the native DWG file format. Its rendering is powered by V-Ray, which lets the user import and work with plans produced from both architects and builders. That provides a high level of accuracy and detail. The cabinet catalogues are extensive and created in component form, so they can be modified like real cabinets. Libraries include a vast range of generic and specific manufacturer finishes, types of cabinets, door and handle models, and more.
Computer-integrated manufacturing from CIM-Tech (cim-tech.com) was designed to bridge the gap between CAD and CAM. The company’s Router-CIM Automation Suite provides for “a seamless solution with a common interface for design and manufacturing,” according to the company.
Cobus NCAD from Eurosoft (eurosoftinc.com) is a CAD/CAM software solution that incorporates some of the most powerful parametric programming functionality in the industry. Existing drawings can be reworked in seconds and sent to production, and the software is machine neutral so there are post-processors to link to every machine on the market. That means there’s no need to learn how to code or work in multiple software interfaces. Industry specific modules, with NCAD as the foundation but specifically made to handle the requirements of door and window production, are also available.
RouterCAD software (routercad.com) does cabinet, door and drawer design. It provides detailed access to a CAD-based drawing engine, cabinet libraries, cross sections, assembly sheets, material optimizer, custom report center, and part labels. It has quick-start templates that can be customized, and its sister program, RouterCAM, creates code from layered DXF files, and it will nest and create the code from a shop’s drawings.
2020 Design Live (2020spaces.com) is kitchen and bath remodeling software that offers thousands of products from manufacturers’ catalogs and 3D renderings. This provider also supplies CAM software that’s specifically designed for cabinet, furniture, architectural millwork, and other wood product manufacturers. It lets a shop owner create a seamless flow of information across the organization to better coordinate and optimize operation.
ProKitchen (prokitchensoftware.com) is professional design software that works with about 150 catalogs from outsourcing suppliers. That means a shop can design with a chosen manufacturer directly. The publisher’s Online Manufacturer’s Edition lets shops design using a manufacturer’s live portal while using the same features that come with ProKitchen Online. There’s an extensive hands-on training class ($525) that teaches new users how to quickly and efficiently create designs, reports, renderings and more.
Custom Cabinet Software (customcabinetsoftware.com), also called Cabinet Solutions, is CAD software for professional cabinetmakers. It will create floor plans, 2D and 3D drawings, cut lists, door lists, pricing, manufacturing reports, and export code to a CNC machine. It can be used for both face frame and frameless cabinetry. Users can change the construction methods, adjust the materials, and switch between different styles or inches or metric with the click of a mouse.
Homestyler (homestyler.com) bills itself as “an easy and time-saving online interior design tool for both professionals and amateurs”. The shop draws the floor plan in 2D, and the program builds the 3D rooms. This is more of a tool for interior designers than production woodshops.
Pro100 (pro100usa.com) is a 3D cabinet design software for cabinetmakers (frame or frameless), kitchen designers using stock cabinets, and shops building entertainment centers, closets, garage cabinets, and much more. It can design and produce 3D renderings with dimensioned floor plans, room elevations, cut lists, cabinet lists, job costing and pricing. It comes with an optional panel optimizer or a CNC software package.
Fusion 360 is an Autodesk product (autodesk.com, $545 annually) that “is the first and only integrated cloud CAD, CAM, CAE, and PCB software platform of its kind,” according to the company. This is a cloud-based 3D modeling platform for professional product design and manufacturing.
Sketching and more
SketchList 3D Pro (sketchlist.com) offers reports, lists, spreadsheets, and 3D renderings to generate proposals. The hobby version runs $200 and the Pro V5 is $850. These are purchase, not rental prices, and there are both Mac and Windows versions. It includes the ability to export DFX to a CNC, optimize, and produce cut lists and shop drawings.
SketchUp (sketchup.com) offers a dozen design software options from free and simple to professional. This is an all-around 3D design option, not specifically aimed at cabinet or furniture builders. At the top of the line is SketchUp Studio (Windows only) that runs $699 a year and lets designers see real-time visualizations as they model, plus create and export photorealistic images.
A software family called eCabinet Systems is available through Thermwood (ecabinetsystems.com) and it offers various levels of interaction. A woodworker can access and use free libraries of cabinets or have Thermwood design custom ones. At the next level, a shop can modify cabinets and add price and material details. And at the ‘power’ level, a shop can design pretty much anything and render it as a realistic room image. Thermwood offers formal training programs.
Vortek Spaces (vortekspaces.com) bills itself as “software dedicated to professionals without much time on their hands or deep 3D expertise to create stunning interactive 3D presentations within minutes”. This is a module that doesn’t include the CAD design software, but it takes a CAD file and turns it into 3D walkthroughs, images, videos, and virtual reality (VR). It works with software such as SketchUp, Cabinet Vision and Microvellum, and runs $1,350 a year.
Shops without a CNC or a large budget can still use design and presentation software to show customers what the job will look like when it’s done. Inexpensive programs such as Virtual Software (homedesignsoftware.tv) let the woodworker scan an existing image into a manipulation program and then update with little or no design experience. The company offers various packages for less than a hundred dollars, including some that work on Mac.
Not everyone builds cabinets, and while most of these programs will allow a shop to design other furniture and objects in 3D and create rendered images as sales tools, there may be a better solution. For example, ShopBot Tools (shopbottools.com) offers three choices for software when a woodshop buys one of its CNC machines. There’s VCarve Pro, which is especially well-suited to carving; Vectric Aspire, which in addition to carving is designed for tasks such as cutting, profiling, pocketing and drilling; and Rhino 3D, which can be used for any kind of 3D project, from models to sculpture.
Axiom Precision (axiomprecision.com) offers both in-house and online training in VCarve and Aspire.
There is no ‘best’ software because each one does things differently. Our advice for choosing a package is to network with other shops that do similar work, get involved with the Cabinet Makers Association, and visit the trade shows.
This article was originally published in the November 2022 issue.