To Bill Millholland, vice president of the design/build and kitchen divisions at Case Design/Remodeling, the look of a CAD drawing can be “cold and not very friendly.” Plus it can convey a sense of “this is the answer” to a client, when what the client is looking for is more of a “concept or direction.” Millholland uses tracing paper to doctor the computer plans to give them a more hand-drawn look.

But Wayne Malon, a designer and salesman at Callier and Thompson Kitchen, Baths, and Appliances, uses 20-20, which is used primarily for kitchen design. He says he has no problem conveying an artistic feel with this CAD program and that other contractors get frustrated because they aren't willing to invest in an appropriate system, or take the time to master the program.

Malon's on the right track, according to technology consultant and REMODELING columnist Joe Stoddard. The real issue, according to Stoddard, is selecting the right tools for the job and then having the will and the resources to master those tools. “Presentation work and construction drawings get lumped into CAD, but they're completely different functions and may or may not require different pieces of software.”

For example, SketchUP ($475) produces hand-drawn looking presentations but no working drawings; AutoCAD LT ($900) is strictly a technical drawing tool. Many remodelers choose a combination product such as Chief Architect ($1,500) or SoftPlan ($2,900), both of which include tools that can make the transition from presentation to construction drawings in one package.

Stoddard also advises that spending a little more on niche-specific CAD is often money well spent. “SoftPlan and Chief can both draw reasonably good generic kitchens, but if you're a kitchen design center, what you really need is a design-center specific package like 20-20 or CabNetWare. Otherwise you'll be spending a lot of time trying to modify a more generic package to fit your needs.”

Remember, CAD of any kind is just a tool. If you're not a designer or an artist to begin with, no software is going to turn you into one.