How to choose the best takeoff software for your construction business

I have worked with over 100 contractors and 13 different takeoff software over 15+ years of doing and teaching takeoffs.

The software you need as a contractor or construction business depends on two things. The materials you need to takeoff and the size of projects you bid for.

Which category of takeoff software is right for you?

Takeoff Software in turn can be classified into two categories - General or Specialized.

General takeoff software as you may have guessed, can estimate a variety of building materials. It relies on the fact that at its core, a quantity take off is simply about four measurements - count, linear, area and volume. Supplement this with an estimator who knows what he is doing, and you can pretty much estimate any construction material.

Specialized takeoff software on the other hand only estimates a particular type of material. These software do far more than just the four basic measurements. They come with background calculations and tools that are suited for the materials they are meant to estimate.

A great example is flooring finishes and wall tile. I can tell you with experience, that its many times better to use a flooring software than a general software. On the other hand for something like painting, general takeoff software would work best and in fact might be the only option because of that.

Table 1: Software recommendation based on material / division

 General Takeoff Software recommended for Specialized Takeoff software recommended for
General contractor, Concrete, Paint, Lumber, Drywall, Insulation, Landscape etc. Flooring, Earthwork, Truss, Roofing (maybe), Countertops (depends)

Suggested specialized takeoff software

Roofing -
Earthwork -
Flooring -
Countertop -

Suggested general takeoff software

Planswift -
On Screen takeoff -
Bluebeam -

Size Matters

Smaller or large projects, both work better with simpler software. Simpler does not necessarily mean cheaper or specialized. And the same software can be simpler for large projects but more complicated for smaller ones and vice versa.

Software Features / Type vs Size of Construction project

For example, consider a countertop contractor that works directly with home owners. A more specialized software where you can quickly draw and edit different shapes and which produces a much better visual output to show to homeowners is a much better solution.

Alternatively, if a countertop contractor bids for multi family projects, then a more general estimating software where you can takeoff much more efficiently from large plans and calculates areas, lengths and counts is a better and simpler solution.

Software Capability to handle large projects

Even similar software types or with similar features, may have different capabilities when it comes to size. The biggest problem is speed. A lot of estimating software work fine on small to medium sized projects. However, many start operating with a big lag (5-30 seconds or worse) once the project size or the software file goes beyond a certain limit.

Unfortunately, you will only realize this once you purchase the software and have to estimate a huge project. Also, some software may only face this lag if features that require background calculations are extensively used in a big project and may otherwise work fine.

The solution is to either seek out someone has worked with the software you are considering for purchase or use the trial version and then just keep duplicating the estimate you have done on one page over and over on different pages and then keep checking by creating new counts or areas etc.

See this review about On Screen takeoff I did, which highlights this feature in particular.

Cost Considerations

For most contractors the cost of the software would probably be much less than the benefit they get from it. However, software prices typically range from $300 to $2500. Therefore, for smaller contractors doing less bidding, if the cheaper software is good enough then that should be the one chosen. Otherwise, for mid to large construction businesses, choosing the best software irrespective of price makes sense.

Please remember, more expensive doesn’t necessarily mean better. A cheaper, simpler software can be more effective, depending on your business requirements.

Learning Curve

A small consideration in my opinion. Most software operate pretty similarly and are broadly intuitive with good navigation. If its your first time operating a takeoff software there will be a slight learning curve. With previous experience, learning a new software is quite easy and quick.


Using estimating software of some kind is a no brainer. Choosing the right software requires an understanding of your requirements and matching that with features of the software. Cost considerations can come into play for smaller contractors. The learning curve is similar on most software, however there may be some rare exceptions.

Hope this guide has helped you. If you want to perhaps discuss your individual requirements don’t hesitate to contact me using the email form on our contact us page.
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