You'd never buy a car without taking it for a test-drive first—so why take a leap of faith when you're designing a place to put that car? Garage doors are a huge investment, especially if they're tailored to suit the age and style of your house. Fortunately, many companies have recognized the need to try before you buy, and offer free online design tools to help you sift through the myriad style, color, window, and hardware choices out there. Ready to start browsing? Here are a few choice tools to play with:
You can upload your own photo to use with Clopay's door-designer tool—a real bonus, considering that most of the pre-loaded houses don't fit historic profiles. Once you choose a picture, the application walks you through choosing a door collection, model, window profile, hardware, and colors—be prepared, though, for your selection not to appear on the photo until you've moved on to the next step. While color choices are limited to Clopay's standard offerings, you can adjust the brightness and contrast on the doors to lighten and darken the colors somewhat. The tool's main drawback is that there's no zoom function, so small details like hardware tend to get a bit lost in the wide view. Try it!
Carriage House Door Co.
Carriage House also offers the upload-your-own-photo feature, complete with a selection tool that allows you to define the parameters of the garage to ensure a good fit. Unlike the Clopay tool, however, Carriage House's overlays the existing image with a drawing of the door rather than a photo, so the results aren't entirely realistic. Also, if you're designing a two-bay garage, you have to choose the style, color, windows, and hardware for each door individually (so, theoretically, it's possible to design two non-matching garage doors, although why you'd want to is beyond us). The good news? Carriage House has such a broad range of traditionally styled garage doors that there are plenty of era-appropriate choices to play with. Try it!
The Door Designer on Wayne Dalton's website is a cut above the rest in two major ways. First, the gallery of generic house photos is huge, with lots of old-house-friendly forms like Tudor, Craftsman, and Cape. (Of course, their interpretation of these styles is a little broad—none of the houses pictured is actually old, but the basic shapes are the same. And you can upload a photo of your own house for complete accuracy.) Second: The color customization for all-wood doors is truly custom, with a Photoshop-style eyedropper tool that lets you pull colors from other features on the house (trim, shutters, roof) and apply them to the doors. When you're finished designing, you can either print your photo or save it as a digital file. Try it!
Overhead Door's DoorView tool doesn't let you upload your own photo, but they've got a couple old-house templates to choose from in their standard gallery, including a Craftsman bungalow and Spanish Colonial-style cottage. Plus, in addition to the garage doors, you can customize siding and trim colors on the photo to make the generic house look a little more like your own. Their drag-and-drop interface is probably the most user-friendly of all the tools we tried—until you get to the garage doors, that is. As soon as you select a door series, a pop-up window emerges, and you'll have to select the door style, windows, hardware, and colors separately before you can see the finished product on the house. That makes it a bit more difficult to mix and match on the fly—but with the ability to choose a custom color from a full spectrum, zoom in, or view the photo full-screen, DoorView more than makes up for this shortcoming. Try it!
Garaga's Design Center is all about options from the start—you can upload your own photo, choose a generic one based on house style or color/material, or design your door against a plain white background. Their customization interface isn't as intuitive as some of the others, but it's easy to pick up on with a few clicks. No detail is too small for the Design Center, it seems—in addition to style, color, and hardware, you're also prompted to select accessories like a door opener and special features like weatherstripping and safety locks. When you've completed all the steps in the process, you can create a pdf that not only displays a photo of the door, but also offers detailed information on all of its features. There's also a button that allows you to share your design on Facebook, if you want to garner some virtual curb appeal. Try it!