Root characteristics of seedlings of five different barley genotypes were analysed in 2D using gel chambers, and in 3D using soil sacs that were destructively harvested and pots of soil that were assessed non-invasively using X-ray microtomography. After 5 days, Chime produced the greatest number of root axes (similar to 6) and Mehola significantly less (similar to 4) in all growing methods. Total root length was longest in GSH01915 and shortest in Mehola for all methods, but both total length and average root diameter were significantly larger for plants grown in gel chambers than those grown in soil. The ranking of particular growth traits (root number, root angular spread) of plants grown in gel plates, soil sacs and X-ray pots was similar, but plants grown in the gel chambers had a different order of ranking for root length to the soil-grown plants. Analysis of angles in soil-grown plants showed that Tadmore had the most even spread of individual roots and Chime had a propensity for non-uniform distribution and root clumping. The roots of Mehola were less well spread than the barley cultivars supporting the suggestion that wild and landrace barleys tend to have a narrower angular spread than modern cultivars. The three dimensional analysis of root systems carried out in this study provides insights into the limitations of screening methods for root traits and useful data for modelling root architecture.