Recent advances in cloud microphysical models have led to realistic three-dimensional distributions of cloud constituents. Radiative transfer schemes can make use of this detailed knowledge in order to study the effects of horizontal as well as vertical inhomogeneities within clouds. This study looks specifically at the differences between three-dimensional radiative transfer results and those obtained by plane parallel, independent pixel approximations in the microwave spectrum. A three-dimensional discrete ordinates method as well as a backward Monte Carlo method are used to calculate realistic radiances emerging from the cloud. Analyses between these models and independent pixel approximations reveal that plane parallel approximations introduce two distinct types of errors. The first error is physical in nature and is related to the fact that plane parallel approximations do not allow energy to leak out of dense areas into surrounding areas. In general, it was found that these errors are quite small for emission-dominated frequencies (37 GHz and lower) and that physical errors are highly pronounced only at scattering frequencies (85 GHz) where large deviations and biases up to 8 K averaged over the entire cloud were found. The second error is more geometric in nature and is related to the fact that plane parallel approximations cannot accommodate physical boundaries in the horizontal dimension for off-nadir viewing angles. The geometric errors were comparable in magnitude for all frequencies. Their magnitude, however, depends on a number of factors including the scheme used to deal with the edge, the nature of the surface, and the viewing angle.