Each new release of SketchUp makes it easier to create amazing 3D models and animations, without the need to buy expensive 3D modeling software such as 3DSMax and Cinema4D. SketchUp is a free and user-friendly alternative, ideal for the general user. The tools and functions are quick and easy to learn, especially for those not used to working with computers; it's ideal for beginners.
First released in 2000, it was bought by Google in 2006 and then by Trimble (a company specializing in mapping, surveying and navigation equipment) in 2012. There's a new release every year, the last few of which have been integrated with Google Earth for geo-locating your model. This brings in a snapshot of 3D terrain with colour aerial photo of the site, which also allows for accurate shadow casting for any time of the year.
Another major feature, even in the free version, is access to Google's 3D Warehouse, a collection of thousands of 3D models for furniture, foliage, props; basically any 3D object imaginable has been uploaded by a SketchUp user and is free for you to download into your models.
As it's aimed at the general user, SketchUp avoids technical jargon and includes useful tips and techniques to aid the learning process. It also predicts where you want to draw and edit objects by snapping to points and associative objects.
In creating models you can either use the tools, keyboard shortcuts or the drop-down menus. As with most programs there are a variety of methods to implement. The interface is customizable, and realistic materials can be found in the Materials panel, which consists of over 100 preset textures like colours, vegetation, grass, metal, timber, etc.
As well as being able to create still images there are also animation functions through the Scenes manager, allowing us to create fly-through movies.
The program has several organizational levels, the three most common are groups, components and layers. These are used differently depending on the industry. A brief example of each would be: a door handle is a group of associated objects; the door itself would be the component, allowing for multiple copies to be made and edited together; and the doors and windows themselves would make up a layer. These various levels of organization can be accessed and managed via the Outliner panel.
SketchUp is used by many industry professionals, including architects, builders, interior designers, civil and mechanical engineers. It's also used for film and video game design. Two versions are available: the Pro version at around $600 and the free Make version. The main difference between the two is that whilst in both versions you can model, add materials and animate camera paths, only the Pro version allows you to import CAD files like DWGs and DXFs. In addition Pro allows you to export to an extension called Layout, through which you can create sheets of plans, elevations, cross-sections with dimensioning for printing purposes. Probably most users would be happy with the free make version; the only people for whom the Pro version is crucial would be architects and builders, where importing the original scaled building plans would be useful. The 3D model is then built upon the imported plans. Other users could simply build the model from sketches or imported JPEGs.
Both versions allow for the inclusion of third-party plug-ins for various outcomes, from roof-building to kerb-creation, to photo-realistic rendering. SketchUp is available for both Windows and Macintosh platforms; there is no essential difference between the two versions.
Tom Gillan has been training sketchup courses to corporate clients in Sydney for seven years. If you like to know more about sketchup, visit Design Workshop Sydney for more information.