SketchUp is a
3D design application which claims to offer a combination of simplicity, power, elegance
and spontaneity, with a capability to give drawings a rough, hand-drawn feel as well
as a more polished technical drawing appearance. It differs from conventional CAD
software in focusing on support for the conceptual stages of design rather than the
nitty gritty detail of a final design.
- Push/Pull Tool -
enables you to click on a shape and simply push or pull it to create your desired
Rendering - lets you visually "soften" your drawings with rendering effects
like jitter lines, extended edges and dynamic profiles.
- Material Exploration
- experiment with color and texture directly on your model.
- Accurate Realtime
Shadows - lets you see exactly where the sun falls as you model, allowing unprecedented
dynamic solar planning.
- Interactive Sections
- allows you to place cutting planes interactively, and to move them around as you
are modeling to dynamically reveal inner details of your model.
- Versatile Component
Architecture - Quickly organize geometry for convenient selection, while keeping
it isolated from other lines and faces in your model.
- Dimensions and Annotation
- pull out dynamic dimension strings as you work, or call attention to a special
- Imports and Exports
- import a DWG/DXF site plan as a starting point for design, work up a quick 3d model,
then export back to DWG/DXF to create construction documents. SketchUp also exports
3DS, VRML, PDF, EPS, JPG, TIF, PNG and a variety of other file formats for use in
all kinds of projects.
- Mac OS X v10.3 or
- G5/1GHz processor
- 512MB RAM
- QuickTime 5.0 and
web browser for multimedia tutorials
- 3 button scroll-wheel
- 80MB free hard disk
- A modern browser
- Mozilla, Netscape, 1.5 or higher
- 100% OpenGL compliant
The Sketchup disk image is downloaded from Last Software's web site. Once the disk image is mounted,
you simply drag the software from the mounted folder to your Applications folder.
Upon first running the software, you will need to enter your serial number and product
key to unlock the trial-mode.
SketchUp is a hoot to use. I started with the 3 tutorials that are installed with
the program; each tutorial takes place in a window which is divided into two parts
- left and right. The tutorial progresses step by step on the left and you copy the
actions in your version on the right. The tutorial steps are shown in a row of buttons
from 1 to 15 along the bottom of the top tool menu. As each step is completed, you
are prompted to click the next button to move ahead and see the model built beginning
to end. If you fail to do a step correctly, you can go back and try again.
files are well organized and quickly understood, with even more tutorials available
online demonstrating features and techniques that can be put to use right away, in
easy to follow flash videos. Last Software's website provides FAQ and user forums
adding more opportunities for education.
SketchUp works with
a toolbar palette (see picture to right) that gives you quick action to most of its
features. The toolbar has tools for filling in objects, erasing, drawing, extending
sides, rotating, zooming, and much, much more.
It's worth mentioning that you can download SketchUp for a free trial. However instead
of the usual couple of weeks or 30 days, the SketchUp free trial is an unprecedentedly
brief 8 hours from the first time you start the application. If you do take advantage
of this offer, make sure you don't start the program until you have some time to
devote to it.
Once I got into using the tool, I was impressed with how easy it was to get started.
The tutorials definitely helped. In one of the tutorials, I used SketchUp to create
a simple house with a side-load garage.
To start off the drawing,
I first selected the rectangle tool from the palette and began the drawing with a
Creating a rectangle to start off the drawing
At the top of the
drawing window you can see controls for making your model transparent or opaque,
as well as controls for setting the date and time in order to determine the position
of shadows (aka, as the sun moves in time, the shadows change). SketchUp starts out
thinking your model is located in its home town of Boulder, CO, but you can change
the location using the Model Info dialog. Select the orbit tool and spin in 3D to
look from the side rather than the birds-eye view:
Changing to a 3D view
One of the really
neat things about Sketchup is how easy it is to modify a plane to turn it into a
3D object. Starting with the square in the figure above, I select the push-pull tool,
hover over the upper surface of the square until it is highlighted, then click and
drag up to make the square into a solid 3D object.
Creating a 3D object
use the pencil tool to establish break points in the 3D object. For example, I drew
a line from one side of the top surface to the other. Once the line was drawn, the
line can be acted upon to transform the shape. Further, SketchUp helps by showing
tooltips and little colored squares when you are on the top surface or at the midpoint
of an edge. In my drawing, I used the push-pull tool again, this time hovering over
the area to the right of the line. SketchUp will highlight just that section. Then
it was a click and drag down to push this part of the surface down. I used the same
method to draw another midpoint line on the higher part of the object, and then time
used the move tool by dragging upwards to create the roof shape. I repeated this
on the lower part of the object, resulting with the following drawing:
Creating a roof using the move tool
I made up a very rough
model of my house in less than an hour. I also found that there are libraries of
built objects categorized under a menu drop down as components, and within that I
found prebuilt windows and doors to speed up my model construction.
Quick Sketch of my House using Sketchup
The speed of the building
my model was achieved through what the authors call "inferencing." This
is the uncanny way to figure out which direction you wish to draw; then "locking,"
you fix the direction you want to go in and reference it to other points on your
model. SketchUp invariably guesses your intentions correctly, although the tutorials
advise keeping a hand on the undo cmd-z key in case any edit isn't what you intended.
You can step back through several operations with undo.
There are excellent visual cues throughout SketchUp's 3D space to help navigate and
create. Since the computer screen is 2D, finding your way around can be confusing
without the visuals provided by SketchUp. An example: dragging the mouse over the
edge of an object, a cyan (blue) dot will appear when you reach the midpoint of that
edge. Dragging or drawing a line away from the centerpoint to another edge, inferences
display to show which axis you are moving in (x, y, or z) and the location of the
other edge's midpoint to which your drawing line will snap to or the nearest highlighted
dot. This feature makes working in this 3D world nearly painless for beginners and
welcome to experienced users.
You can be as loose or precise as you wish, so you can do a rough approximation of
an idea for a simple addition to a dwelling or a full blown detailed architectural
rendering to sell an idea.
The default appearance of sketches have a rough, Magic Marker look that is just right
for getting an idea across. If you want to show more, switch on X-ray mode to have
transparent surfaces to show hidden lines and objects. That way you can see both
the outside and inside structure of your model. A very slick feature is the section
plane tool (think of it as a virtual knife) that can cut through a model without
breaking or destroying the geometry; you can move or rotate the cross-section plane
to your heart's content to reveal the best cross-section view.
For projects that require precision, there is the draw dimensions tool, which displays
edge length, curve distances and diameter - very easy to use. Just click and drag
a straight or curve edge. Since all the work is done in real time, modifications
can be made to update the dimensions on the fly. Very slick. Dimensions are measured
in feet and inches or metric units.
Rendering is limited to solid colors (via the color picker), a small set of supplied
textures, or use imported textures to create flat surfaces on your built model. On
the web there are advanced tutorials that demo ways to use photos to create models
and use the same photo image to texture the model. Line styles can be hand drawn
using a jitter-line effect, or minimized for a more polished look without being too
hard edged. While there are sufficient textures in the default install to develop
decent models, there are more textures available at the SketchUp website providing
more surfaces, expanding man-made and natural choices.
SketchUp supports larger and more complex models in many ways. An object outliner
allows you to view, name and manipulate the groupings of objects in your model. You
can temporarily move an object from one group to another to facilitate moving or
resizing a part of your model in one operation.
When you declare an
object or group such as a window or a chair in your model as a component, you can
then make multiple instances of the component. If you change any of the instances
in any way, all the other instances change to suit. So resizing your window or stretching
up the back of your chair can have the same effect on all the windows in your house
or all the chairs in your dining room set.
Layers are a familiar
concept in Photoshop and they work just the same in SketchUp's 3D space with the
obvious exception that layers don't obscure each other as they would in Photoshop.
So you can state that different objects in your model are in different layers, and
then hide and show the layers in order to reduce the number of visible objects while
Terrains and Landscapes
To make a terrain, you can import one from an existing terrain file or use SketchUp's
sandbox tool. With the sandbox, you draw a flat planar mesh and then make it bumpy
by changing the height of the mesh using the "smoove" tool. I found this
didn't work at all until I changed the default parameters for mesh size and "smoove"
radius - both of these appear in a box in the border of the drawing window, so this
is quite easy to do once you know you have to do it. The "smoove" tool
lets you bump your surface up or down from the plane - you could model a bumpy double
black diamond ski trail in seconds.
Once you have a terrain,
you can use the drape tool to superimpose a landscape architecture plan such as a
house footprint with a driveway and positions for trees. Having done this, these
outlines will work with the push / pull tool so that you can raise the house or drive
up from the undulating surface of the landscape.
If you're planning
to plant trees, SketchUp has several to choose from. With your model correctly aligned
to the sun and its true geographic position entered, you can see where the tree shadows
fall at different times of day and in different seasons and even resize the trees
to check out how their growth will affect your house in years to come.
Pages and the Tour Guide
SketchUp has controls for positioning and moving the viewpoint of the 3D model,
or "camera". You can store different camera positions as well as other
model attributes such as object positions and time of day on different pages in your
model. Having set this up, you can then animate your model using SketchUp's Tour
Guide function and export the tour as a Quicktime movie.
Sketchup is geared towards graphics professionals already comfortable working with
3D concepts of space, and programs that work in an x, y, and z orientation. The target
customer would be someone who works in a architectural or mechanical fabrication
workflow. Sketchup is a nice tool to use for "sketching" out an idea or
developing a concept, such as fireplace trim or a small enclosed desk, without having
to fire up a massive multi-palette program. Sketchup would be a fun tool to use
by many people, but it is currently priced out of reach of everyday hobbyists who
may just want to sketch their kitchen or backyard. It would be nice to see a scaled
down version, perhaps a version that doesn't provide the high-end exports, at a hobbyist
There is an expanded range of export formats with: OBJ, 3D file format which supports
free-form and polygonal geometry; XSI, native Softimage file format; and FBX (Filmbox),
for Alias' Motionbuilder and other applications. Of these, the last two are more
relevant to digital art and film rather than building design. Think in terms of creating
3D storyboards or roughing out a film set with simple figures to block out a shot.
In fact there is a plug-in available at the SketchUp site specifically for film and
stage development. You can export your creations to industry standard DWG and DXF
for CAD/CAM Industrial or Architectural projects. SketchUp can save out formats that
can be expanded and read into more powerful CAD programs.
Sketchup can import 2D and 3D DWG or DXF geometry, as well as Autocad formats. It
can read in 3DS, digital elevation models (DEM), such as terrain elevations. Google
recently acquired @Last Software, so this could be a possible enhancement to working
with Google Earth. These features are useful for urban planning and architectural
SketchUp supports raster image formats of JPEG, PNG, TIFF, EPIX, PDF, EPS and AutoCAD
DWG and DXF.
an easy-to-use 3D design tool that truly makes it simple to create 3D drawings.
It uses amazing push and pull technology on 3D objects, fantastic real-time shadowing
effects, and photo source texturing. It provides both the power and elegance of
a drawing program, with a very Mac savvy and intuitive interface. Sketchup is a
great drawing tool that focuses on the conceptual stage of designs, and a very precise
modeling tool for industrial or architectural concepts. Sketchup comes with a high
price tag, making it out of reach for the average Mac user or design hobbyist. I'd
love to see a scaled down "poor man's" version made affordable for casual
amateur use. The evaluation version only provides 8 hours of use, which seemed a
bit short. Overall, I was very impressed with the product. Examples in the sketchup.com
galleries include architecture, construction, interior design, landscape, film and
stage design, geographical information systems, game development and mechanical design.
Sketchup is a great tool for professional designers, architects, engineers, modelers,
and carpenters wishing to show a 3D idea to a client before building or constructing.
easy to learn, easy to use
3D sketching tools
and online tutorials
of file formats for import and export
modeling for time of year and time of day
evaluation only lasts 8 hours
out of reach of hobbyists
4 out of 5 Mice