SketchUp Pro 6

David Karlins
21 October, 2007
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Google’s SketchUp Pro 6 is an enhanced version of its free SketchUp 6 program. The free version features the application’s powerful 3D functionality, while the pro version adds two main features necessary for professional modellers. One is an expanded set of export formats that allow SketchUp modellers to work closely with architects using CAD software. The other is the bundled LayOut program (still in beta). You’ll need LayOut if you want to print 2D views of a SketchUp 3D model (or if you want to project a 2D slide on a computer screen). If, for example, you want to create a set of printed displays for a kiosk, or to present to a client, you need SketchUp Pro.

Google recommends SketchUp for all kinds of 3D drawing projects, and its available libraries (from Google’s 3D Warehouse) include objects for plumbing, interior design, industrial design, and more. SketchUp is for drawing models, not blueprints — the drawing features don’t support the level of precision scaling available in CAD programs, or in Adobe Illustrator, but are sufficiently precise for creating models, mock-ups, and demonstrations.

Alternative approach.
Once you get comfortable with SketchUp’s drawing conventions, you can generate 3D models very quickly. The environment is completely unlike traditional 3D drawing programs, in which you draw and assemble surfaces. Instead, SketchUp approaches 3D drawing with a design environment based on colour-coded dots, edges, and planes that indicate dimensions. Illustrators who are used to the traditional approach may find SketchUp’s interface frustrating at first — but the ease with which you can move a wall, or adjust the pitch of a roof, and interactively adjust an entire project in SketchUp 6 can justify the learning curve over time.

You can easily apply textures — like brick or concrete — to SketchUp models, and you can add effects like fog or shadows. You can apply strokes such as pencil lines to give a hand-drawn look to projects. And SketchUp allows you to add text boxes and callouts to models.

Professional illustrators will probably require more surfacing and lighting features than are available in either version of SketchUp, and will likely turn to plug-ins like TurboSketch Studio to make models more realistic.

The 3D models you create in SketchUp also can be used to generate QuickTime movies that allow viewers to move from one perspective to another. You might, for example, create a movie that simulates a drive-through tour of a shopping centre. You can find examples of SketchUp-generated walk-through movies on YouTube.

Teaming up with Google Earth.
While Google promotes SketchUp as an all-purpose 3D modelling package, I suspect that the folks who will put the time and energy into mastering its features will likely be generating architectural renderings. SketchUp’s ability to plop a building down onto a location in Google Earth has fascinating potential for people presenting real estate projects, for example. SketchUp imports geographic context (aerial photos and terrain) from Google Earth, and you can draw on top of that context. You can also export your model from SketchUp to Google Earth to share with others.

Why go Pro?
The fundamental tools in SketchUp Pro 6 are available in the free version. For many professionals, though, the added features in the Pro version — the ability to export to professional CAD programs, as well as the ability to generate 2D presentations — are essential.

The included 2D presentation program, LayOut, allows you to rotate and adjust a model and apply effects before freezing a view as a 2D slide. LayOut works smoothly with SketchUp, and I found it easy and intuitive to freeze a 2D perspective, and to generate a slide or printed view from it.

Free online resources for SketchUp include an online version of the book Google SketchUp for Dummies, which includes dozens of very useful videos. But tech support from Google is available with only SketchUp 6 Pro.

SketchUp’s pricing scheme is unusual, but for the most part it makes sense. While the free version allows you to generate QuickTime movies, modellers creating professional presentations will need the 2D output (for print or digital display) available only in the Pro edition. In addition, the Pro version manages import and export exchange with CAD formats that are not supported in the free version.

Google believes that the $US495 price of the Pro version is justified for users who need those features, and that the pricing for the Pro version is more or less on par with this class of professional CAD programs.

Australian Macworld’s buying advice. If you’re interested in using Google’s SketchUp as a 3D modeller, start with the free version. If you get comfortable with the program’s 3D drawing environment, and you need to export your models to formats not supported by the free version, or you need to produce 2D presentations, then consider the Pro version.

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