SketchUp 6 Review

Bass players can be a touchy bunch, what with all those guitarists claiming that playing the bass is ‘easy’. That may be true if you’re in AC/DC or U2, but it’s another thing altogether if your dream is to emulate virtuoso performances of a prog-rock or jazz-fusion combo.

Arguably, what’s true of the bass guitar is also true of Google SketchUp 6, a new version of the 3D software now brought to you by the world’s favourite search engine. On the face of it, it’s easy and basic. But, if you’re willing to give it time and use your imagination, it is capable of immensely complex compositions.

At its most basic, SketchUp is perfect for hobbyists using the free version. At its most complex, it is of great benefit to product designers, town planners, architects and the like, who will be able to sketch ideas and create client presentations or collaborative projects with it. This is possible with Google SketchUp Pro, which enables export to a range of 3D and vector file formats not available in the freebie. Pro also features a beta of a new product, LayOut, for the aforementioned presentations and PDFs, complete with annotations and Keynote-style slideshows, as well as options to print to large format.

At its heart, SketchUp makes it particularly easy to manipulate lines and planes. Draw a shape, highlight it with the Pull/Push tool, pull it up, and voilà: you have a three-dimensional object. There is no learning curve as such, more a gentle slope. And Google really wants you to learn the package: an optional, contextual menu accompanies all your tool selections, with instructions, tips and links to online tutorials. For the non-3D minded, this companion is indispensable.

As you progress, you’ll find other handy features: objects you create can be grouped and copied (excellent for creating windows, for example) while textures, new to version 6, can be painted in as simply as you would in, say, Photoshop. The program also comes with a range of components of its own, so you can add washing machines, bicycle racks, stoves, people, trees – even helicopters – to your creations.

Using these tools and principles, you can create anything, from imaginary houses for stick men to perfect likenesses of landmarks like the Eiffel Tower. You can adjust your units size, from centimetres to metres, with, of course, imperial measures, too. So with a tape measure and a couple of hours, you could recreate your living room to see where best to fit that IKEA sofa! Furthermore, In SketchUp, you can create models from photographs, and, that done, you can view your model in Google Earth.

If you can find your house in Google Earth, you could build a model of your home and view it in the browser. Easier still is finding a well-known landmark, and importing a model from the extensive online 3D Warehouse. Simply spark up Google Earth, find the area you want and zoom in. When you’re as close as possible, open SketchUp, and click on the Google Earth import icon. It will automatically import a JPEG of the zoomed image. Get modelling, and press the Google Earth export icon when you’re done: simple.


Crucially, this is smooth, stable software: it never feels like it’s going to unexpectedly quit. Nor does it feel like an underpowered freebie trying to tempt you into buying the professional version. Short of LayOut and output to 2D and 3D files, as well as large format printers, the Pro and free versions are identical.

On a slight downside, professionals may find SketchUp weak when it comes to creating curved lines. There are no Bezier curves here. Additionally, at times when undoing a mistake, your error plus your last action will be undone, which can be frustrating.

OUR VERDICT

Google SketchUp is highly recommended. It’s intuitive, stable, and smooth to use. Those whose eyes glaze over at the mere mention of ‘polygons’, ‘splines’ and ‘lathes’ will not be put off: there’s no talk of that here. The Pro version will enable power users to whip up detailed sketches and presentations in minutes. Bravo Google.

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