SketchUp, free 3D modeling
Free 3D modeling software , formerly a Google product, it can design anything as simple as a cup to more elaborate, like an entire city.
It was previously abole to interface to Earth with Building Maker to include modeling of actual buildings and enrich the map of the World. But this software was dropped by Google on June 2013.
SketchUp was sold by Google to Trimble, but support should remain available on http://sketchup.google.com.
The paid version includes a tool to make arrangement for 2D drawings and interactive presentations. It allows you to exchange models with other CAD (computer aided design) products. And it also includes Style Builder to generate a plan modeled from a sketch made by hand.
How it works
A model is made from lines and faces. A face is composed from lines and it becomes an object used in a plan that you can move, resize, combine with other objects.
To switch from 2D to 3D, we have an extrusion tool unique to Sketchup, named Push/Pull.
A rectangle becomes a box by simply moving the mouse with this tool.
We go further by making an extrusion along a path which allows for specific forms, thanks to the Follow Me tool
Another tool lets you paint or apply a texture on a surface.
The objects are then combined to produce more complex objects such as the houses on the image above. For that, two tools are available. Groups to build composite objects and Components that allows you to make relational copies : when a copy is modified, the others are too.
What can I do with SketchUp?
- Landscape design with the Sandbox tool.
- Getting a contextual help with Instructor.
- Overview for complex objects with the Layers and Outliner tools.
- Adding annotations as on the plans of architects with the Dimensions and Labels tools.
- 3D navigation with the Look Around Tool. You can choose the viewing angle and move in 3D.
- Storing a scene from a view. By combining scenes, you create an animation.
- 3DS file import.
- Importing JPEG, PNG and PDF that can be used as textures.
- Exporting scene to PNG and JPEG formats (only the pro version exports to PDF).
- Large gallery of predefined objects in the 3D Warehouse.
Pros and cons
The good :
- Tool to turn surface into 3D (extrusion) effective and easy to use after a short apprenticeship.
- Extensive library of objects to import.
- Exotic scripting language for plugins. We can not import C scripts although they are legion.
- No ray-tracing included as is the case in Blender. For realistic views we should add an extension and they are very expensive (although Scketchup is free).
- The video tutorials are boring and poorly made, of low utility.
More 3D tools:
- Wings3D. Alternative also free to Sketchup. May be more difficult to control, but simpler than Blender, the most advanced of the lot.
- Blender. Comprehensive free tool competing with software costing thousands of dollars. Its interface is not made to facilitate the discovery, but is considered best suited for professional work. It allows making 3D animations.
If you find it too difficult to use, you can try another interface.
- Sweet Home 3D. More specialized software in the design of the floors of a house with a 3D view. Free.
- We may also mention Nendo and Mirai but they offer nothing better than modeling software mentioned above.
Tutorials and extension:
- Using Sketchup to make a 3D game.
- 3D Warehouse. Collection of reusable 3D objects.
- Kerkytea. A free renderer making use of data produced by Sketchup.
- Sketchup exporter to YafaRay. For ray-tracing with YafaRay.