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Google SketchUp 3D Modeling Software Review (Free Version)

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The Bottom Line

As a 3D modeling program, Google SketchUp successfully unites principles of line drawing with 3D for a bare-bones program that lets you produce surprisingly complex 3D artwork, with an especial bent towards architectural drawings and models. Coming without a price tag, it can't hurt to give it a try, and for some it may actually have practical, business-oriented uses beyond just fun with vectors and planes.

Pros

  • Lets you "sketch" 3D drawings in a unique fashion.
  • Easy to apply colors, textures, etc.
  • Very fast learning curve.
  • Intuitive toolset.
  • Did we mention it's free?

Cons

  • Working with arcs can be a little tricky and require some finagling.
  • Mouse-movement on planes is a touch slippery.
  • Some tools have been "cleverly" renamed, more a pet peeve than anything.
  • Some functions require plug-ins to use.
  • Output can look a little clunky.

Description

  • Template-based 3D design tool that combines principles of line art with 3D.
  • Great for sketching architectural designs and blueprints, and seeing them come to life in three dimensions.
  • Integrates with Google Earth to place geo-located replica models of real places.
  • Allows you to share your models with others or use models others have shared in the 3D Warehouse.
  • Simplifies creation with the Building Maker.
  • Possesses more advanced tools such as shadows, terrain, and fog to enhance environments.

Guide Review - Google SketchUp 3D Modeling Software Review (Free Version)

Google SketchUp is a simple tool for building 3D models by "sketching" in a three-dimensional space, then using various options and fills to change the look and feel of the artwork to produce finished pieces. I wasn't expecting much from free software, even with Google's track record, but I was pleasantly surprised by what I found when giving SketchUp a spin.

SketchUp starts you off with templates, based on units of measurement and type of drawing that you'd like to create. It then places you in a 3D space with reference axes, and a simplified set of tools that let you draw lines, arcs, rectangles, and ovals, filling them with various textures and connecting them via snappable endpoints. Fun things like the Push/Pull tool let you take a 2D image and extrude it - though as an experienced 3D animator, I'd likely have been more comfortable if it had just been called an extrusion tool, as well as many of the other tools having somewhat...cutesy names. You can also create offsets of your shapes, rotate them, change camera angles, etc.

If this sounds highly simplistic, it is, but the results are only as simple as what you're capable of producing. When you consider that most architectural drawings are little more than a series of straight lines and measurements, in the right hands this can produce highly complex imagery that, using the measurement tools in the application, can be accurate to scale. You can also import 3D models, or share your models with others.

The software integrates with Google Earth, allowing you to select geolocations and create models of buildings or scenery at specific sites. (I'm sure somewhere in the middle of New York, someone's drawn a giant roll of toilet paper. Or worse.) There's also a Building Maker tool, though it does require the Google Earth plug-in to use.

First-time users will find it pretty easy to start plunking around and creating basic images, though there may be issues adapting to mouse movement in a 3D space; sometimes it requires a little finesse to get your drawings to stay on the plane you want, and if you're working with a touchpad laptop mouse it might take a little more practice. For more sophisticated output you'll definitely need to check out the tutorials and really learn your way around, though there's also flexibility to apply your own creativity and style.

Now, keep in mind first that this is not 3D animation software, which is probably one of the reasons its simplicity works so well as a basic point-and-click application; the tools focus only on producing art in a three-dimensional plane, not on making a series of polygons and vector points interact with each other across an animated timeline. If you're looking for free 3D animation software, look elsewhere.

If you're looking for free basic 3D modeling software, though, you could do worse than Google SketchUp. Although initial results can have an amateurish look and feel, that's true of almost any application in the hands of an inexperienced user.

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