SketchUp is one of the most familiar and popular 3D modeling programs out there. With both a free and pro version, it’s an option for both professionals and hobbyists. A handy software package, SketchUp enables users to create 2D and 3D models for use in a variety of fields including mechanical engineering, architecture and even gaming. Of course, that’s just the start—there’s still plenty to know about SketchUp.
Scan2CAD’s latest guide aims to get you fully updated on everything there is to know about SketchUp—from its history to its full range of products.
Table of Contents
- Impact on Education
- The Future: What’s Next?
Believe it or not, SketchUp’s origins go all the way back to 2000. The software was originally developed by startup company @Last Software, co-founded by Brad Schell and Joe Esch in 1999. SketchUp was released to the public in August 2000 as a “general purpose” 3D modeling tool—looking to make the design process easier, more intuitive and more fun. @Last Software must have been doing something right, because at the A/E/C Systems Fall 2000 exhibit, SketchUp won the award for “Best New Products or Services”.
Not content to slow down, @Last Software continued its success by aiming to allow users to place their SketchUp models into Google Earth. In this endeavor, they collaborated with Google to develop a plug-in for Google Earth. First impressions are everything—Google’s impression of SketchUp was clearly a good one after the success of their plug-in. Why? After their successful collaboration, Google acquired SketchUp—for an undisclosed sum—on March 14, 2006.
Google SketchUp’s Reign and Subsequent Acquisition by Trimble
Up until this point, @Last were marketing SketchUp with a $495 price tag. Google, however, released both a free version of SketchUp—available to anyone interested—and a pro version, also at $495, in January 2007. The free version had less functionality than the pro version; however, it still included integrated tools for uploading models to Google Earth and 3D Warehouse. New “toolbox” features enabled users to see their models from different perspectives; it supported labels and came with a look-around tool. The Pro 6 release first introduced the beta version of LayOut which changed SketchUp for the better—we’ll look into this further in the products section.
Google certainly showed no signs of stopping—releasing subsequent versions like SketchUp 7 which integrated 3D Warehouse, LayOut 2 and additional dynamic components. SketchUp 8, released in 2010, came with model geolocation with Google Maps and Building Maker integration.
Google’s reign came to a halt on June 1, 2012 when Trimble Navigation—now known simply as Trimble Inc.—acquired SketchUp. Trimble released a new version of SketchUp in 2013: SketchUp 2013. The SketchUp team under Trimble has since shown a great interest in helping third-party developers to extend SketchUp through extensions. As such, they created the Extension Warehouse, allowing users to share and download SketchUp plugins and extensions.
SketchUp Make is a free-of-charge version of SketchUp, released by Trimble in 2013. It’s available for home, personal and educational use. Users start with a 30-day trial of SketchUp Pro. Once this time period is complete, users can agree to prompted Terms and Conditions in order to continue using SketchUp Make for free.
As of November 2017, however, Trimble stopped bringing out further releases of SketchUp Make—urging users to migrate to SketchUp Free.
Replacing Make, SketchUp Free was released in November 2017 as a web-based SaaS (Software as a Service) application. In order to use the application, users have to sign in with a Trimble ID or Google Account and have an internet connection. Citing itself as the “easiest way to draw in 3D”, SketchUp enables you to bring all of your designs to life.
With SketchUp Free, users can create a variety of 3D models and save them to the cloud, locally as a native SKP file or export them as STL files. The beauty and biggest pull factor of SketchUp is its incredibly easy interface. Unlike modelers like AutoCAD that come with a steeper learning curve, SketchUp doesn’t need hundreds of buttons and commands to draw. As you’d expect, this Free version doesn’t have as much functionality and wide capabilities at Pro. Considering you don’t have to pay for it, however, this isn’t too disappointing.
With SketchUp being so accessible, you can use it on most modern web browsers and operating systems. As an SaaS application, SketchUp is essentially versionless—you don’t have to worry about downloading the latest version because everything is updated automatically. Features like Trimble Connect allow users to host models online. This means you have the benefit of being able to access your models anywhere, anytime and on any device. Your projects auto-save, so you don’t even need to worry about losing your work if your system crashes—projects are ready and waiting when you re-launch. As you’d expect, Trimble Connect is useful for collaboration. You can invite people to look at your projects, make edits and even leave comments.
While SketchUp Pro might knock you back $695, bear in mind that this is a one-off payment and in return, you’re able to create models and drawings that meet any type of drawing requirements. From programming to diagramming to design development, you can use SketchUp Pro to take any of your projects from its first stages all the way to its construction. With wider functionality than Free and a completely intuitive interface, it’s easy to see why so many opt for this product. Some users also prefer having SketchUp on desktop as opposed to entirely in browser.
While Free is more or less ideal for creating 3D models, Pro goes a step further. With it, you can draw elevations, plans, details and title blocks. And with a boasted accuracy to a “thousandth of an inch”, you can be sure that your projects will be designed and specified in as much or as little detail as you require. This detail is, of course, most noticeable with Pro’s feature that allows users to turn models into complete animated walkthroughs. Users can also take advantage of advanced camera tools, Solid Tools, along with more import and export capabilities—including our favorite file types DWG and DXF. Essentially, your choice between Free and Pro all boils down to how much capability and functionality you want.
Of course, this is but a small glimpse into what SketchUp Pro has to offer. Additional add-ons include LayOut and Style Builder which we’ll discuss below…
SketchUp isn’t just about 3D modeling, of course, and that’s where LayOut comes in. When presenting projects to clients or team members, 2D drawings are the easiest way to convey detail and design intent. LayOut takes your SketchUp models and turns them into diagrams, drawings, presentations and even scaled prints.
You can start off by drawing your project in SketchUp, creating scenes to show different views. This file can then be sent to LayOut where you can then add dimensions, labels and so on. You can easily use LayOut’s tools to draw to scale in 2D—sketching from scratch or by adding a scaled linework over your SketchUp model. The true beauty of LayOut lies in its syncing capabilities—any edits you make to your SketchUp drawing will be instantly updated in your LayOut document.
Once you’re happy with your LayOut document, you can then export your file as a PDF. This can be used in presentations, walkthroughs or even sent directly to clients. Used correctly, LayOut could become a vital aspect of your design workflow.
A difficulty many have with 3D modeling software—or just CAD software—is the lack of personal touch at times. While we’ve moved past the need to draw everything by hand for every stage of the design process, there’s something so much more appealing to hand-drawn sketches. If this is something you struggle with at times, you might find the solution in this other handy SketchUp Pro add-on.
Style Builder’s main job is to help users create their own sketchy-edge style from lines you’ve drawn yourself—either on paper or in an image editing program. Style Builder enables users to create custom styles and apply them to SketchUp models. The advantage to this is that it makes your model completely different to anyone else’s out there. You can create sketchy-edge styles based on whatever you want—from pencil lines to pen strokes to thick graphite lines.
With this add-on, you can turn your hard-lined computer drawings into more approachable sketches. Essentially, it can make your models appear hand-rendered—giving your projects a more personal touch. This can be especially useful to add to a project portfolio—giving clients more than just the technical, typical model drawings and specifications.
3D Warehouse is one of the best resources on offer with SketchUp. Available on desktop with SketchUp and in browser, 3D Warehouse is a resource and online community for anyone who creates or is looking for 3D models.
With 3D Warehouse, you can upload your own models so that other users can download them. Users can then provide feedback and comments, which is useful regardless of whether you’re a professional or hobbyist. And of course, you can download models that other people have created. If you’re creating a building, for example, you can download brand-name models like Bosch appliances and so on.
Another notable advantage to 3D Warehouse is that it enables users to connect to other users. If you like a particular model or you have questions about how it was made, you can add comments or even contact the model’s creator. It’s a great way to network with other like-minded people.
As the name suggests, Extension Warehouse is a resource that provides extensions—or plug-ins—developed for SketchUp. These extensions allow users to add special features to SketchUp. Whether you’re looking for extensions for applications like drawing or 3D printing, Extension Warehouse has it all.
It’s even possible to look for industry-specific tools, such as extensions for architecture, construction and engineering. You can easily search for extensions by name or by capability. When you click on an extension you’re interested in, you’ll be able to see a product description and reviews from other users who have downloaded the extension. Once you’ve found the extension you’re looking for, it’s as simple as downloading with the click of a button. You can then manage all of your extensions from the ‘My Extensions’ page.
Extensions can be extremely useful in performing time-saving tasks. For example, you might use a plug-in that inspects and repairs solids for 3D printing. It’s also possible to use extensions for more general purposes like tools designing for an IKEA kitchen. Worried about downloading an extension that might have been developed by someone inexperienced? To assure users of high quality extensions, developers have to apply to develop SketchUp extensions before they can upload anything.
Impact on Education
Trimble is not only committed to helping its users learn how to use its range of products, it’s also interested in communicating with users looking to innovate with SketchUp. With that in mind, they host 3D Basecamp—a biennial, week-long user conference that draws together users from across the world in order to “teach, learn and inspire”. 3D Basecamp gives SketchUp users the chance to develop their 3D modeling skills and socialize with other users.
Powered by a “roster of seasoned speakers”, 3D Basecamp moves its way through a wide variety of topics guaranteed to interest all types of SketchUp users. 3D Basecamp 2018 will take place in Palm Springs, California. Of course, it’s not just the sun that has SketchUp users talking. Basecamp boasts of a wide variety of workshops:
- Photogrammetry and 3D Printing
- SketchUp 201: Revisting SketchUp Fundamentals
- SketchUp for CNC
- Playing Well With Others: SketchUp and CAD
- SketchUp Workflows for Interior Designers
Needless to say, SketchUp is dedicated to the education of its users. Of course, it’s not all about 3D Basecamp. Users can also take advantage of SketchUp’s community, Help Center and forums. Additionally, Trimble offer free access to SketchUp Pro to schools in a bid to educate more people.
Soon after SketchUp became widely accessible to the public, the SketchUp team started receiving feedback from the parents of children on the autism spectrum, letting them know that their product was having a positive impact on their childrens’ lives—allowing them to communicate their thoughts through images.
With this, and help from the Autism Society of Boulder Society, SketchUp launched Project Spectrum, with a single goal: connecting the autism community with SketchUp. With it, the SketchUp team hopes to teach these children vital life skills that will help them to achieve educational and career goals they might not have even aspired to before SketchUp. You can see more about this in the video below:
The Future: What’s Next?
So, what’s next on the horizon for Trimble’s SketchUp? While we do love trying to predict or make educated guesses as to what our favorite developers are going to do next, it truly is difficult trying to predict the future for SketchUp.
It seems we’ve already waved goodbye to SketchUp Make—Trimble chose not to update it for 2018. Make users don’t have much to worry about, however, as they can continue to work in whatever version of Make they have. Alternatively, they can opt to use the innovative SketchUp Free.
While SketchUp has already expanded into advanced sectors, such as enabling users to 3D print their models, we’d certainly like to see SketchUp expand directly into BIM (Building Information Modeling). With Pro’s wide capabilities and functionality, having BIM tools would certainly push the product that much further. One thing’s for sure: SketchUp undoubtedly has a few surprises up its sleeve, and we can’t wait to read about them!