Manufacturing

First Look Review: SketchUp 5

1 Nov, 2005 By: IDSA ,Mike Hudspeth Cadalyst

Conceptual Modeling for AEC and Mechanical Design


When I First Saw Sketchup 5, the hand-drawn quality of its renderings impressed me. They represent the idea or essence of what the designer is trying to communicate, and that's what design software is really all about.



According to developer @Last Software, SketchUp is the result of years of frustration with CAD software. You know the type: really powerful with an equally powerful learning curve. SketchUp 5 is aimed at conceptual modeling, so it's made to be fast and loose. Users can start modeling as soon as they install the software. It's not CAD, and it doesn't try to be. @Last Software says SketchUp 5 makes a good companion for other software packages.

Sketchup 5
Sketchup 5

About 60% of @Last Software's business comes from the architectural market, although many others use it, such as engineers, interior designers, landscapers and industrial designers. Architects, Hollywood set designers and game developers are interested in SketchUp because of its fast, easy modeling and realistic lighting. SketchUp 5 is a wonderful tool for previsualization studies (figure 1)—it's so easy and fast, users can quickly build multiple iterations of meaningful models.

Figure 1. The sky's the limit with SketchUp 5. Renderings are easy to create and look great.
Figure 1. The sky's the limit with SketchUp 5. Renderings are easy to create and look great.

Of course, SketchUp is not limited to rectangular shapes. Users can draw just about anything by combining simple shapes (figure 2). To save a little time, users can import models of doors, windows, trees, furniture and even people to flesh out designs. SketchUp 5 isn't just for the architectural trade—product designers will benefit from it as well (figure 3).

Figure 2. Three simple steps are all it takes to create the basic shape of a model. Additional shapes and components can be imported or downloaded from the Web.
Figure 2. Three simple steps are all it takes to create the basic shape of a model. Additional shapes and components can be imported or downloaded from the Web.

Once a design is complete, it can be translated into a variety of formats. SketchUp 5 supports an impressive array of import and export formats: DWG, DXF, 3DS (new to SketchUp 5), VRML, PDF, EPS, JPG, TIF, PNG and more. It does not import and export Parasolid or IGES. @Last Software says this is because SketchUp is edge-based, and not a solid modeler. You could've fooled me.

Figure 3. Product designers can benefit from SketchUp 5 s fast modeling techniques to quickly turn out concept models. SketchUp 5 is so easy that users can generate multiple iterations in the time it takes to model just one with more complicated software tools.
Figure 3. Product designers can benefit from SketchUp 5 s fast modeling techniques to quickly turn out concept models. SketchUp 5 is so easy that users can generate multiple iterations in the time it takes to model just one with more complicated software tools.

If users can't find a function they want, they can use a built-in scripting language (Ruby) to write custom code.

SketchUp 5 is a major upgrade. The company has reworked the entire user interface. It's OpenGL-based and two to four times faster than previous version. The user interface in the Macintosh and the Windows versions is almost identical.

Users really need to learn only six tools to use 80% of SketchUp's power:

  • 1. Pencil
  • 2. Push/pull
  • 3. Eraser
  • 4. Orbit
  • 5. Pan
  • 6. Zoom

SketchUp 5's Sandbox, a set of tools for modeling organic shapes, takes creativity to a whole new level. With the terrain modeling tool, users can either import geometry (such as GIS data) or draw their own, then push and pull it into 3D space to create the site for a new building.

The Stamp tool can add things such as roads to the terrain models. Engineers should pay close attention to these tools. They are very handy for adding details to otherwise plain models.

Users can take a line drawing of anything and create a model from it—even a face. Models can be reverse engineered from a bit-map image (figure 4). A great video on the SketchUp Web site walks you through the process (http://download.sketchup.com/downloads/training/tutorials50/Sketchup%20Video%20Tutorials.html). The Drape tool projects 2D geometry onto whatever surface is selected.

Figure 4. To create a realistic model of an object, import a bit-map, wrap it on a model, trace the bit-map and use it as a texture.
Figure 4. To create a realistic model of an object, import a bit-map, wrap it on a model, trace the bit-map and use it as a texture.

@Last Software has assembled some very effective and informative tutorial videos on its Web site. They run through the basics and into advanced topics.

SketchUp has a loyal installed user base of about 30,000–40,000 seats—not bad for a company that's only five years old.

The user site features all kinds of discussions about various capabilities of SketchUp and what people are doing with it. Between the videos and other users, users won't have any trouble getting around SketchUp 5.

Designs can be displayed in many different ways. As I said earlier, SketchUp's rendering is not photorealistic. It adds a sketchy quality to models. Line ends can extend past their intersections (figure 5), corners can have heavier ends for emphasis and lines can have varying weight to punch up the 3D feel of a scene.

Figure 5. SketchUp provides a variety of rendering options, including a hand-drawn effect.
Figure 5. SketchUp provides a variety of rendering options, including a hand-drawn effect.

Outlining is a really nice feature that gets used a lot in hand renderings. When this option is turned on, users can group objects so they have a thicker border around them. It's a great way to add visual interest to a scene. The software also supports transparent parts.

I'm always impressed by realistic shadows, and SketchUp 5 has them in spades. Set the time of day, and shadows fall correctly on the scene.

SketchUp 5 is a great 3D modeling package for fast concept generation. It's fairly inexpensive ($495), but delivers in a lot of value. If you're looking for a program that takes a design to production, this is probably not the right one. For a good all-around concept modeler to generate mass studies or previsualizations, this is the program to look at. Highly Recommended.

Mike Hudspeth, IDSA, is an industrial designer, artist and author based in St. Louis, Missouri.


About the Author: IDSA


About the Author: Mike Hudspeth


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