SketchUp v2.2

Reviewed by: Howard Carson & Lianne Reitter, send e-mail
Published by: @Last Software, go to the web site
Requires: 400 MHz processor, Windows 98, NT4.0 w/SP3, 2000, XP or later (you must be logged on as Administrator to install on NT, 2000, and XP), 64MB RAM, 20MB free disk space; mouse, pen, etc., Internet Explorer 4.0 or later; 3D accelerated graphics card that supports OpenGL and 800 x 600 resolution
MSRP: US$495.00

Concept drawings, sketches, idea scribbles and storyboards are all important during the creation and modification of things - almost all things. Typical business meetings these days always seem to require a white board, erasable markers, lots of charting and sketching and so on. Fast forward out of the boardroom into an engineering, construction, landscaping, home design or architectural environment and the ability to communicate concepts and constructs becomes somewhat problematic - especially where meetings with customers, PR flacks and marketing types are involved. Enter SketchUp.

SketchUp is a 3D drawing tool first and foremost. What @Last Software has managed to do however is create a 3D drawing program which allows thought and concept to follow the path of least resistance in order to hit the computer screen or the printed page quickly. Nice idea.

We tested SketchUp on a Hewlett Packard Pavilion 8575c Pentium III/550MHz running Windows XP Professional, 320MB RAM, with an ATI All-In-Wonder Rage 128 16MB graphics card. There were no installation problems. Screen rendering, rotation and scaling within SketchUp were smooth enough and trouble-free, with the ATI card and driver providing the stable OpenGL support preferred by SketchUp.

The feature and function set in SketchUp is not up to the massive standard set by AutoCAD and its competitors, but we found even the notion of such a comparison irrelevant. SketchUp is not meant to take the place of AutoCAD. Rather, SketchUp is designed to be fast, straightforward and vastly easier to use for quick idea visualization. In fact, SketchUp works as advertised. I don't know of another 3D drawing tool which is as easy to use and as similarly robust as SketchUp. After running through a couple of the excellent video tutorials supplied with SketchUp, I was creating 3D drawings on screen and in print at a pace which surprised me.

After sitting through a few 10 minute tutorials, it took only about another 10 minutes to create a multi-room house complete with furniture, doors, windows, entrances and a yard full of picnic tables, trees, shrubs and so on. It was a matter of two or three mouse clicks after that to create a complete full motion presentation of the creation, starting with an aerial shot and gradually zooming in and around the house exterior, then through the front door and into each of the rooms. Absolutely delightful.

The end result of your first effort is bound to be somewhat draftsman-like in appearance. Use the Preferences dialog to turn your piece into a real sketch. There are settings to extend edges, remove colors and so on. Shadows and lighting are retained except in wireframe mode.

People - professionals, amateurs, hobbyists - who need or want to sketch by hand and who feel that full-blown CAD programs are too unwieldy for quick execution, should definitely enjoy SketchUp's approach. Controls for light, shadow, transparency and perspective are among the easiest to use we've ever seen. @Last has also assembled a detailed, well laid out user interface combined with excellent online help and guidance which really serves to speed up the 3D drawing process. All the fundamentals are front and center - 3D primitives and objects, full object control, lighting control, color, form control, line and freehand drawing. For the real heavy-duty users, SketchUp exports to all major 2D and 3D AutoCAD formats in addition to saving files in its native format.

Cons: A few quibbles. SketchUp has no text handling to speak of (for labels, titles, legends, etc.), an omission we hope @Last will remedy in an otherwise superb program. The sketch tools and the settings in Preferences don't include cross-hatching or feathering. The Orbit tool icon is different in the program than it is in the online tutorials - ditto for the Push/Pull icon.

Pros: There is nothing like a really good set of tutorials and SketchUp has them. There is an extensive series of step-by-step full motion screen capture video tutorials complete with the soothing voice of a superbly talented SketchUp expert describing everything. Very well done, streamed from the SketchUp web site! They were created using a series of clearly effective scripts written by someone who knows how to do this sort of writing. Camtasia from TechSmith was used for the motion capture. There are also tutorial videos in QuickTime format which run off the installation CD. We can't say enough about the tutorials - use them, particularly the online ones. Experiment with the tools and techniques. I believe you'll be hooked and doing great quality idea and concept sketches and presentations for business, personal or hobby use inside of an hour or two - less if you're already familiar with 3D drawing. SketchUp is useful, fascinating and recommended.

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