SketchUp v3.1.31

Reviewed by: Mario Georgiou, July 2004, 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. Mac OS X, 400 MHz 128 MB RAM, 100% OpenGL compatible 3D hardware acceleration card, 20MB free disk space and a scroll wheel 3 button mouse
MSRP: US$475.00

When Howard Carson (Managing Editor) and Lianne Reitter (reviewer, HotLinks Editor) originally reviewed SketchUp 2 a couple of years ago, it was already a very powerful and useful tool for conceptual development and presentations. What SketchUp does is allow the designer, engineer and architect to quickly explore ideas and concepts with a tool set that is quite intuitive and very powerful.

My first exposure to SketchUp occured a few years back at a time when I was looking for a quick tool for designing furniture. I had a look at a variety of solutions and came across SketchUp after reading a review on one of the many design sites I visit. I decided to give it a go and after viewing several of the many online tutorials available for the software I was quickly able to model and try out some of my ideas. To my immense pleasure SketchUp very much lived up to its promise.

The original review mentioned several issues about the lack of text handling and some of the drawing options, most of which have been very nicely addressed in the current version of SketchUp. The addition of features such as dimensioning and annotation, improved polygons and primitives, material transparency, output of movie and vector files and export to 3DS and Piranesi EPIX have greatly improved this already powerful tool. The export feature for EPIX is especially nice because Piranesi is rapidly becoming the tool of choice for many architectural and design renderers.

The feature set of SketchUp allows you to very quickly put together concepts using a number of primitives, shapes and objects. You can then push, pull, cut, infer, texture, light, sketch and apply many other features with great ease. You can then set up a number of parameters—time of day, location, render type, viewpoints, etc.—and even create walk-throughs of your concept. These views and walk-throughs can be exported to a variety of video formats all of which are optimized for size. Although the rendering in the program is not photo-realistic you can use drag & drop to add photographic textures to your concepts which is very effective choice when simulating realistic environments.

The @LastSoftware web site includes a very large assortment of support materials, FAQs and video based tutorials. It also has instruction manuals in PDF and you can order printed manuals and books too. The user forums are especially useful as there is literally an army of helpful users out there in addition to the many useful libraries of freely downloadable objects and materials.

The video tutorials are highly recommended as the features are quite often touched upon several times during the tutorials. The hints given during the tutorials are very useful and add to your understanding of how to use SketchUp. I highly recommend you view the tutorials as I found them immensely useful and very well prepared.

Cons: Small set of rendering features with a reliance on third-party software. A limited number of 3D file formats supported though plug-ins may appear for a number of them soon. The lack of real curves.

Features I'd like to see include a fade or fog command to add a distance feel to rendered objects and an option to transition a rendering between two different rendering styles, very cool for focusing on selected parts of a project.

Pros: This major release has an improved feature set combined with the ongoing dedication that @Last Software has shown to user education and its many useful and informative newsletters.

If you are a designer, architect, engineer, modeler, carpenter or need a tool to quickly model in 3D, SketchUp is a very powerful and serious program which can make your work feel like you are playing. This is a very cool program and is highly recommended. Try it, you'll like it. As in our 2003 review, it is still "Absolutely delightful."

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