SketchUp v5

Reviewed by: Mario Georgiou, October 2005, updated December 2006
Published by: @Last Software
Requires: Microsoft Windows NT4.0 w/SP3 or higher, 2000, XP Home or Professional; Pentium 4/2GHz processor or faster, 512MB RAM and a 3 button scroll-wheel mouse, 80MB free hard disk space; Internet Explorer 6.0 or later; 100% OpenGL compliant video card; QuickTime 5.0 and web browser for multimedia tutorials. Mac OS X v10.3 or later, G5/1GHz processor or faster, 512MB RAM and a 3-button, scroll-wheel mouse
MSRP: US$495.00, UK£315.00 (upgrade pricing available)

When I reviewed SketchUp 3, I was impressed with how easy it was to use. As a tool for conceptual modeling it features a very powerful and extensive toolkit. It is a tool which makes it very easy for designers and laymen to sculpt and explore their ideas in three dimensions. I had gone as far as describing the SketchUp tools as superbly intuitive. This still holds true in SketchUp 5. The program is further enhanced by @Last Software's dedication to user education via new tutorials and an excellent "getting started" feature which guides you through using the powerful toolset and the online User Guide.

I received SketchUp 5 a couple of months back and have had some time to explore its tool set and try out all of the new features. This version features some very useful enhancements, which I will explore later in the review. Features like the Sandbox, Stamp Tool, the Component Outliner and Replace Selected Component are great enhancements as is the new Extensions Manager which enables some of the new features. The improvements to SketchUp are not only functional but also visual as @Last, has improved the user interface (UI) with new icons and toolbars. The new dialogs have been designed so that they have sticky behavior to facilitate easier positioning and use. Clicking on the title bar of your toolbars will collapse or expand them accordingly.


Other enhancements include component level controls and editing features like locking, a make-unique feature which allows you to remove a component from a grouping, and a group selection and smart swap feature for replacing components with an updated or different library item. The addition of Face Me components which work with shadows that move with the sun but still face you is also very useful.

The outliner allows for more effective and easy editing of components, allowing you to filter and group-name components. The Select tool has been enhanced and is now discriminating. Selecting from left to right will only select objects entirely within the selection window. Selecting from right to left will select all objects that cross into the selection area.

The offset and push/pull features have been enhanced to allow for copying, whilst image objects now have alpha channel support for better handling of transparency. The Walk tool now has collision detection to facilitate more intelligent handling of elevations in your walkthroughs, as well as the capability to handle different elevations intelligently by trying to maintain eye level whilst on slopes, ramps and stairs.

The sandbox tool mentioned above is one of the better improvements in that it enables you to build a terrain very quickly from contours, or by manipulating a meshed surface. The Smoove tool (no, it's not misspelled) is especially easy to use and facilitates the building of hills and valleys. Combine this with being able to map images onto your terrain and you have a winning combination for creating fairly accurate landscapes. The Drape tool facilitates the placement of roads and paths onto your terrain. The Stamp tool facilitates the merging of your objects and models, like buildings, seamlessly into your terrain. The Add Detail, Flip Edge and Soften/Smooth Edges tools complete the sandbox toolset by adding attribute controls to enhance and edit your terrains and meshes.

The file support handling is improved with support for 3DS import/export, digital elevation models (DEM) for terrain elevations, United States Geological Survey (USGS) DEM, and spatial data transfer standard (SDTS). The formats supported for export have also been expanded with OBJ, Softimage XSI format and FBX (Filmbox). SketchUp 5 has also updated DWG and DXF import and export using the latest DWG libraries, which means AutoCAD file import/export is fully up-to-date. File format support was one of few gripes about earlier versions and SketchUp 5 has made great progress.

The rendering engine has also been improved. Bear in mind that when I say rendering I'm not talking photorealistic, I'm referring to SketchUp's rather nice sketch style renders. With features such as depth cue, which adds weight to foreground edges and lines, and Edges Off which accents the outside edges of your objects, cool renders possible when you add the "End Point Setting" which accents the end points of lines in the rendering by extending them beyond the termination points. Your sketch renders become even more stylized.

Although the Depth cue feature is a way of achieving this, I'd still like to see include a fade or fog command and an option to transition a rendering between two different rendering styles. It's very cool for focusing on selected parts of a project.

Other features include the ability to add plug-ins like Google Earth, as well as the powerful Ruby scripting engine. The scripts available on the user forums and third party sites help to extend the capabilities of this great package.

As in earlier versions the video tutorials are excellent and easy to follow. The few hours it takes to go through them are well spent. The online support is also excellent and continues to impress in part because of the wealth of helpful pointers contributed by the growing user base. I found the forums especially useful as many of my questions were answered there without having to do extensive searches. The FAQ area on the SketchUp web site has been improved with excellent info on getting to know, configure and upgrade this great tool. With support available on third party web sites such as Pushpullbar, the SketchUp community is a thriving one. All the support offered is excellent and something which other vendors would do well to emulate.

Cons: The lack of real curves is still an issue. An overlay for design grids and guidelines would be a great addition. Lack of solids and real volumes is an issue amongst many users.

Pros: @Last Software has vastly improved this already great product. Excellent user education and support. The sandbox is a wonderful addition to the toolkit. Simple and intuitive user interface. Unified, cross-platform experience.bAs I said in my previous SketchUp review, "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 application which can make your work feel like you are playing." This is still a very cool application and I have enjoyed playing with it. For quick studies in 3D, this program is highly recommended. If you haven't tried SketchUp yet, you're missing something. Give it a test drive today.





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