Company: @Last Software
Pros: SketchUp’s intuitive ‘push/pull’ tools make it one of the easiest 3D graphics programs to master.
Cons: Unhelpful documentation can sometimes leave you struggling, and the keyboard shortcuts often seem rather unintuitive – though they can be customized.
SketchUp stands out among 3D graphics programs thanks to its innovative and simple ‘push/pull’ approach, which makes it easy to sketch 2D shapes and then quickly manipulate them in three dimensions with the mouse.
This latest upgrade, to version 4.0, has a long list of new features, but there are a core group of features that really stand out. There’s been a general tidying up of the program’s interface, including a reorganization of the various me us. One useful addition is the inclusion of a context-sensitive Entity sub-menu within the main Edit menu. This changes so that it displays editing commands specific to whatever object you have selected.
For modelling work, there are a number of clever new features that maintain the program’s reputation for ease of use. The Follow Me tool provides a kind of freehand extrusion option, allowing you to extrude a profile shape so that it follows any path you draw on screen. This could be used to quickly add details such as a skirting board that automatically follows the path of a wall you’ve already drawn.
The new Intersection tool is even more powerful. It provides something similar to the Boolean operations found in more complex CAD programs allowing you to position two or more objects so that they intersect, and then create new edges that follow the intersection.
The program’s texture handling options have been improved, making it easier to wrap textures and images over complex surfaces. There’s a cheat feature, called Face Me, which allows you to insert 2D components into a scene and then set the properties of that component so that it always faces the camera. This creates a kind of pseudo-3D effect that disguises the flatness of the 2D components. You can then populate scenes with stock components such as people, plants or furniture, while keeping the overall size of your document file as small as possible.
The online Help files are weak, and don’t always explain these features very well. The Intersection and texture-wrapping tools sometimes produced unexpected results, and you may find yourself scurrying back to the training section of the SketchUp Web site for an explanation. Even so, SketchUp is still a one-of-a-kind program. It’s well worth exploring, especially if you’re new to 3D work and want a program that provides a clear, simple introduction.