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SketchUp - A Useful Free Tool

Upon hearing its name, you might think Sketchup is just a trivial application for well, sketching.  A colleague of mine even thought it sounded more like a companion to his fried chicken than anything that has something to do with engineering or CAD (might be because of how I pronounced it though).  The case was different for me because I was lucky enough to have been introduced to it by a well-experienced user so before I actually used it, I already knew its power and usefulness in various design fields.

What is SketchUp then?  It is actually a 3D modeling software made by Google.  That's right, the creator of your favorite search engine is also the author of this  clever tool.  They made it so easy-to-use that it makes an impression that it is limited to creation of simple models.  On the contrary, as most of its fans claim, it can meet your requirements whether you're designing just a small mechanical part or a giant sky scraper.  And yes, it is free.

If you are a Google Earth user, chances are, you have already seen models of existing structures created in Sketchup.  People from all over the world can create a model of their house or neighborhood or even their whole town (if they have that much free time) and contribute it to Google Earth.

One good feature of Sketchup is you do not always have to start from scratch.  Right from its File menu, as long as you are connected to the internet, you can search for an existing model from a huge repository called 3D Warehouse and incorporate it in your work.  If you are designing a machine which has a standard part, a ball bearing for example, you don't have to reinvent (or more precisely, to remodel) the wheel.  There is a good chance some generous designer had already done the hard work for you and shared their model in the warehouse.

The snapshot below is a model of my friend's entertainment room. No textures were added as it is not intended to be a pretty picture of the finished room.  We just used it to determine the proper placement of the projector, the optimum screen size and the seating distance.  The couch is a generic model downloaded from the 3D Warehouse.  The screen image, in case you don't recognize it, is a scene from the movie Transformers and is just a jpeg image imported to the model.



The architectural models below (courtesy of Randy Carizo) are also created in SketchUp. A rendering plugin was used to produce these photo-realistic images.  A plugin is a small piece of software that you install to extend the functionality of SketchUp.

Please note that most plugins are from third-party developers and may not be free.  This is not a problem for me because so far, the built-in functionalities of SketchUp are more than enough for my needs.


SketchUp is available for both WIndows (XP/Vista/7) and Mac (OS X 10.5+) environments.  You can download both versions from here.


I almost got tempted to create a tutorial but felt I will not be doing the product justice because I am a novice user myself.  Instead, I will point you to a very good place to start from:


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