@Last Software SketchUp 3

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New curve handling, material transparency, annotation and export options build on SketchUp's existing, and unmatched, 2D to 3D technology.

SketchUp 2.1 was something special. It stood out from the crowd because it does something that no other program comes close to - it bridges the divide between 2D drawing and 3D drawing. Moreover it does so in such a simple, elegant and efficient way that it's ideal for exploring and presenting 3D ideas. Now version 3 is here and breaking yet more new ground.

Underpinning SketchUp is its system of inference drawing which intelligently anticipates your intentions, checking possible 2D line positions against the main axes and the existing model, and so enabling you to draw interactively in 3D space - for example creating a cube in just a few strokes. This system has now been enhanced further with new equidistant and tangent inferences which are especially useful for drawing chamfers and fillets. Making life even simpler are SketchUp's Push-Pull, Move and Rotate tools that let you interactively extrude, reposition and rotate selected faces within 3D space simply by dragging.

It's a brilliant system that lets you quickly build up complex models but there's one major drawback: all lines/edges must be straight and faces must be coplanar. It's not a crippling problem as you can simulate curved edges with multiple line sections (a "polyline curve") and curved faces with multiple polygons. However this has downsides in terms of editability and also when it comes to output as drawings with curved faces, such as columns and domes, end up looking faceted.

Now @Last Software has come up with a typically ingenious workaround. When you add a polyline curve using the Arc or Circle tools, SketchUp remembers the higher level shape information so that you can retrospectively change the diameter or the number of line segments. And if you push/pull any curved or freehand shape to create a curved face these lines are automatically "softened" which means that they only appear in profile so that all internal lines are hidden and the undesirable faceting disappears. You can also "smooth" curved faces which renders adjoining faces with a smooth tonal gradient again improving output quality - though it's still important to understand that SketchUp is designed to produce sketches not photo-realistic renderings.

SketchUp 3 offers better curve handling and control over transparency.

Its output might not be photo-realistic but that doesn't stop SketchUp from packing quite a punch when it comes to formatting. Using the Paint tool you can instantly apply any bitmap texture to your model's faces and you can then edit these, changing colours or scale for example, in situ in real-time! New in 3 is the ability to set an opacity level for your material which means that you can create realistic liquids and glass - particularly important for SketchUp's main target audience of architects.

SketchUp is ideal for exploring 3D ideas, but these ideas also have to be presented as effectively as possible. SketchUp 2.1 offered a number of unique capabilities for this, such as adding hand-drawn jitter to lines and adding accurate shadows based on location and the time of year and day. However there was one obvious omission: you couldn't annotate your drawings because SketchUp didn't support text.

Now in version 3 you can finally add text to your drawings and, typically, the SketchUp approach is innovative and creative (though the formatting options leave a bit to be desired). In particular SketchUp 3 offers two distinct types of text. The first is called "screen" text which remains fixed to a point on your screen and is ideal for adding titles and captions. The second is "leader" text which is linked to a face on your model either implicitly or via an arrow. As you rotate the view of your model the leader text follows its object while maintaining its orientation to the screen and, when the leader arrow becomes obscured, its associated text automatically disappears. The obvious use for this is for labelling and also for dimensioning though if you're adding linear distances you're better off with the new dedicated Dimensioning tool.

Text and dimensioning can intelligently change according to the current view.

It's particularly impressive to see your drawing's annotations and dimensioning (and shadows, textures etc) update in real time as you change the view of your model - assuming you have an OpenGL-supporting graphics card and reasonable processor - in fact it's so striking that it would be great if you could use that as your presentation rather than a static sketch. You can with SketchUp's TourGuide technology. This lets you set up pages based on current camera position, view settings, shadow settings and so on and when you swap between pages SketchUp automatically and smoothly interpolates between the two views. That's great for presentations, but only if you have the client and a copy of SketchUp to hand. Now though you can also output your TourGuide presentation to an AVI video file so that you can produce presentations for delivery on CD/DVD or, with a bit of post-processing, via the Web.

Another new option for Web delivery is the ability to output your scenes to VRML (virtual reality markup language) which has the advantage that end users can interactively explore your work via a supporting player. For more traditional 2D output, SketchUp supports a reasonable range of static bitmap formats including JPEG and TIFF and the EPIX format for further processing in Piranesi. Bitmaps provide the richest output option but if you are going to work further on your models then vectors are preferable even though formatting information such as textures and shadows is lost. SketchUp 3 now provides "filled polygon" output of your current view to either EPS or PDF format which is useful if you're trying to produce 3D work in Illustrator for example. For more technical control you're better off outputting to the CAD standards DWG or DXF while to continue your work in a dedicated 3D modeller you can output to 3DS.

From original drawing through to final export, SketchUp 3 creatively pushes back the boundaries - and enables you to do the same.


Ease of Use
Value for Money

ratings out of 6

Tom Arah

August 2003

requirements Pentium II 600MHz, 128Mb of RAM, 20Mb of hard disk space, Windows 98, ME, NT4 (SP3), 2000 and XP, OpenGL graphics card recommended

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