Free-to-cheap ease of use makes SketchUp 8 ideal for beginners and even cost-conscious pros.
Back in 2000, @Last Software envisioned a new kind of 3D design application, one which was easy to use and could capture the feel of working with pen and paper. They promised a product that would bring "3D for everyone," and what they delivered was SketchUp. Now, eleven years and one new owner later, SketchUp is still delivering on that promise.
SketchUp runs on Windows, OS X and Linux/Wine. It comes in two flavors: the freeware version, Google SketchUp; and its more powerful cousin, SketchUp Pro.
Google markets SketchUp primarily toward architects and engineers, but the 3D modeling functionality can also be applied toward both the film and video game industries. It features Google Earth integration so that users can upload 3D models to Google Earth with a single keystroke. Additionally, Google hosts its 3D Warehouse, a repository on which users may search for, download and contribute free 3D models. The program also supports software extensions in the Ruby programming language, known as "Rubies."
A Brief History of SketchUp
Almost right out of the gate, SketchUp won a DigitalCAD Community Choice Award owing largely to its short learning curve. Having caught Google's eye with its work on a Google Earth plugin, @Last Software was purchased by the tech giant in 2006. Ever since then, Google released a series of version updates which improved on the software's already legendary ease of use, culminating in the release of the current version SketchUp 8 in September 2010.
Why Should You Use SketchUp?
Google SketchUp's ease of use makes it ideal for beginners and amateurs and, on top of that, it's free. Plus, Google Earth integration might appeal to geography academics and enthusiasts. The free Google SketchUp version can only export files in two formats-one of which is Google Earth's .kmz format-so professionals may want to spend the $495 for SketchUp Pro, which enables the user to export files under seven additional extensions. SketchUp may not play in the same league as industry-grade 3D design products like 3ds Max, but free-to-cheap makes for one heavy hitter nonetheless.
Take Your 3D Modeling to the Next Level
So, say you've modeled your masterpiece, now what? Exciting new developments in 3D printing technology enable you to translate those shapes you modeled on your computer into real, solid objects. A number of companies offer 3D printing services that cater to clienteles ranging from engineers and inventors to designers and artists, even to hobbyists and enthusiasts. You're only a step away form materializing your vision. Transform your sketch into reality.