I’ve just spent some time reviewing an amazing drawing app that’s available for Mac OS X. You may not understand what it does, but if you’re an architect or designer, you’ll wonder what you did without it.
Now, ask yourself, “what if Photoshop or Illustrator got together with Blender, or better yet Maya, and had a kid?” Well, look no further than SketchUp.
Beyond its funny name, this simple-looking program packs a bit of power. If you start out drawing, you’ll wonder what the big deal is. But those red and green lines you see on the drawing panel are but two axes of a three-dimensional world. By simply clicking the “Orbit Camera” button in the toolbar, I found that I could spin my drawing around, and view it like Paper Mario. After spinning it to a new angle, I could draw lines that connect to existing lines, but going in new directions. This app works wonders with a drawing tablet, and is sometimes more fun than Alias SketchBook. If your brain works in 3D, this is great, and can help you save paper when brainstorming. The nicest thing about SketchUp is that there are no crazy buttons or palettes like Photoshop, and it’s simple to learn. I figured it out in a couple of minutes.
Considering that we’re dealing with 3D drawing, this is an awesome app. Make no mistake – it’s not a full-fledged 3D program like Maya, and it doesn’t try to be. The price also suggests a slightly different market segment: at $475, it’s cheaper than some professional design apps, but still out of reach of most casual users. This app is best for a job such as taking architectural drawings, and adding the 3rd dimension to them. SketchUp is geared toward rough prototype design, for architects, interior designers, mechanical design, and even designing rough models for games or movies. The major thing I see missing at first glance would be lighting controls, which keeps the images this program makes rather simple.
SketchUp’s 3D abilities are still very impressive. It uses OpenGL, and some aspect of this requires Panther or later, which you can see in their system requirements.
The program has some nice measuring and control tools, like “tape measure”, “protractor”, etc, which are very much geared to building planners. In terms of working with other apps, it’s also very nice in that it can export to CAD and 3D studio max, as well as spitting out standard old image files. This works well for taking an architect’s work to 3DS, and adding that lighting and stuff to present to the client.
If you’re in the design business, I would recommend this app for your rough 3D design needs. If you’re looking for a 3D app for the next Pixar film, this isn’t exactly what you want.
SketchUp has an 8-hour demo version for download on their site. If you want to use it after that 8-hour period, it’s a hefty $475 US for a license. (They also have student pricing, but you have to call them for that). For more information about SketchUp, visit their site at www.sketchup.com.