Issue: Volume: 24 Issue: 11 (November 2001)

SketchUp 1.2

By David Cohn

Although computers have changed the way architects work, architects often complain that CAD systems are not well-suited to basic design-the preliminary sketching of ideas at the earliest phases of a project.

Anyone who feels this way should take a look at SketchUp from @Last Software. SketchUp is a 3D modeling program that enables users to sketch in 3D space as easily as if they were drawing with pencil and paper. Although usable by almost anyone who needs to create models in 3D, SketchUp is targeted specifically at architects and designers.

SketchUp presents a deceptively simple user interface. But it's the program's simplicity that makes it so powerful. To sketch in 3D, you simply draw in 2D, then push and pull the resulting shapes to create 3D objects. Autodesk's soon-to-be-released Architectural Studio (see pg. 54, October 2001) uses a slightly different pen-and-paper approach to architectural design.
SketchUp's simple tools enable you to quickly create 3D models. You can cast shadows and add thickened profiles and "jitter" lines to give your designs a rougher, hand-drawn appearance.

SketchUp initially presents a top view, with the X- and Y-axis displayed in red and green, respectively. The program treats this red-green plane as the ground plane. When you switch to a different viewpoint, the Z-axis displays as a blue line.

The Pencil is the primary drawing tool. As you draw an edge, the edge's length appears on a status bar. You can snap to preset increments, or type in desired distances. You also can snap to endpoints and midpoints of existing objects, and easily draw parallel or perpendicularly to existing edges.

Once you've drawn all the edges of a face, SketchUp fills it in. You can then use the Push/Pull tool to drag the face to create a 3D object. For example, once you've drawn a rectangle on the ground plane, you just drag that face to create a box-or an office tower.

The shapes you create don't have to be rectilinear. To create a gable roof, for example, you can draw a line on the top of the box, then use the Move/Copy tool to drag that new edge in the Z direction. SketchUp treats that edge as the ridge of the gable, angling the roof faces and extending the end elevation faces into a gable shape. You also can create curved shapes using the Arc tool, then use Push/ Pull to use those curves to change the shape of your model.

As you construct a model, any unnecessary edges can simply be erased. You also can draw new edges on a face to create an opening. For example, to make a window, you use the Rectangle tool and then erase the face within the four edges. Any geometry you create can be captured as a reusable component, and SketchUp comes with a library of 150 architectural components such as doors, windows, furniture, and landscape objects. Unfortunately, you can't currently preview components be fore inserting them into a model.

Models can be displayed in perspective or parallel projection, and in wireframe, hidden-line, or shaded view. You can paint faces in user-selected colors or apply realistic bitmap textures such as brick, concrete, or wood. To give your designs a rougher, sketched look-often desired at the preliminary design stage-you can extend edges slightly past their endpoints, thicken profile edges, and add "jitter" to make lines look more tentative. SketchUp also has a transparent mode that lets you see through all visible faces.

New features in SketchUp Version 1.2 include self-casting real-time shadows and the ability to export individual views in the Epix format for use with Informatix's Piranesi, a program for creating renderings with a hand-drawn look that is a perfect complement to SketchUp. The latest version also adds metric units and improved support for importing and ex porting AutoCAD DWG files and exporting 3ds max/3D studio viz files.

SketchUp takes very little time to learn; yet it enables architects and designers to quickly model complex building forms. The program is so simple and intuitive that an architect could very well sit down with a client and begin sketching a new project from scratch, working interactively to get just the right form. It truly is as easy as pencil and paper.

David Cohn is a computer consultant and technical writer based in Bellingham, Washington. He can be contacted via email at

SketchUp 1.2
Price: $495
Minimum System Requirements: Windows 95/98/NT/2000; 133MHz Pentium processor; 32MB of RAM; 20MB of disk space

@Last Software