Not content with monopolizing the search world, Google is now busy making a splash in several other areas including, rather bizarrely, 3D design. Tradtionally, 3D modelling software commands a pretty high price and SketchUp aims to provide a basic alternative to industry mainstays like 3DSMax and Cinema4D – for free.
3D illustration can be a complex affair, but SketchUp keeps things as simple as possible, making for a far less daunting experience than you’ll get with many professional 3D apps. Technical jargon is kept to a minimum. For instance, the ‘Extrude’ tool is renamed to the more obvious ‘Push/Pull,’ and there are countless other examples.
The hand-holding doesn’t stop there, as the program features some rather helpful guide-snapping when you draw rectangles, and circles. For those unfamiliar with drawing in a 3D plane this is a god-send as the program helps you find the end and middle points of lines and squares and tells you if you’re on the right track. The program is able to predict where you want endpoints to meet and snaps them shut for you, saving lots of time.
In terms of its toolset, SketchUp comes with pretty much the usual collection of drawing and filling tools, neatly gathered within a left-hand toolbar. Other options can be accessed via the menu system, or you can choose to place extra palettes on the workspace to save wading through menus. Of particular note is the ‘Materials’ palette, which contains over 100 different preset swatches, such as vegetation, metal and glass. The Shadow Settings palette is also worth keeping to hand, as it allows you to apply realistic shadows via simple sliders.
As Google’s software portfolio matures we’re starting to see more and more integration between its products and we like the way that you can export models you create in SketchUp into Google Earth. Once you’ve done that, you can send images of your 3D designs mapped on satellite through email or upload to free storage space at Google’s 3D Web Warehouse.
There are few flaws within the program but perhaps the most annoying arrives when extruding curves. It becomes quite difficult to realise domed surfaces because of the cumbersome nature of the Extrude tool, although pushing and pulling straight lines is considerably easier.
Although it lacks some of the advanced features of many of its heavyweight rivals, Google SketchUp provides a refreshingly simple approach to 3D graphic design and modelling. This makes it perfect for anyone who’s thinking of dabbling but doesn’t want to shell out a fortune to start with, and doesn’t have an intimate knowledge of CAD technology.