SketchUp bucks the trend of expensive 3D modeling software such as 3DSMax and Cinema4D and presents a free, easy-to-use alternative with which you can even post your creations onto Google Earth for the world to see.
Refreshingly simple approach
There's a refreshing lack of technical jargon in SketchUp, and there are plenty of helpful hints and guides throughout to help you get to grips with 'snapping' when you draw rectangles, circles and other shapes. Sketchup intelligently predicts where you want endpoints to meet and snaps them shut for you, saving lots of time messing around.
SketchUp doesn't lack in functionality despite its ease of use, and includes all the usual collection of drawing and filling tools you'd expect, neatly accessible in the toolbar across the top of the screen. Instructor hints pop out on the right of the screen when it thinks you need them.
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.
Google Earth and Maps integration
The real fun however is when you export your SketchUp drawings into Google Earth. You can send images of your 3D designs via email or upload them for free storage at Google's 3D Web Warehouse. Alternatively, you can geo-tag them in one-step using Google Maps, as this is integrated with Sketchup. You receive a snapshot when you add a geo-location to your model which includes 3D terrain data plus color aerial imagery.
There are some problems with SketchUp however. This is most apparent when trying to create domed surfaces, as the Push/Pull tool is particularly cumbersome, although pushing and pulling straight lines is considerably easier. Being free, it also obviously lacks some of the advanced features of many of its heavyweight rivals.
3D design and modeling for the masses
SketchUp provides a refreshingly simple approach to 3D graphic design and modeling and is ideal for non experts in CAD technology.