Trimble SketchUp is a free CAD design program that should not be passed up for new 3D print creators and those collaborating with a team to create 3D models. Looking at who should consider making the jump from the free version to the Pro version and what sorts of designers might want to take a second look at the many different features it has to offer.
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Trimble SketchUp CAD Software Review
We are doing a series of CAD software reviews over the course of the summer, and today it is time for a Trimble SketchUp CAD software review. We decided to start our series with some of the free software out there. We will get into some of the more comprehensive and paid programs through time. But we thought that starting it with the free ones, like SketchUp would be a good idea because there are a lot of people out there who are also just starting out.
SketchUp gets a bad rap all the time for being an “inferior” program. When we were down at the UPS store in San Diego and talking about their services, they have a CAD technician who operates their machine and he was telling us that when he gets a model that was exported from SketchUp , it usually has a lot of errors that they have to clean up. I haven’t personally had that experience. I have used SketchUps early versions in the past, more for making compatible drawings that my patent attorney could read because SketchUp is a very universal tool. I have not really tried to export files in the past.
For this Trimble SketchUp CAD software review, I downloaded the current and most recent version of SketchUp for Mac. One of the things that we want to talk about is initially that they have SketchUp Make which is their entry level version that is completely free and it can be free forever. If you want to go a bit deeper, you can then upgrade to SketchUp Pro, and there is a cost for that. They let you download and use SketchUp Pro for 30 days. From what I have been able to gather is that in SketchUp, if you want to go pro, they have additional features of really accurate skilled drawings that can be produced as well as generate presentation documents and create compelling walk-thrus of a model. To do those levels of functions, you might want to upgrade to Pro. There are also other paid programs to consider, although if you wanted to learn SketchUp, you maybe don’t want to change. For starting in CAD, there is certainly no need to pay for the Pro version because you won’t need those features.
I am impressed with this. This program has improved since I had played with it. I was never a big user of Trimble SketchUp CAD software, but I got into it now for the review and I really checked it out. For home users who are light users who may be redesigning their kitchen for their house or wanting to build a new deck on the house, they want to build something in CAD and visualize it. Trimble SketchUp CAD software is really a good tool for that because it is very intuitive. It has a lot of really good tools. They have some specific templates when you get started. You can create a new file and it gives you a bunch of templates like architectural templates, but they also have a 3D printing templates which are in millimeters which is probably what you want to work in. It has an appropriate 3 dimensional world to work with that is the size of a typical build platform in a 3D printer. You can increase that environment and make it into whatever you want to in making a part that is in pieces and is bigger than a single volume where you are going to put it together after printing. It’s got an appropriate environment, and it is thinking about us who are 3D print users as well.
Getting into how the Trimble SketchUp CAD software really works, it has got a lot of very useful tools just starting with drawing lines and shapes in what some of us might think in some programs as extruding shapes to make them in three dimensions. They have different kinds of tools. In my mind, if you haven’t done any CAD work before, they are a more intuitive tool which is why I am impressed with how they did this. Instead of extruding things, they call it a Push and Pull tool where you can create shapes in a very intuitive way. You push and pull them to whatever dimension you want. While you can do this very simply without being very accurate with your size, you can also enter in the exact size or distance that you want to push or pull something and it may have that size. It seems at its face to be very accurate.
Lets say you extrude and you drew a certain shape and then you wanted to draw another shape that is on the top surface and pull it down into it making a negativity. It is so simple and intuitive to do it in this program which is why it is very impressive to me. You can very quickly work on it without using a bunch of commands that you need to do in some other programs. You can create a lot of objects with a lot of positive and negative spaces. Instead of it being made into a bunch of different parts and adding them and subtracting them, this software is made that you can adjust on the fly and go, and essentially create all different sorts of shapes while pushing and pulling them, either by stretching protrusions or recessing other shapes. It is also very fast.
References in Trimble SketchUp CAD Software
Another thing that I like is that some of their tools for creating references is that you can offset the top shape and do it. But if you want it to be accurate and a more complex object, it has reference guides. Any of you that are Photoshop users out there makes this perfect for you. There are conventions that Photoshop users are used to, and one of those is the guides. You can actually drag a guide from the edge of an object to certain distance. Let’s say you wanted to be 3mm in from the edge, you can drag a guide, type in 3mm, and then enter. It would then go there and do that for all four sides. It would either draw down a shape or pull it down into it, or you can offset those shapes and reference those guides.
It is a very intuitive tool if you are using other programs that have guides for measuring and referencing. That is something that I wanted to point out about the Trimble SketchUp CAD software that I was really impressed with. Once you understand some of these tools, the speed of which you could create certain forms, if they are not terribly complex, as there are limits to it. SketchUp appears to me to behave somewhere in between a solid modelling program and a surface modelling program. It is not a program where you can do serious sculpting like in ZBrush or something like that. But for creating hard geometry for anything else, it has got a lot of similarities to other similar programs like Rhinoceros which is my CAD program of choice. Rhinoceros has a lot of references like when you are drawing new geometry and you move your drawing tool over existing parts of a model, it will tell you that you are going to snap to the endpoint if you will do a click here, or the midpoint of this area or perhaps the tangent point. SketchUp very much works the same way.
SketchUp does not have as many of those geometry reference points like nodes or tangents. There are more comprehensive ones in Rhino for example, but Trimble SketchUp CAD software has a lot of them. I find that to be very helpful when you are drawing something. One thing I like that seems to be unique to SketchUp is their X, Y, and a Z plane is that they have referenced it with red, green, and blue in terms of those planar lines. You can reference things parallel to them or perpendicular to them. Having all those colors all throughout that 3D environment makes it very easy to do.
They also have another interesting tool that they called the Follow Me tool. It is another good example of Sketch in creating commands and processing that you can do that is more intuitive. With another program, you might use a revolve tool or an extrude one curve type of tool. They made this a lot simpler. If you have an existing object and then you are drawing a shape that is meant to follow a path around the perimeter or around the midsection or any part of your geometry, they have got this tool called the follow me tool that allows you to follow a shape and then drag it all around the part where you would want to or select some reference lines and shapes that will do it all at once. The terms of the follow me tool instead of the more complex way to create geometry lets you see that it is user friendly.
I am very impressed with this software. They also have this 3D warehouse available. So if you are doing something larger in scale, not necessarily 3D printing. If you want to go on that kitchen project or an outdoor patio portrait project and you want some basic furnishings to populate in your model. You can also create a rendering where you can do basic coloring and rendering of your environment within the Trimble SketchUp CAD software, so it is pretty comprehensive in that regard. If you are doing an object that has multiple parts or components in it, or something that is built with many pieces that you are making, they have a really good system of grouping things and calling different groups of objects.
They have this built in them as a free program which is very powerful. A group is a group of correspondents within SketchUp. Let’s call it a desktop accessory dish that is going to hold a bunch of your SD cards of flash drives. It is like a cavity of a surface that has four legs to it to stand up on your desk a bit. You want each of those four legs to be made with a certain shape. You make one leg and then you can copy that leg and it becomes an instance of the others. It is a part that you are going to use multiple times in a piece, so if you copy and mirror it, you get it all done. You also want to make a change to it because it does not look right. You want to change the angle of the taper, and add some shape to it and make it pointy at one side. If you do that to one component, it will automatically update all three of the other ones. When you change one, it is going to update all of them which saves you time in going and changing all four of them on other programs like Rhinoceros. You can do some really quick changes and visualize that to see if it looks the way I wanted to. You can make changes and do it really quickly. There are so many different aspects to a CAD program that it is hard to go all of them in a podcast.
Final Thoughts on Trimble SketchUp CAD Software
One of the things that I really want, that they have actually created is a very comprehensive tutorial program. There are two kinds of them. They have this thing called the instructor which is kind of a popup window on your CAD program in your desktop. It tells you what that tool does, how that tool works, and then what kind of options there are. If you hit the shift key and click on it, it tells you what it does. You have a place where you can click to learn more events options for that tool. That is very helpful.
They have a video tutorial series too. When you download SketchUp, you will see that tutorial series. I have seen half a dozen or more of those videos. Not only to update myself, but also to evaluate that and to see how really good this program is and what it can do. Is it the same or is it a lot more advanced. I have to say that I am really impressed. If you want to use Trimble SketchUp CAD Software, you might want to go through all those tutorial videos. The first three or four videos give you a really good overview of the things that you can do.
That is about to do it for a good overview on Trimble SketchUp CAD software. I think it is definitely a consideration of a starter program. If you have any issues with exporting files that have errors, I have found that there are a lot of good programs that can easily fix any errors that existed in STL file for 3D printing. If you are building careful geometry, then this is vital.
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