SketchUp Grows Up

Once an easy-to-use 3D modeler, SketchUp takes its place with professional CAD applications.

Once an easy-to-use 3D modeler, SketchUp is well on the way to taking its place among professional CAD applications.

SketchUp, arguably the easiest-to-use 3D design application, seems to have had somewhat of a growth spurt over the last 12 months, growing up right before our eyes. Users may not have noticed because Trimble, the company that sells SketchUp, does not do a big annual release and announce it with great fanfare. Constant improvement, as the new way of updating software has come to be known, runs the risk of its improvements going unnoticed.

Thankfully, a SketchUp team took the initiative to round up what users may have missed and produced a demo of the major improvements that Trimble has snuck into SketchUp. They list 10 major improvements, but I’m sure they have been asked to limit them in the interest of billable time. Watching demos is not billable. 

Revit Importer

SketchUp users can now import a Revit model and get all the BIM information in them. Image: Trimble.

SketchUp users can now import a Revit model and get all the BIM information in them. Image: Trimble.

Leading off is the new Revit Importer tool. SketchUp does a commendable job of importing BIM models from Revit. We see Revit’s child-like representations of trees (2D cutouts at right angles) replaced with more natural looking trees from 3D Warehouse, the massive collection of 3D objects available to SketchUp. With millions of free 3D models, the 3D Warehouse has always been a big selling point for SketchUp and for many, worth the cost of admission.

The switch to more natural trees is quick. All it takes is a flick of the wrist and a click of the mouse. Just a routine improvement in SketchUp. It makes the ease of use obvious, but it underscores a fundamental change in direction of models. Models used to go one way only—from SketchUp models to Revit. With the Revit Importer, model traffic can now go in both directions. In the past, with SketchUp having only limited capability, there was little that SketchUp could add to a Revit model. But as the trees have shown, and with additional capabilities we are about to see that have made SketchUp a bona fide CAD package, traffic in the other direction is bound to pick up.

A smallish Revit model is brought in completely in just a few seconds, converting Revit families to SketchUp components. Floors and walls are toggled on and off, hidden from view, and so on. Information in the Revit BIM model is stored as tags in SketchUp, allowing easy selection and modification, such as “turn off all trees” by selecting the “tree” tag.

(Search and replace can also be done for visualization purposes with the Enscape Material Converter plug-in available in the SketchUp Extension Warehouse. Interior designers can quickly visualize swap paint swatches and color samples, one style of chair for another.)

Unlike most CAD importers, which bring in “dumb geometry,” the Revit Importer is smart, bringing in BIM information.

SketchUp will automatically create floor plans for each floor in the Revit model simply by selecting the cuts on each level of the model.

Flip Tool

New Flip tool Image: Trimble

New Flip tool Image: Trimble

SketchUp now has a Flip tool that makes it easy to reorient components—a great improvement over flipping was done: by selecting the red, green or blue axis. Not only did selecting an axis not represent what was actually a mirroring over a plane defined by two axes, but often the color of the axes was not always easily visible. It was nomenclature peculiar to SketchUp, no doubt meant as a simplification of the X, Y, Z triad used by every other design and engineering system. The Flip, by comparison, clearly shows planes and previews the placement of the component. SketchUp users will now be able to reorient components in one shot, rather than by trial and error.

Such unambiguous flipping was possible before but only with an extension, which can only be used with the desktop version of SketchUp (not the tablet or web version).

Power users may assign a shortcut to the Flip tool, shift F, for example.

As with other SketchUp tools, the Flip tool has command modifiers. Use the modifier “copy” to create a mirror image of a component and keep the original.

The mirror plane can be dragged off the object, allowing the placement of its reflection farther away. Use this to space out partitions in an office layout, for example. The plane can be dragged to snap points aligned with existing model geometry.

Live Components

Live components have parameters and can change size, shape Image: Trimble

Live components have parameters and can change size, shape Image: Trimble

Live components are configurable, parametric 3D models. They are the easiest way to model and are fun to use. It is much easier to configure a truss live component than to create a truss from scratch or break down an existing truss and modify the elements. You simply use slider bars to change the shape and in some cases the number or patterns of the elements. With the live component of a truss, not only can you change the size, but you also can adjust the number of repeating patterns in the web.

Live components are an appetizer that only leaves you hungry for more. More live components. Can every component be live, with the same slider bar interface, even if it only adjusts size and shape but not the number of elements? Also, why not have the slider bar move in increments, such as stock sizes of lumber?

There are only 170 live components available in the 3D Warehouse at the time of this writing. That’s not enough. Trimble seems to have selected which components to make live rather randomly. Perhaps it could allow the building of live components in SketchUp and accept live components from users?

Live components can be configured in the Warehouse or in the SketchUp model after they are downloaded—a more likely approach as the live component can be sized in the context of the model it is in.

Live components are currently in Labs (beta). Users are encouraged to try them. Certainly, their popularity will motivate Trimble to make more.


10 Key Features You May Be Missing in SketchUp. Kyle Burns, customer success manager for SketchUp at Trimble, and Sumele Adelana, senior marketing manager for SketchUp at Trimble.