Ah, there it is: SketchUp 6

It is here! After a bit of a wait, Google (formerly @Last software) released SketchUp 6 – again in a free-for-all and a professional version. Here is the official announcement. Upgrades (at least for US customers) are free and there’s a nifty wizard to accomplish a smooth upgrade.

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Sketchy view in SketchUp 6 using one of the provided styles.

Downloading it yesterday ten minutes after the announcement e-mail arrived was a test of patience. The Google sign-up servers slowed down significantly and my browser page didn’t reload for minutes. But I got it and everything installed just fine. As is customary with this kind of software, it didn’t remove the old version but did a parallel install.

A major new feature is a photo-(perspective-)matching tool in SketchUp that simplifies placement of a model into a photographed scene or (more important for Google Earth users) to apply photos as a texture onto any object.

There’s also a new external application (in the professional version only) called LayOut that helps in creating plottable sheets (or PDF presentations) with full layout and line-control. SketchUp models can be linked to LayOut and plots get updated when the original model changes. This is a very useful feature as anyone who ever exported SketchUp views to AutoCAD can attest.

Another major new feature are the Styles, which allow for quickly changing the appearance (colors, line styles) of views. With this feature, the current view can with one click be transformed into a blueprint, a conté sketch on paper, or even a classic white-lines-on-black-background (Auto-)CAD presentation. Pretty cool! All new line styles are amazingly realistic.

Views can then – as before – be arranged in a series, the only difference is that the old “Tourguide” now is called “Animation“. Other than that, the user interface hasn’t changed much.

You can view the entire list of new features (and improvements on the official New Features page.

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Sheet view of SketchUp model in LayOut

Since this release is a major new version, it is somewhat surprising that the main new feature, the LayOut add-on is supplied only as a “beta” version. This would indicate that the release was a bit hurried. In any case, it was very anticipated by the community. In the half-hour I spent so far with LayOut, it also appeared unnecessary (although not unusual) that it was implemented as a separate program – as opposed to a new child window (or tab) in the main application. There also seems to be an integration of Internet Explorer into the user interface since every click in the main window produces the typical Microsoft-clacking-sound (very annoying for us Firefox users). Finally – and this is not likely everyone’s problem – my computer is set to large fonts and the UI behaves a bit funny (drop-downs and list views have very condensed lines and inconsistent font sizes). These problems should disappear, however, when LayOut graduates from its beta-status.

Other than that, LayOut is an immensely useful addition. The ability to create plots might even make some light to medium-duty other-2D-CAD-software users look at this program a bit closer. Some of the very interesting LayOut features are the Scrapbook (ability to store 2D content like people or trees for quickly dressing up plans) and the ability to use line styles, weights and colors, which the old SketchUp never implemented well. It also comes with a sizable set of templates – even movie storyboards are included.

A small wish-list that doesn’t seem to have gotten addressed in this version:

  • Circles still aren’t circles (but rather a set of lines).
  • A chamfer/fillet tool would have been a nice addition. The Soften Edges tool doesn’t really cut it for me. (Note: A chamfer tool can be downloaded as a Ruby application).
  • Direct DWG block import into the LayOut scrapbook would make life easier.
  • There still is no included renderer. For now, this shortcoming gets addressed by external renderers (and plugins) like VRay for SketchUp, Kerkythea and Podium, for example.

All in all, SketchUp is still the “little 3D software that could” and is – considering the features, ease of work and interoperability with major CAD software – still very reasonably priced (no increase!) in the professional version and simply offers amazing value in the free version. If you haven’t tried it, download it and have fun.