It’s time for another of my occa­sional series about use­ful tools for crafters and illus­trat­ors. This time: Google SketchUp.

SKUscreenshotSketchUp is 3D design pro­gram from a little com­pany called Google. It’s free, which is my pre­ferred price point, though there’s also a ‘Pro’ ver­sion with some extra fea­tures for pro­fes­sional users.

I use SketchUp whenever I need to pro­duce a solid look­ing robot, be it a repur­posed war-bot turned stage magi­cian or just your every­day gigantic robot crab with a house on its back. I don’t gen­er­ally pro­duce a fin­ished work straight out of SketchUp, but instead use it to give part of a draw­ing a nice bit of geo­metry, form­ing a skel­eton on which I can draw fur­ther stuff.

SketchUp star­ted life as an archi­tec­ture tool, and that’s still what it’s best at; build­ings and other hard edged objects. One of the reas­ons Google bought it is to allow users to con­trib­ute mod­els to Google Earth. This means it’s not a tool that is easy to make organic shapes in, though there are plu­gins to help with that.

SketchUp’s unique selling point is the ease of mod­el­ling; it’s designed to be an intu­it­ive ‘sketchy’ exper­i­ence, rather than the pre­cise math­em­at­ical mod­el­ling pro­cess you might find in other 3D programs.

A big part of this is the abil­ity to pull/push faces – so make a cube, one can just draw a square and pull that face out into the third dimen­sion. Generally, SketchUp lets you grab and stretch things into the shape you want.

Another use­ful fea­ture is the program’s abil­ity to snap to align­ment; if you’re try­ing to make two shapes the same height as each other, the pro­gram will prob­ably guess and snap to the right height for you.

It’s really rather clever, so why not give it a try?

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