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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