Tech that I Do # 3


A future, maybe, container house. Click pic for animation (link to YouTube)

For both my work and personal projects I end up doing some technical drawing.  I’m not a professional drafter or artist or the like, but I find it easier to communicate in pictures sometimes when presenting some topics.  Particularly those involving spacial relationships – office layouts, how mechanical equipment will fit in a room, etc.  I’ve been a user of AutoCAD for many, many years.  I go back to when they were still using “version” in the product name.  I don’t remember specifically, but I believe I put my hands on it for the first time with version 2.5 or thereabouts way back in the late 1980s.  Prior to that, I’d actually worked for a company called ComputerVision.  They were one of the companies that actually first invented computer aided drafting and design back in the 1960s.  Nowadays, what’s left of them is part of Parametric Technology and they sell a very modern and extremely high end software suite used mostly for naval architecture and shipbuilding today called CADDS5.

I’ve progressed along with AutoCAD in its various incarnations and while it’s great for a ton of technical drawing – and in fact has been the de facto basis of almost all professional drafting for years – it’s always been fairly expensive for the standard versions that can handle full 3D rendering and the like, so in recent years for my personal use, I’ve been sticking with the ‘LT’ versions of the product and waiting until the last possible moment to upgrade.

So then a few years back, along comes this wonderful and amazing thing called Sketchup.  Originally developed by @Last Software and acquired by Google about ten years ago, it’s now owned by Trimble Corporation.  Unfortunately, the Pro version of the product has drifted up to the same general pricing range as the cheapest versions of AutoCAD LT nowadays, but the great thing about what is now called Sketchup Make is that for personal use, its still completely free and amazingly powerful.  The Pro version comes with some very nice additional tools like Layout and Style Builder and allows the incorporation of a large number of plugins for photorealistic rendering and such.  So, I have a copy of the Pro version at work for those projects and I get by just fine with the free version at home.  After all, when I’m doing something like laying out how furniture is going to fit in my apartment, I don’t need to create a presentation and render a photorealistic graphic.

As mentioned, I’ve been working with AutoCAD for a long while now and I’ve gotten pretty decent at it.  I’ve been known to sketch something really quick by popping open AutoCAD instead of grabbing a pencil.  But, since discovering Sketchup, I find myself dashing off really quick ideas with it instead.

Like most of the tech, software and such that I like to use, Sketchup just simply works and it’s easy to understand.  It can be as simplistic or as sophisticated as you want.  I can bang out a very quick office layout in about 5-10 minutes.  Or spend a lot of time with textures and finishes and custom parts and such and build very detailed models.  Some gifted Sketchup artists, architects and the like do amazing things with the package.  The software offers the ability to work to exact dimensions if desired, or to just draw – regardless of scale or real measurements.  Once you learn the basics, it’s a very simple process to turn out some fairly compelling drawings.  Because the product spent time with Google and now with Trimble, it is the go-to tool for drawing buildings and other structures that are correctly geo-located on the surface of the earth for insertion in to Google Earth or other KML based mapping and rendering software.  For learning it, there is a huge and vast collection of educational and how-to step by step videos for the product hosted on YouTube.  Perhaps best of all is the amazing 3D warehouse, and its companion the Extensions warehouse.  In the 3D warehouse, you’ll find thousands of components for download.  This is handy for grabbing a quick desk, chair and computer for an office layout, for instance.  The Extensions warehouse is where you find hundreds of plug-ins, many of them free, that can be downloaded to add a great deal of specialized capability to the application.  These range from special geometric tools (like surface creation and sculpting tools, Bezier curves, etc. all the way through very sophisticated, paid lighting and rendering tools.

It’s software that just works and allows nearly unlimited creativity.  And for personal use, it’s completely free.  All things that keep me coming back to Sketchup over and over.

Time to draw this one to a close…