Google's SketchUp Pro 6.0 is an enhanced version of its free Google SketchUp 6.0 program. The free version features the application's powerful 3D functionality, while Google SketchUp Pro 6.0 adds two main features necessary for professional modelers.

One is an expanded set of export formats that allow SketchUp modellers to work closely with architects using CAD (computer-aided design) software. The other is the bundled LayOut program (still in beta). You'll need LayOut if you want to print 2D views of a Google SketchUp 3D model (or if you want to project a 2D slide on a computer screen). If, for example, you want to create a set of printed displays for a kiosk, or to present to a client, you need Google SketchUp Pro.

Google recommends SketchUp Pro 6.0 for all kinds of 3D drawing projects, and its available libraries (from Google's 3D Warehouse) include objects for plumbing, interior design, industrial design, and more. Google SketchUp Pro 6.0 is for drawing models, not blueprints - the drawing features don't support the level of precision scaling available in CAD programs, or in Adobe Illustrator, but are sufficiently precise for creating models, mock-ups, and demonstrations.

Alternative approach

Once you get comfortable with Google SketchUp Pro 6.0's drawing conventions, you can generate 3D models very quickly. The environment is completely unlike traditional 3D drawing programs, in which you draw and assemble surfaces. Instead, Google SketchUp Pro 6.0 approaches 3D drawing with a design environment based on colour-coded dots, edges, and planes that indicate dimensions. Illustrators who are used to the traditional approach may find Google SketchUp Pro 6.0's interface frustrating at first. But the ease with which you can move a wall, or adjust the pitch of a roof, and interactively adjust an entire project in Google SketchUp Pro 6.0 can justify the learning curve over time.

You can easily apply textures - like brick or concrete - to Google SketchUp Pro 6.0 models, and you can add effects like fog or shadows. You can apply strokes such as pencil lines to give a hand-drawn look to projects. And Google SketchUp Pro 6.0 allows you to add text boxes and callouts to models.

Professional illustrators will probably require more surfacing and lighting features than are available in either version of Google SketchUp 6.0, and will likely turn to plug-ins such as TurboSketch Studio to make models more realistic.

The 3D models you create in Google SketchUp Pro 6.0 also can be used to generate QuickTime movies that allow viewers to move from one perspective to another. You might, for example, create a movie that simulates a drive-through tour of a shopping center. You can find examples of Google SketchUp-generated walk-through movies on YouTube.

Teaming up with Google Earth

While Google promotes SketchUp Pro 6.0 as an all-purpose 3D modelling package, we suspect that the folks who will put the time and energy into mastering its features will likely be generating architectural renderings. Google SketchUp Pro 6.0's ability to plop a building down on to a location in Google Earth has fascinating potential for people presenting real estate projects, for example. Google SketchUp Pro 6.0 imports geographic context (aerial photos and terrain) from Google Earth, and you can draw on top of that context. You can also export your model from Google SketchUp Pro 6.0 to Google Earth to share with others.

Why go Pro?

The fundamental tools in Google SketchUp Pro 6.0 are available in the free version. But for many professionals, the added features in the Pro version - the ability to export to professional CAD programs, as well as the ability to generate 2D presentations - are essential.

The included 2D presentation program, LayOut, allows you to rotate and adjust a model and apply effects before freezing a view as a 2D slide. LayOut works smoothly with Google SketchUp Pro 6.0, and I found it easy and intuitive to freeze a 2D perspective, and to generate a slide or printed view from it.

Free online resources for Google SketchUp Pro 6.0 include an online version of the book Google SketchUp for Dummies, which includes dozens of very useful videos. But tech support from Google is available with only Google SketchUp Pro 6.0.

Google SketchUp Pro 6.0's pricing scheme is unusual, but for the most part it makes sense. While the free version allows you to generate QuickTime movies, modelers creating professional presentations will need the 2D output (for print or digital display) available only in the Pro edition. In addition, the Pro version manages import and export exchange with CAD formats that are not supported in the free version. Google believes that the $495 price of the Pro version is justified for users who need those features, and that the pricing for the Pro version is more or less on par with this class of professional CAD programs.

Google SketchUp Pro 6.0: Specs

  • 2GHz Pentium processor or higher
  • Windows 2000/XP/Vista
  • 2GB RAM
  • 500MB hard disk space (15GB in Vista)
  • NET 1.1 framework
  • OpenGL-compliant video card
  • IE 6.0 or higher
  • Windows Media Player or QuickTime 5.0 or later
  • 2GHz Pentium processor or higher
  • Windows 2000/XP/Vista
  • 2GB RAM
  • 500MB hard disk space (15GB in Vista)
  • NET 1.1 framework
  • OpenGL-compliant video card
  • IE 6.0 or higher
  • Windows Media Player or QuickTime 5.0 or later

OUR VERDICT

If you're interested in using Google SketchUp Pro 6.0 as a 3D modeller, start with the free version. If you get comfortable with the program's 3D drawing environment, and you need to export your models to formats not supported by the free version, or you need to produce 2D presentations, then consider the Pro version. If you are producing professional models, you might need to enhance Google SketchUp Pro 6.0's somewhat limited set of shading and lighting effects with a plug-in such as TurboSketch Studio.

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