SketchUp. Over 30 million users activated in 2011. Not nearly that many architects. Interesting. The easy conclusion is that a lot of people want to 3D model. What's the real reason? Of course, it's free. Most people will still download something if its interesting and if its free. What does that say about the masses wanting to 3D model?
In a recent Google study on the applications ease of use it was clear that finding important navigation buttons such as Orbit, took users 45 minutes to find and utilize. At least in one case example. Shockingly long in the internet surfing culture that Google has fostered. We all know, you have 4 seconds to say it clear or its over and on to the next thing.
Google also recently has unloaded Sketch Up to Trimble (http://goo.gl/DbyUQ). It's been great imagining what Google would do with Sketch Up over the last couple years, but it turns out most heavy Sketch Up users haven't found that much improvement. Google is trimming down and focusing more on core business but on the surface it appears they felt the product was good to go. 30 million activations in a single year is probably good even for Google standards.
Architectural firms using Sketch Up use the pro version and pay $450 per seat. That's a fraction of the max price, or any other 3D modeling option for the professional. It gets many firms up and running in 3D pretty quickly and inexpensively. How easy is it? That may still be out for debate at least for the very beginner. We'll see what Trimble's up to hopefully soon.
Using Sketch Up
If you've spent hours cracking your head on 3D studio max, Rhino or Maya, you chuckle or cough a bit when you hear someone using such a simple program. You can't fathom that this thing is even remotely useful. But nonetheless Sketch Up adoption is significant and many small to mid-sized firms are happy with its cost / benefit ratio.
So what can I do with my Sketch Up model?
The depth of experience you provide an audience is only a matter of how much time you have and how intense your desire to impress. There's always more you can add to the model. More detail, more textures, more views but it has to end somewhere.
You can render, overlay the model into real context using Google Earth, animate, walkthrough and you can 3D print. Ahh, the power of 3D printing.
Most people like holding a model. Fun if its someone else's design, exhilarating if it's your own design. Seeing it real, making changes and printing it again. Once you've got this process down you won't want to go back.
Sketch Up does not export to STL files needed for 3D printing. Though there are Ruby script plugins for Sketch Up that will export the STL file format, we will avoid this process. Our success has been exporting a 3ds file or dwg from Sketch Up, importing to Rhino and exporting the STL file from there. If you have Magics 16.0 or later you can just import direct into Magics.