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Google SketchUp 7 wants to shape you into a 3D artist

Here's a hands-on look at the newest version of Google's modeling tool that was released Monday.

Google has released SketchUp 7 (download), the latest free version of its 3D modeling software, along with its premium counterpart, SketchUp 7 Pro.

Like previous iterations of the software, SketchUp 7 will enable you to model just about anything you'd like as long as you start with a predesigned template. The new version, released Monday, offers simple templates that help you gauge size through feet or meters, but it also includes architectural design, Google Earth, and a product design template to aid you in your modeling endeavors.


Once you choose a template, you're brought to a relatively simple design page that allows you to create squares, rectangles, arcs, circles, and lines, or to draw freehand to design your model. Overall, SketchUp 7 is designed well, and the icons toward the top of the template make choosing tools easy. The "Instructor" window to the right of the template helps novices understand each tool, and drawing is simple.

Aside from drawing, you can also access Google's 3D warehouse, which allows you to search for 3D models while in the software and place them into your creation. The sheer number of models is impressive. You can choose from people to buildings to cities to just about anything. I searched for a dog to place in my model and the 3D warehouse returned almost 2,000 results. Simply put, you'll be able to find almost any object without much trouble.

Dynamic Components is new this year to SketchUp 7 Pro, which costs $495. Unlike previous iterations, which allowed you to create and use models that all acted the same way during scene creation, Dynamic Components gives each object self-awareness. In other words, if you design a staircase, it will know what it is and by using the Scale tool, it automatically adds or removes steps as you make it larger or smaller. Generally, the Dynamic Components tool works well, but there were times during my testing that it failed to maintain proper scaling, which proved troublesome during the modeling process.


SketchUp 7 is still a relatively simple tool. It won't provide the kind of modeling capabilities you'll find in high-end tools, like Caligari's software, which starts at $895. But it's a fine solution for beginners and advanced users alike who want to quickly create a model and share it through Google Earth or with others via the 3D warehouse.

SketchUp 7 does ensure that it's easy to take and attribute credit for important creations by acknowledging the designer when the models are shared. For simple dog designs, that probably won't matter much. But for professionals creating 3D models to show to clients or to show off their ability, the credit feature becomes an important part of using the product, especially as the 3D Warehouse grows.

It would have been nice to see Google add more of the "pro" features from SketchUp 7 Pro to its free software, like the ability to make presentations with LayOut 2 and the option to make your own Styles, but the free version is still a fine product for those who want to test their modeling skills and don't necessarily need top-of-the-line features.

If you're a novice modeler, SketchUp 7 is ideal. Its free version will teach you how to perform simple tasks and you can eventually choose to graduate to its Pro version to enhance your skills. And although it's just a gateway to more capable software on the market, it's certainly worth downloading and trying out for yourself.