SketchUp Free-Woodworker’s Guide

SketchUp Free vs. SketchUp Make

The web-based version of SketchUp “SketchUp Free” is at the top of this image, the desktop version is at the bottom.

Software updates and changes to business models by software companies are something we should all be used to, but for a lot of us (including me) news of something different fills us with dread. I depend on software to create and edit and I also teach folks how to use SketchUp 3D modeling software. One thing that affects me is I don’t like change, but change is one of the few constants in life, so like it or not I adapt.

For the last ten years or so I’ve been teaching classes in SketchUp and publishing instructional books about using SketchUp efficiently. I’m a fan of the usefulness and versatility of the software, and in spite of recent changes I still am. I go way back to manual drafting and AutoCAD. When I learned how to create 3D models with SketchUp most of what I do professionally is better —  faster, more accurate and more versatile in terms of output that can be shared digitally and in print.

Recently the good folks at SketchUp made some changes to their product lineup and business model. I’ve been asked what I think of this, what I think members of my audience should do and are my enhanced PDF books about using SketchUp relevant to the new online versions? While I use the software and write extensively about SketchUp I have no financial ties to the company. What a private enterprise decides to do with their products, particularly what they give away for free is not for me (or any other SketchUp user) to decide. It might not be the business model I would choose, but it isn’t my business. The relevant questions are “Does the web version work”? “How different is it from the previous versions”? and “What’s the best way to learn how to use it”?

Tool locations in SketchUp FreeAt first glance, “SketchUp Free” seems to be missing a lot, compared to the desktop version, but almost everything is there if you can figure out where it lives. It’s a good idea to click on the big question mark in the lower left corner of the screen and launch the “Welcome Tour”. In the downloadable versions of SketchUp there are usually several ways to get to any specific tool or operation. In SketchUp free the interface has been simplified and streamlined so there aren’t as many options.

If you know the existing keyboard shortcuts to SketchUp (click here for my shortcut cheat sheet) and know how to navigate the model space using the scroll wheel of the mouse (click here for a free lesson in Navigation in SketchUp) you won’t spend a lot of time hunting down the tool you want to use. That’s how I use SketchUp and I didn’t have any issues with the program bogging down or lagging, even with a large model. For you, the speed and reliability of your internet connection are an important link in the chain.

Tool Tips in SketchUp FreeIn all the versions of SketchUp, the functional differences from one version to another are minimal. I preach a good foundation in the basics so you understand the nature of stuff in the model, how to recognize what you click on and how to get around the model so you can see what you’re doing. If you’re just starting out, there are a lot of helps withing the program. In the web-based versions of SketchUp some of the tool icons live behind others. When you hover your cursor over an icon its name appears and if you click the small right-pointing arrow the icons for similar tools appear. The Instructor window (the “cap and gown” icon near the top of the toolbar on the right of the screen walks you the the steps of using any active tool.

Lots of folks have figured out how to use SketchUp on their own or by watching free videos online. If that works for you, that’s a good thing. Thousands of people have shortened the learning curve by using my books, especially the “Woodworker’s Guide to SketchUp”. The format of embedded videos within the text of the PDF has been called “hands-down the best way to learn” SketchUp. If you can make the leap from the visual differences between the web-based and desktop versions, it is entirely relevant to learning with SketchUp Free.

For now I think the best version of the software to learn on is “SketchUp Make 2017” the last available desktop version that is “free for personal use”. It matches the visuals and fine points in my books, and when you know how to model you can decide “Which version of SketchUp is best for me?” then make the transition to either SketchUp Pro or one of the web-based versions.

SketchUp Make 2017 DownloadThere is a link to download SketchUp Make 2017 in this post, but you can also get there from within “SketchUp Free”. Click on the “Model Preferences” icon in the upper left corner of the model window. When that opens, click on the “App Downloads” icon in the lower left corner of the page. That takes you to the webpage where you can find a trial version of SketchUp Pro, or download SketchUp Make 2017.

Changes aren’t the end of the world. I managed to create this post with a recently updated version of my web page editor, and SketchUp remains the best design/engineering/problem solving tool I know of, even if the package changes. I you are ready to learn how to use SketchUp in any of the available flavors, I can help. Click here for more information about my SketchUp books in enhanced PDF format with embedded video content. Click my signature to reach me by email or leave a comment below.

— Bob Lang



Comments are closed.