Sketchup alternative?
June 15, 2009 1:29 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for an easy-to-use, lightweight application that will allow me to visualize a wooden structure I want to build. I know about CAD software like AutoCAD and modelling apps like 3dsMax, but they seem way more complicated than what I'm looking for. Sketchup seems to fit the bill pretty well, but it's hideous to look at and I can't seem to get exact measurements out of it. Any alternatives to sketchup out there? (free preferably but not required) Thanks
posted by AltReality to Computers & Internet (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I haven't used Sketchup much but I'm assuming you're saying you need more precision than Sketchup offers. Maybe the Pro version allows a precision to more than two decimal places?

That being said, something like Solidworks or AutoCAD can do what you want, but they won't be cheap. Also, while Solidworks works like a big brother to Sketchup, it's very resource hungry and not the most stable program I've ever used.
posted by JauntyFedora at 2:30 AM on June 15, 2009

Best answer: It's easy to get precise measurements out of Sketchup, down to the millimeter. Just drag whatever it is you want to make in a half-arsed way, then before you click to 'finish' it, click in the white text box at the bottom-right of the screen. Type in the measurements you want (eg 90, 90 for a 90mm by 90mm post) - voila, the half-arsed thing snaps to the new, precise dimensions.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 4:04 AM on June 15, 2009 [2 favorites]

sketchup is really your best choice with free. Can you be more specific as to your requirements?

There are many 3d programs, Microstation 3d, AutoCAD, Rhino, 3dsmax, revvit, etc.

As to ugly, do you mean you need rendered output? Then you need a renderer as well, if the 3d program does not have one built in. Vray is one popular choice, it'll also render out of sketchup IIRC. Seems like overkill for a simple visualization of a wooden structure though.
posted by defcom1 at 4:24 AM on June 15, 2009

Best answer: 3ding Sketchup. It has more precise measurements than any wooden construction needs. Real good instruction videos are included in the tutorials, and more at Aidan Chopra's site Sketchup for dummies. Have a go at them before dismissing the program. As for the looks - sorry, can't help you there... :)
posted by Harald74 at 4:37 AM on June 15, 2009

I realize you're looking for a digital solution, but you could also make a physical scale model. Some popsicle sticks, some cardboard, a hot glue gun...
posted by jon1270 at 4:59 AM on June 15, 2009

Sketchup should be as accurate as you need. Check the docs for how to do what you want to do. If all you want to do is visualize then it is perfect. It works pretty damn well for presentations as well. If you need more pretty then you could nicen it up in Photoshop.
posted by JJ86 at 5:46 AM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

I have not used this, but Design Intuition looks pretty good.
posted by adamrice at 6:08 AM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Do you want to visualize it in 3D? If so, disregard my answer.....

Some engineers (myself included) frequently visualize in 2D - as it's hard to read measurements from a 3D drawing. A nice free 2D-CAD program is QCAD. I've only tinkered with it, but for my next project that requires basic dimensioning I plan on using it.
posted by a womble is an active kind of sloth at 6:35 AM on June 15, 2009

2nding womble on using 2D for prints---you can't always bring your laptop to your worksite and reading 3D off of prints is an exercise in frustration.

Q-CAD is good for doing 2D layouts and if you know any AutoCAD, it is a comfortable transition. Plus, it works smoothly in Umbuntu, even on my 900 MHz machine.
posted by chiefthe at 6:40 AM on June 15, 2009

As most people said, SketchUp is the best choice for what you want. It's the best for the initial stages of designing pretty much anything that doesn't involve a lot of curves. A vast majority of professionally designed structures start life in SketchUp these days. As designs firm up, they get passed to more specialized software, but SU is where they live for a good long time. Full blown CAD or modeling packages tend to be very clunky if a design isn't fully formed in your head, their learning curves are steep, they don't necessarily play well with other software, etc.

Photo Matching + photoshop for output images is a great way to get very realistic looking stuff placed in situ. SU lets you put decent textures on things. It lets you drop models into Google Earth. It'll model light pretty well (it's how I figured out the size of the awning over my back porch so I've got shade all summer). And if you want, you can take it the next step and ray-trace things. See:

SketchUp Pro includes the Layout program, which lets you do fairly decent 2d plans as well. As far as accuracy goes, I dunno what more you want. SU's dimensioning/annotation tools aren't as robust as AutoCAD's, but they're plenty accurate.
posted by paanta at 7:43 AM on June 15, 2009

nthing sketchup. it's as accurate as you make it. You can also customize most aspects of the rendering scheme; you won't ever get indirect lighting or other photorealistic effects, but you can get very clean, readable drawings with lineweights, color, shading and annotation to suit your needs.
posted by Chris4d at 1:21 PM on June 15, 2009

oh, by the way: groups and components are your friend. they make modeling infinitely easier. once you learn a few tricks, I think sketchup will do what you need much faster than any alternative. It's virtually the only consumer-level 3D modeling application out there, at least the only one I would recommend to anyone. I promise you don't want to learn 3ds max.
posted by Chris4d at 1:24 PM on June 15, 2009

Response by poster: I started watching the video's not as bad as it seemed...
Thanks for all the helpful answers! I'll play with Sketchup some more and see what I can come up with :)
posted by AltReality at 1:42 PM on June 15, 2009

Hey, I stumbled on this post through a link from a newer post. I'd just like to add that anyone who is considering these sorts of tools might want to check out Alibre Design Xpress as well. The Xpress version is free, when you download it you get a trial version of the Pro version, which after 30 days downgrades to the Xpress version. As I recall the Xpress has some mild restrictions on it, but is still quite usable.
posted by Reverend John at 10:49 AM on November 18, 2009

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