Exactly what activity turns a hobbyist into a commercial user?

Continuing the discussion from Hobbyist woodworker question:

Ah!! Nuance!!

OP on the original thread is a hobbyist who occasionally sells furniture he’s made from designs he created in SketchUp.

Is this commercial use? Here are my thoughts:

Disclaimer: I am NOT a lawyer. This should not be used as legal advice. It is my thoughts only. For exact answers, consult a lawyer or (in this case) talk to Trimble.

My first thought is to take this to reducto ad absurdum. Say I design something in Sketchup which I then build and use for years in my home. Then, I come up with something better - and sell the original in a garage sale for less than the cost of the original materials and less than the cost of the materials I used for it’s replacement. I have not benefited monetarily from the sale, just caused something I’d have otherwise tossed to be re-used by someone else - and partially offset the material cost of it’s replacement. I would not call this commercial use.

How about this: I made something for my own use using a design I created in SketchUp. A friend visiting my home admires it and asks how she can get one. Since it’s not commercially available, and she’s a good friend, I offer to make one for her. I ask her to pay for the material, but my labor is a gift. Again, I would not call this commercial use.

Another friend admires the same piece, but is an avid hobbyist woodworker, so asks for the plans (which I provide) and builds it himself. Yet again, I would not call this commercial use.

Later the friend - to whom I provided plans - visits again and raves about the piece he made. It’s been such a hit with HIS visitors that he’s decided to try making them and selling them on Etsy - clearly this is commercial activity on his part - but not commercial activity for me. Should he be expected to by a SketchUp Pro license - even though he’s never used SketchUp? Should I be expected to now by a Pro license?

Fast forward a few months. The piece is selling on Etsy about once/month. My friend is making (net) $20/piece. He tells me he’s decided to give me 20% of any profits he has in recognition of my design. Should I now by a Pro license in order to receive $4/month from this friend?

Stepping back from these specific scenarios, I think it comes down to two factors: Intent and Profit.

  • Intent If you created the design, or repeated a build of a design you originally built for yourself, with the specific intent to sell it, you are clearly a commercial user.
    If you never intended to sell the design, or a work based on the design, but changes in your life or the actions of others cause an incidental profit, then I would not consider it to be commercial use. However:

  • Profit If the profit is more than incidental - say your friend started selling 3 pieces on Etsy every day (giving you a $12/day payment) - then I’d consider this a commercial use on your part. You should either refuse payments from your friend or pony up and buy a Pro license.

The nitpicker in me wants to continue with exploration of the grey areas, but the editor in me says I should stop now. For now, I’m going to listen to the editor and close this with:

Your thoughts?


@sjdorst - I think you should make a distinction between using SketchUp Make and using SketchUp 8 … I believe the latter allows you to use it any way that you want to … but, like you, I’m not a lawyer either :wink:

Your examples are thought provoking. I tend to agree that the scenarios indicated fall on the side of non-commercial use. I see a discrete difference in situations where a SketchUp user contracts with someone to provide services which make use of SU as the vehicle for the conveyance of services. This is the typical setup for people like me who provide professional services using SU. Obviously Make is not suitable under this scenario.

For a hobbyist, it seems reasonable that the incidental sale of a workpiece (which was never intended to be developed on a for profit basis) should have no impact on the use of Make in this case. I too am no attorney, but offer minimal legal awareness as it pertains to the practice of architecture within the United States.

Yes, very interesting thoughts, and my [also non-official] opinion goes along with what has already been said.

In this case, I’d drop everything and become a full-time furniture designer :wink:


I’m no lawyer either but here is my take on it.

Selling something on a garage sale that was based on a model with no commercial intent doesn’t sound much like commercial use to me.

Building something for a friend and letting them pay the material isn’t commercial use either to me as long as you don’t make a profit (no matter how little the profit might be). The friend didn’t buy the design but only paid for the materials.

If the friend is making money on the design but you as the designer do not I still wouldn’t consider that commercial use of SketchUp. However if you accept any money from the friend for making the design, that is in my view clearly commercial use, even if it wasn’t the original intention when making the design. If this situation arises you could either refuse to accept the money or buy a license.

Instead of worrying whether you need Pro or not I would recommend to buy Pro and just get on with the modeling. If the time used to think about edge cases where used for actual work it would probably pay off the license quite soon :stuck_out_tongue: .


Another question: if you use Make for trying out some designs for your home, e.g change the floor plan, does that prevent you from selling the house in the future?

Now I can’t get these questions out of my head :open_mouth: .

Now that one hits me where I live! Actually, where I intend to live! I’m using SU to design a Tiny Home on Wheels (THOW) that I intend to occupy. But what will happen if, after a few years in my, THOW I decide that Tiny Life isn’t for me. Can I then sell it without purchasing a Pro license?

Wait. I’m using SU Pro. So it’s not an issue for me, but it IS an issue for the people I know (at least 10) who are using Make to design their THOWs.

Commercial use is every for-profit oriented activity.

Not limited to the results achieved with SU directly but also if processed further… which cannot circumvent an initial creation in SU.



I am often a bit baffled by the reluctance of people to pay for their toys, if they consist of computer bits instead of hardware. They happily pour money into skis, bikes, holidays, wine - you name it. SketchUp Pro, for instance, costs much less than a decent bicycle. And it is much healthier than alcohol.


Exactly what activity turns a hobbyist into a commercial user?


SU Make is basically the full blown product with a few minor inconveniences…

commercial usage is common…

to differentiate between accidental infringements and blatant theft you need to consider the Pro users income stream…

if you are deliberately depriving with any Pro user of any type of work, in any field, then to me it is blatant abuse of your agreed terms of service…

if any of your SU Make activities ever garner ‘commercial’ inquiries, then insistence on the inquirer obtaining Pro licences for all interested parties is not unreasonable…

I have been in a similar situation with a ‘free’ @last academic licence and the inquirer was compliant and purchased six licences…

my initial concept proved unsuitable on further investigation, but the company concerned still benefits by it’s continued use of SU Pro…


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Imagine how many Make users would buy Pro if Make ceased to exist. On the other hand if you could get a free bike as long as you didn’t use it for pleasure. There would be all kinds of people that would get absolutely no pleasure from riding. ‘Used strictly for transportation’ you know.

I have an extension the sells for $1,000. Recently I changed it to work on Pro only. I have yet to find a customer that was using Pro prior to inquiring about my extension. Just yesterday I had another inquiry. “Oh! So I really would need to spend $1,700 to use your extension.” They really should be using Pro but now they’re trying to decide if my extension is worth the cost of the extension + Pro.

Another addition to the equation is that even a computer that is capable of running SketchUp well is not cheap.

Good point.

I notice the download/all page only has make available in 2017 while Pro is available back to 2015.

You could ask another question: Are you using it commercially if you are capable of drawing something by hand, such as a metal flashing, with pen or pencil and paper, and out of ease, choose to use SU?

What if you use it to make a thumbnail sketch of a concept to show a client, and then hire a draftsman to do a professional set of plans with Auto Cad for the city and construction drawings?

In both cases the model is not of any real salable value, in as much as you have the talent to draw it your self, but opted not to. ( and there are times when doing that is faster than SU)


Since SketchUp is very much used as a sketching program I think that is a very typical professional use case.

= commercial use

selling the concept by showing a model made with SU does obviously create saleable value.

than do this and don’t use this as a excuse to use SU.


If they had a version that was half priced without layout, I’d go for it. As it is, I use the program (SU) little enough to justify paying for it. My experience with layout didn’t make me want it, it got to be more time consuming then drawing my plans by hand. That’s why I hire professionals to draw plans - it is a better use of my time. No doubt I could climb the learning curve - others have, but why? I’m not a design professional.

Even with SU, I am not that facile with it, and sometimes I wonder if I am wasting my time with it, when I should be drawing by hand. I tried to draw a multi sloping shed roof a while back for an estimate. I expected to spend a hot 15 min on it. After failing at calculating the rise based on a 1/4" ft rise and raising the corners the appropriate amount, and not getting a flat plane, I had to go watch some videos of how to raise one side of an intersecting plane, then rotate it. and try to cut off the unneeded portion above the roof line. The video I watched went by so fast I couldn’t follow what the person was doing, there was no audio of the steps one should do so I ended up watching it multiple times. When I did that I realized the slope was off. I had no way to precisely make the raised rotated plane hit the required 1/4" fall slope along the diagonal. I wasted several hours and in the end deleted it in disgust.

I tried drawing a freehand shape on an imported image of a pond after setting up the axes to try and figure the volume so I could back fill it, but as I drew it kept snapping to places I didn’t want the line to go to. Then when I erased a portion, to redraw it, the line went up instead of being on the same plane, so when I rotated the image and saw why I wasn’t getting the green dot. By then the damage was done - I couldn’t get the freehand line tool to draw on the same plane, so I had to delete it and start over.

This is the kind of nonsense that my self training level runs up against, and why I question am I getting enough use out of it to justify purchasing a version I won’t use most of.

You mention this in the context of evaluating if Layout (LO) is something you will use. But what about SketchUp (SU)?

Do you use it because it’s a better use of your time than sketching by hand? And are you compensated for your time (directly or indirectly)? If so, you’re clearly into commercial use whether or not you choose to use Layout for your construction drawings.

Many people are under the (IMHO) mis-understanding that the value of SU PRO is the ability to use LO. It’s not. The greatest value of Pro is the license that allows you to use it in commerce as part of your workflow (whether or not any part of the SU use is seen by anybody else). LO and Style Builder (SB) are extras that Trimble has chosen to restrict to SU Pro users only, presumably on the assumption that anybody that needs LO or SB is someone using SU, even incidentally, commercially - and should therefore be using SU Pro.

Note that many people want (as opposed to need) either LO or SB because they make their personal projects easier. I originally went directly to Pro in order to create Dynamic Components. But now? I’m using Layout to print out dimensioned drawings, cut sheets, and assembly diagrams for shop projects. My work has become FAR more accurate since I started doing this. But I’m a hobbyist. NONE of my work is compensated.


for every commercial purpose a SU Pro license is required regardless if you are getting enough use to justify purchasing a Pro license, there is no alternative free usage case which can be decided by the user.


You’d have to pay the full prize for a hotel room even if it comes with a chair you never sit in. LayOut is that chair. It’s useful for some but not for others.