Why Sketchup for architectural rendering and not just AutoCad?

I’m VERY new to sketchup but am so far impressed. I’m an architectural renderer with a background in hand painting. I rely on AutoCad for relatively crude 3-d models, that are mostly done in Photoshop. For interiors I rely primarily on AutoCad, and it’s lighting and rendering, with finishing in Photoshop. I found it to be quite impressive and powerful. Why should I invest my time in sketchup? Will it offer anything that cad will not? Everyone talks about SKetchup, but have they really invested time in AutoCad? It’s a powerful program. I sometimes hate certain quirks, but to render well, sketchup is a fair learning curve in itself I assume. I don’t have a lot of extra time, but want to get really good at 3/d modeling/rendering. Sketchup worth the time investment, and why? Your take?

From what I have heard from AutoCad users, the time to learn that program is measured in months. By contrast, you can learn SketchUp and become fairly proficient in a matter of days. I don’t think anyone seriously believes SketchUp can serve as a replacement for AutoCad; the two programs coexist peacefully. In my view, SketchUp is the program to use if you want to create fully detailed 3D models quickly and accurately. SketchUp is intuitive and direct. And, when used with one of some 20 rendering programs, SketchUp models can form the basis of compelling rendered scenes and animations. To me, the answer is obvious: If you want to get really good at 3D modeling and rendering, SketchUp is well worth the time investment.
One more thing: The Pro version of SketchUp is a fraction of the cost of AutoCad. Not only is SketchUp a great program, it’s a great bargain.


I started using CAD Programs at University, (DOGS if I remember correctly), and then progressed to AutoCAD after that. I’ve been using AutoCAD for years, but started using Sketchup Pro May/June this year.

From my point of view, I find Sketchup far more intuitive to use, being able to create models in a very short time. For the type of work I do, (House Extensions), I can not fault Sketchup. I can basically build the model like the house would be built in reality. It’s brilliant as it is easy to spot potential issues before work has been started on site.

Along with Layout, the model is then used to produce accurate Construction Documents. Changing the model changes the documents.

On top of all that, the Renderers out there are brilliant! Ive been using Thea Render and the results are outstanding.

In conclusion, I would thoroughly recommend investing the time in Sketchup and Layout.

I mostly agree with davidheim1. I don’t have experience working with AutoCad, so I won’t comment on that. I will simply respond to 2 statements:

In my experience, and from reading lots of posts by newbies in these forums, you can learn the basics of SketchUp in a matter of days, but it will take considerably longer to get your head wrapped around the new way of thinking that is required to become proficient. Fortunately, there’s some really good help from the sages here on the forums.

Again, in my experience Sketchup is intuitive to a point. But really getting proficient requires knowledge of a number of things that are not intuitive. For example (not an exhaustive list):

  • why use of components is preferable over raw geometry
  • when objects need to be temporarily scaled up to work around SU’s difficulty with tiny measurements
  • how to divide objects into symmetrical pieces in order to take advantage of mirroring
  • where & how to simplify or reduce the level of detail in a model for better performance
  • how to choose wisely among the zillions of components in the warehouse

Maybe SU seems really intuitive in comparison with AutoCad…?

I would also echo a statement by franquin in a recent post (on another topic):

I can’t say it becomes easier, though, since the normal tendency is towards more and more complicated projects… But your proficiency’ll improve as you dig deeper.

I think SU is a great tool and I would recommend it to anyone wanting to do 3D modeling. But I think it’s better not to overhype it and build up unrealistic expectations that would lead to frustration. Plan for some time to learn it & take the time. It’s really powerful (as can be seen in the gallery).

tkhoatson’s list of non-intuitive aspects of SketchUp needs some clarification, I believe.
Components vs. raw geometry: Anyone new to SketchUp who fails to make a shape either a component or a group quickly learns that raw geometry has to be organized in order for SketchUp to behave. And the properties of components and groups are thoroughly explained in numerous books and tutorials; if someone doesn’t grasp this critical aspect of SketchUp, then he probably hasn’t been paying attention.
Symmetry in a model and the use of mirroring, via the Flip Along command, has as much to do with the specific model as with SketchUp. A chest of drawers is usually symmetrical (although I’ve modeled a couple that weren’t), so you can draw half, mirror it, and connect the halves. Other objects aren’t symmetrical.
How to choose wisely from the models in the 3D Warehouse has nothing to do with SketchUp’s intuitiveness, or lack of it. You can use SketchUp for years and never go near the 3DW, but it is a handy resource.
I’ll concede the points about scaling up models and simplifying them for better performance.

Well they really are TWO different things. Yes both can do 3D modeling. While SketchUp can produce a textured and shaded image there is NO rendering engine in native SketchUp. SU could not do plans until the release of Layout. SU can not do real curves either. All curves in SU are just segmented lines with more line segments do simulate smoothness. Also all 3D objects in SU are surfaces with abilities to act like solids within the included tool sets. Modeling in SU is SUPER fast and for the most part super easy. The trick for newbies is remembering to use groups and components.
AutoCAD can do plans and 3D including NURBS and SubDivision as well as render with the included MentalRay rendering engine. AutoCAD is a complicated program and yes, it CAN take months to come to terms with it.
I myself use both. I can draft/draw in AutoCAD much faster than in SU since it really can’t draft on it’s own. I’ve been using AutoCAD since r9 on Dos (back in '89 in tech school). I’ve been using SU since r2 and it is super fast for finishing up a design. Some times I use them together and sometimes, depending on the task I use one and not the other. What I am saying is that each has it’s advantages and both work great together. :wink:

Sketchup can model 3d environments very quickly and with a very small set of tools. And it has a very intuitive navigation system which makes modelling quite enjoyable and interactive. Results just seem to come about faster and are more flexible.

I used Autocad for years and thinking about the command-line system makes me cringe.
Sketchup is all about WYSIWYG.

Rendering still images is possible using any of the major rendering packages that support sketchup (eg Maxwell, Indigo, Vray) but some rendering functionality is limited, EG there’s no real support for animation, fx/volumes, LOD, boolean/nurbs entities, complex lighting, etc and a lot to the commercially available 3d objects and materials are not designed for Sketchup (eg rigged characters, pre-animated or parametric trees, etc). 3d Max or Maya etc may be more suitable for this.

But if you are happy with 90% of the photorealism and the geometry you create is mostly flat-sided (buildings and rooms) then Sketchup may be perfect…

As a long-time computer programmer (I wrote the Shearson/Lehman Brothers MIS system, among other programs), some of the skills mentioned, such as when to make a component, are no different in essence than when to make a subroutine. Learning how to divide a task into subtasks is a skill that the user must develop, not something that the language or application can provide.

But, there are good applications and bad, and good interfaces and bad. I recall a product called Atmosphere, designed to do what Autocad and Sketchup do, produced by a major software house, and now more than a decade in its grave - and if it weren’t, I’d cheerfully join a mob to drive a stake through its heart and bury it at a crossroads. It sucked, for a variety of reasons.

I waded into an Autocad book more than once, and found it tough going, and unnecessarily so. Yes, I’ve known how to do mechanical drawing since junior high school, but there was a lot of tedious procedural detail, as may programming languages have. If you’re going to use it eight hours a day, the learning curve may be worthwhile, in the same way as learning irregular verbs in a foreign language may be a good idea. But that doesn’t mean that irregular verbs are a good idea, or serve to advance communication, or are anything but an antique “we’ve always done it this way” that must be learned because they’re part of the language.

I find the Sketchup interface to be intuitive, which isn’t an easy thing to do - anyone who has ever attempted to make an eight-dimensional database appear intuitive to unimaginative financial executives knows how hard it can be. The program actually works quite well, also a challenge and one that Atmosphere didn’t meet, a major reason its tombstone reads “Versions 0.1 to 1.0, RIP”.

Difficult to use doens’t mean better. Sketchup can acquire more capabilities with more ease that Autocad can acquire a more intuitive interface. If you want a command line, and sometimes I do, Sketchup’s Ruby interface allows very full control.

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