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These days, there’s plenty to like about the little 3D modeling program that could. SketchUp has transformed in the past decade - from bastard brain-child of a couple hippie University of Colorado ‘graduates’ to full-fledged visualization powerhouse. The journey was not an easy one, it its rise to competent modeling program has been aided by its compatibility with some of the most powerful plugins and pieces of rendering software the market offers.
SketchUp is here to stay, and might be just what you need to get your feet wet in the 3D modeling, rendering, and visualization industry. Master these plugins, and be on your way to producing images and animations the Rhino bullies on your block only dream of.
And no matter where you stand in your skill level as a computer-savvy rendering artist, SketchUp has something to offer. It’s fast, nimble, and...er...sketchy. It’s as easy a way to put ideas on paper as it is a tool to design and produce. The user-friendly nature of its parts and pieces lend themselves to be easily approached by beginners, and fun to master for professionals. Get to know SketchUp, so when you open up this war chest of auxiliary plugins, you’ll be ready to make full use of their potential.
Here are the best plugins for Google Sketchup.
Everyone who’s set foot inside a design studio knows what VRAY is. What many of us design nerds don’t know, however, is that VRAY is fully compatible with SketchUp via an equally as user-friendly plugin. If you’re looking to get photo-realistic renderings out of SketchUp, VRAY is probably where you’ll want to look first. It comes complete with a material editor (thank God because SketchUp’s is AWFUL), and all the other useful tools you’ll need to produce pro quality images and animations.
Better yet? You can get VRAY up and running in SketchUp for no charge to yourself (unless you consider signing up for an email newsletter a ‘charge’ - which you might). VRAY serves up a base set of tools and materials to you for free, with the option to put a bit of skin in the game for their full bevy of options and setting. It’s not a bad deal, and should give you enough to see if your SketchUp chops translate to the world of 3D visualization as well.
Hi there SketchUp user. Ever get tired of that regular old push/pull tool and its rather stunted ability to...push and pull? Well, you’re in luck! JointPushPull is a modeling plugin that features 6 specific tools for turning your model into a digital gumby. The tools are joint, round, vector, normal, extrude, and follow. I won’t deep dive into what each tool does from a technical standpoint, but rest assured: mastering this plugin will shave hours off modeling time. Hours you can spend learning VRAY for SketchUp because if you didn’t hear me before IT WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE.
So, you thought SketchUp was a child’s tool used for making rectilinear garbage cubes? WRONG! With CurviLoft, you’ll have all the power you need to start building curvilinear models that you thought were reserved for programs like Maya and Rhino. Curviloft consists of 3 tools: loft by spline, loft along path, and skinning. In practice, the tool works similarly to the ‘follow me’ tool, only rather than a simple extrusion along a path, CurviLoft is able to connect two different shapes along a path. That’s right. This is next level.
Tools like CurviLoft should really be packaged in with the base software. But since Google is too busy trying to map the entire world (universe?) in images and 3D models, I guess a simple download will have to suffice.
Podium is another rendering plugin a la VRAY, with a reputation that’s slowly building towards James Bond proportions. I’m not really sure what I mean by that, but trust me, it’s good. Podium offers a vast material library off the bat, and like VRAY, offers a free trial that gets you started without ponying up any cash. Do this. Every renderer has a specific taste and tolerance for their software, so taking the Porsche out for a test ride before forking over a second mortgage is probably your best course of action. Take it from me: Podium is great. It’s an incredibly powerful alternative to VRAY, and fits into SketchUp like a tailored Italian glove.
5 Purge All
Keeping your model clean and organized in SketchUp can be an arduous and infuriating task. It’s also a completely necessary one, as your layers and model components can spread like the plague if your model gets large enough. Purge All is a simple, yet essential plugin that pretty much does exactly what you think. It purges all. This plugin is more robust and precise than SketchUp’s default purging tools, and even gives you a full report of what got tossed in case that component of your silhouetted ex-girlfriend waving goodbye to you was something you were saving for a rainy day. Purge. Purge often. Good talk.
Sketchup Render Online
6 Twilight Render
I’ll be honest. Twilight Render isn’t quite there yet. It’s a free rendering plugin that will give you decent image output and a respectable library of materials But be clear, VRAY this is not. I’ve included it because software like TR are incredibly important to the growth of the visualization industry. It’s a capable bit of software that works well with Sketchup and allows people to - for free - become completely familiar with a rendering tool. In fact, it’s a lot like SketchUp itself in that way.
If you’re a professional rendering artists working for Shumaker Shumaker and Chu in Brooklyn, this isn’t the program for you. But if you’re Joe Everyman looking to breakthrough in a fun and rewarding industry, Twilight Render is your huckleberry.
It seems silly that a modeling tool as ubiquitous and commonly used as ‘mirror’ has to be added onto a base modeling software, but such is the case. Mirror was created by Frank Wiesner then perfected by TIG in version 3.1, and is probably the first piece of software you should Frankenstein onto SketchUp once you boot it up. It’s simple: select object to be mirrored, select surface or line for which to be mirrored, mirror. I get it, SketchUp, you’re trying to be lean and mean, but could we splurge for a proper mirror tool? All praise Frank Wiesner.
I love Brighter3D. It’s quickly becoming one of my favorite rendering engines for use with SketchUp. It advertises an easy-to-use interface with a simplified toolset but plenty of rendering power under the hood. Brighter delivers, offering seamless SketchUp integration and a snappy preview tool that give you an accurate sample image in a matter of seconds. It uses unbiased rendering technology to produce lightning fast results. The future is brighter, indeed. Sorry. I’ll leave.
Sketchup 3d Render
As a base program, SketchUp has been developed into a powerhouse 3D modeler that just about anyone with a computer and an internet connection. It’s easy enough for clients to understand, and nuanced enough for architects and designers to quickly build their designs in digital space and get instant feedback about massing, proportion, and circulation.
But, when you start to add extensions and plugins, you can transform SketchUp into a one-stop visualization shop that allows users to create photorealistic renderings, animations, and walkthroughs that will wow clients and strengthen the design process.
The rendering software in this list is some of the best in the world, and all provide streamlined plugins for use within the SketchUp experience. These programs are marketed towards architects looking to keep their visualization work in house without having to hire an expensive, dedicated rendering artist to keep on staff.
Here is the best rendering software to use with SketchUp.
Maxwell has been around since your parents were toying around with this new thing called ‘rendering software’ back in the last 1990’s. It’s been ubiquitous with the industry since the beginning, offering some of the most powerful rendering physics that produce incredibly real-looking images and animations.
The development team at Next Limit have done an admiral job at creating a plugin for SketchUp that is not only incredibly easy to install, it’s streamlined in a way that users will feel like it’s a natural extension of the program they know and love. You’ll be rendering in mere seconds, and with a little practice, be using SketchUp in ways you could have never imagined. Maxwell is worth every penny, especially when paired with the fastest modeling tool on the planet.
Artlantis was developed specifically with architects and design professionals in mind. This, along with a stripped-down user interface, make it the perfect rendering companion to SketchUp. It’s tools are not only compatible with the software itself, but with the way architects’ minds are trained to work from a perspective of development, process, and workflow.
Artlantis released a plugin for SketchUp around two years ago, and has continued to develop it so that it works hand in hand with the tools and camera techniques of the base program. It comes packaged with a robust material library that is filled to the brim with textures and colors that architects and interior designers frequently use.
3 Keyshot 3D
Google Sketchup Render
While Keyshot has yet to release a proper plugin for SketchUp, the relative newcomer on the block is such a powerful tool it’d be a shame not to mention it here. SketchUp models are easy enough to interface into the program via a downloadable extension, allowing Keyshot to take things from there.
Keyshot is a capable rendering engine, yes, but it’s real magic comes from the ability to view your rendered scene in real-time as you tweak materials, massing, camera, and lighting conditions. It provides an incredibly fast work environment that doesn’t require you to sit around while a bunch of draft renderings are produced just so you can change things and try again.
Just like Maxwell, V-Ray has been around since the beginning. It’s trajectory hasn’t given an inch as it has been continually developed into a rendering program at the top of its class. V-Ray for SketchUp offers the precision, accuracy, and flexibility the program always has, but in a package that users can navigate and implement with ease.
V-Ray is simply the best when it comes to providing true-to-life results in just about every rendering category imaginable. Whether you’re animating for Pixar or using SketchUp to render your parents’ basement renovation, V-Ray will show you the way to the promised land. And while all those features certainly come with a hit to your wallet, it’ll be worth it once you see your designs literally come to life.
5 Brighter 3D
One thing Brighter 3D has on every other rendering program on this list is that it was developed specifically for use within SketchUp. This means it’s toolset was designed to work hand-in-hand with the 3D modeler, making rendering just as fast and easy as the modeling. Brighter 3D doesn’t have many frills or extras - it’s just a solid rendering engine that should be perfect for 95% of SketchUp users out there.
The only downfall is that Brighter 3D doesn’t currently have a version for Mac users, though the developers promise one is in the works.