The web-based version of SketchUp is now official.

Trimble’s SketchUp is a very popular 3D modeling tool that is used worldwide. I believe a large component of its popularity is due to the fact that for a time Google-owned SketchUp before it was sold off to France-based Trimble, who has managed the product since then.

Traditionally, SketchUp has been a standalone software product, one that you would download from the net and install on your computer. Available for several operating systems, the software proved very popular among students and entry-level 3D modelers.

SketchUp 3D Modeling… Online

Recently Trimble has been testing a web-only version of SketchUp, which operates entirely without the need for software installation. Just launch SketchUp Free and you’re good to go. Now it’s come out of beta testing and is available to the general public.

The browser-based version should ensure the SketchUp system is easily accessible by anyone with a computer, and in particular students. For example, it should run without issue on MacOS, Windows, Linux and other desktop operating systems.

I did give the software a test on a tablet and smartphone but found that a) it’s really, really slow to start, and b) There is a fancy warning message that explains you really shouldn’t do this at all:

Whoa there, cowboy! SketchUp has not been optimized for mobile browsers with their fancy multi-touch user interfaces. You can give it a try if you want, but just know that we really haven’t done anything special to make it work right yet.

The warning you receive if you try using SketchUp Free on a mobile device
The warning you receive if you try using SketchUp Free on a mobile device

And that is definitely the case, as my experiments on tablet use resulted in multiple and even recursive crashes. Don’t bother with this unless you’re on an actual desktop system.

There it works fine, in a way. You do have a somewhat restricted set of features, as compared to the Pro version, but certainly a sufficient amount do to basic 3D modeling operations.

3D Models for 3D Prints?

However, SketchUp Free suffers from the same issue that the regular SketchUp has had for years: it is ludicrously simple to effortlessly create invalid 3D models.

My invalid 3D model generated by SketchUp Free. Note they provide the
My invalid 3D model generated by SketchUp Free. Note they provide the “guy” along with the 3D model unless you delete him first

That’s correct: you can make unprintable 3D models almost instantly, as I have within seconds in the example shown at top. This is because SketchUp is fundamentally a 3D modeling tool for visual assets, not a true solid modeling system. For example, you can easily remove a face from a solid, invalidating it from 3D printing, which you will discover when slicing it later. You can produce true, 3D printable solid models if you are very careful when creating your design, but it’s just too easy to make a mistake.

Because of this, we cannot recommend using SketchUp as your prime 3D modeling tool for 3D printing. It’s a fine tool for teaching 3D modeling concepts, but in our experience, most designers for 3D printing quickly move on to other more capable tools, such as Autodesk Fusion 360 or Solidworks.

But for now, you might want to give SketchUp Free a test.

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