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7 great SketchUp Extensions Everybody Needs

Trimble SketchUp is probably the most widely-used computer aided designing (CAD) software used worldwide. It is widely used for creating and rendering 3D models for architectural or other design needs, 3D printing, profiling, building and model planning etcetera.

Formerly owned by Google, SketchUp is popular for various reasons. The first and foremost of them is its affordability. It can be generally downloaded for free and you can use the basic functionalities.

Even the highest paid version of SketchUp is priced below $300. Another facet of SketchUp?s popularity is it?s simple, easy to understand interface. Most architectural or modeling design software requires at least a basic understanding of engineering. But anybody can use SketchUp, from your barely computer literate grandmother to a highly professional construction engineer.

However, the most important factor of popularity and faith in SketchUp is its wild level of flexibility. The Trimble SketchUp application, when used alone, is of not much use other than basic 3D modeling and planning. But it has a robust support framework for external, third-party plugins or extensions, which can boost its usability to no end. From automating routine tasks to drawing complex shapes to accounting your model or even real-time lifelike rendering as you model - your imagination and programming skills are the only limits to what you can make your SketchUp do. Every day, new extensions add to its already formidable designing and rendering abilities. Not to mention those extensions and resources that add new materials for your models. Honestly, at this rate, I would imagine within a short future you can order your SketchUp software to make you a sandwich while you work.

There will always be fights over which are the best and most indispensable SketchUp Extensions to have at your beck and call. However, the following account is a comprehensive list of which of them every designer might need right away. Note that all of the following SketchUp plugins (except the last) are absolutely free to install and use personally.

Tools on Surface: You can draw basic shapes using the standard tools that come with the default SketchUp application on a flat surface. But what if you need to, say, draw a square on the surface of a cylinder? If you try with the basic tools, the square will only cut across the volume of the cylinder, not be drawn on its surface! This is where the ?Tools on Surface? Sketchup extension comes in. With this extension, you can easily draw shapes on curved surfaces as if they were flat ones. You can apply standard drawing tools like lines, curves, arc, etc. on a curved surface and use it to divide a face into different sections or apply different materials on the same face.

This SketchUp plugin was created by fredo6 and is found at the Sketchucation web site. You will need to have the LibFredo 6 libraries installed in order to use it.

Soap and Skin Bubble: You already have a tool to push and pull surfaces, right? That gets most stuff done. However, what if you need to inflate or deflate a surface, keeping its perimeter points the same? This popular SketchUp plugin lets you do just that. Created by Josef L., this plugin basically lets you push or pull a pre-skinned mesh of a surface. The smoothness of the ?bubbled? face depends upon the resolution of the mesh, of course. This plugin can be found in the Extension Warehouse and works on the default system directly.

Curviloft: The SketchUp sandbox tools let you create some complex geometries along predefined paths or splines, but this powerful SketchUp plugin is a dream of budding digital modeling artists. Creating a surface by joining contours along splines, or generating a 3D shape by adding separate different 2D models along a predefined path - these become child?s play using Curviloft. This extension is so awesome, it will let you create even organic models (yeah, tentacles!). A creation of fredo6 again and as expected, requiring the LibFredo 6 libraries, you can get this at the Extension Warehouse for free.

Flowify: Another idea of creating 3D complex geometries is to create a standard shape first and then bending and extending it along a predefined path. Flowify lets you ?flow? a predefined shape onto a target curved surface, confined within four vertices. Created Anders L. and found in the Extension Warehouse, this useful extension lets you use shapes as if they were metal wires you can curve and impose as you wish. It?s free, of course.

Slicer: How about going the other way for a change? Slicer is a nifty little extension for Trimble SketchUp that lets you cut up a 3D model into preselected pieces. This is great for digital fabrication purposes, usable if you have your computer hooked up to a Computer Numeric Control machine. This will allow you to create designs for pre-assembly of a complex target, let the CNC mill cut the solids out of the sculpting material, and then assemble them together to get the target model in reality. It can be used for 3D printing as well. This plugin was created by TIG and is available at the Sketchucation repository and can perform independently. Just feed it some wood to slice!

JointPushPull: Another advanced extending/protruding faces plugin, the JointPushPull extension lets you apply the standard push/pull operation on curved surfaces. Again a free gift from fredo 6, you can use this plugin to push or pull any surface (and I mean any) with different parameters and styles. This plugin is available at the Extension Warehouse, but you will need to install the LibFredo 6 libraries first to make it work.

Lumion LiveSync: Last but not the least in the list, Lumion LiveSync has created quite stir in the 3D modeling world for its sheer power of almost letting you see your own dream, live. This paid (and pretty costly) plugin for SketchUp is basically a live renderer of your model. How would you like to see your model in real life as it is being created by you, in side-by-side windows (or monitors)? LiveSync directly imports your model as it is being created and puts it in a predefined 3D real environment. And when I say real, oh boy, do I mean it! You can put your half-done house on top of a grassy knoll, or in a snowy street, under clear or cloudy skies, in windy or raining atmosphere - and more. Thousands of new surfaces, including 3D grass and fur and even transparent glass, adorn your surfaces while you happily push and pull away. Not only these, but you can also see your models in photorealistic lighting effects and observe how your model plays with light and shadow. Add the effects of physics to this and you get to see the living, breathing model on the other window while you actually design it in your SketchUp.

The latest version is Lumion LiveSync 9 and it is available at their official website.

Enhancing your workflow and streamlining your design process using combinations of extensions has always been SketchUp?s greatest idea and the point of attraction. Once you get used to basic addons you can look for more advanced and complex plugins that can transform your SketchUp to a highly professional, formidable application you can use every day for your business.

7 great SketchUp Extensions Everybody Needs