SketchUp 5 Book Review
by Tim Danaher (firstname.lastname@example.org) - January 5, 2006
We all love SketchUp. However, what the program has traditionally suffered from is a lack of reference materials. Sure, there are the video tutorials on the website, and you've always had the on-line hypertext manual, but it's fair to say that when @Last, publishers of SketchUp, finally produced their PDF users manual the result was underwhelming to say the least. The document fell into the old trap of simply being a description of the available trools, with little or no advice on how to actually use them to get the job done.
Enter The SketchUp Book, a third-party tutorial and reference guide. Written by Bonnie Roskes, a structural engineer with wide CAD/CAE experience, and with contributions by Bob deWitt, a professor of art history, the book aims to provide a complete alternative to the SketchUp docs and tutorial material – it really is a complete course covering all levels from absolute beginner to some highly-advanced techniques that appear to be the fruit of years of work with the program. Now updated for version 5.0, the book's girth has swelled to near-on 500 pages to enable it to cover the additional features in the new version. Before we get onto the book proper, however, it's worth noting the approach that Bonnie has taken to marketing her oeuvre. Pay attention, now. This gets a little complicated. Basically, the book is available either as a Black-and-white or a full colour version. B&W, of course, being some $25 cheaper. However, each version is also available either as a physical, bound volume, or a PDF version, the latter again saving you money. However, there's a further taxonomic division, in that Delta manuals are also offered (B&W, Colour, Physical, Download). These offer the advantage of only covering the new features between version 4 and 5. Again, their smaller size saving you money. Got that? Well it's all here if you need a re-cap: http://www.f1help.biz/ccp51/cgi-bin/cp-app.cgi
We chose the full-version PDF download and, after some babysitting of our inkjet printer, were soon in possession of nearly 500 duplex-printed, full-colour pages. A quick trip to the local copy shop, and we were the proud owners of a comb-bound, acetate-covered version of the book. The payoff for our labours here being that in this form the book can be laid flat beside you.
So onto the book proper. The meat of the book is divided into twelve chapters of exercises that combine both a tutorial feel, but also serve as reference material and two final two chapters, one a complete exercise in building a construction frame, one a guide to the program's global settings, such as Display Modes, Line Drawing Options and the like. The authors haven't stinted on pictures in the chapters: every step is illustrated by an image with as much or little text as necessary. This actually makes it pleasant to read the book away from your computer, since the images help keep track of what's going on. However – and this isn't a fault of the book – reading it you're continually reminded of just how different the Mac and PC versions of the program are. Of the way that keyboard command keys don't map the way they do in other programs, of all the subtle interface differences between the two platforms and of the particularly brain-dead way that the Mac version handles material editing. Bonnie must really have here hands full pointing up all these differences, but again, the quality of the proofing and checking seems pretty-near flawless.
Chapter 2, which covers The Basics, is worth going through a few times, since, as already stated, approaching SketchUp after using other 3D programs can cause you grief, so it's worth getting the core concepts straight. This chapter manages the latter very well, and introduces you to the book's no-nonsense, succinct style – the book is refreshingly free from the glib asides that plague a lot of American textbooks. Everything that appears on the page will either teach you something new or expand on what you already know. The Basics chapter covers the essentials of drawing in SketchUp, which needs careful consideration for first-timers: since you're generally always working in a 3D view, a sound knowledge of SketchUp's inferencing tools is needed and this chapter helps to build this up using carefully-graded examples. The Basics chapter also introduces other concepts, such and multi-copying, dimensioning and annotation that get their own dedicated chapters later on. In this respect, it's a broad overview of SketchUp's capabilities, and this helps to set the reader up for the more in-depth topics later on.
After the chapter on multiple copying to speed workflow, there's a whole chapter dedicated to working with roofs, which may not seem like much of a big deal, unless you've ever had to model multiple-pitched roofs and resolve their intersections. Again, there's an arsenal of tips and tricks to enable the user to handle dormers, gables and overhangs, and the section on resolving roof junctions is exhaustive in its thoroughness, usually giving multiple methods to achieve the same result.
Working with Components and Groups is a key to efficient workflow in SketchUp, and these core concepts get their own chapters. The Components chapter is of particular interest, since it contains multiple methods for designing Components (such as doors and windows) that will cleanly and automatically cut the walls they're inserted into – the old nested-cutter trick . This will be a boon for any SketchUp users who've tried to work this out from scratch.
All chapters are laid out in a logical fashion, starting with simple examples and working up to complex ideas and concepts. There's no CD, but this isn't such a drawback, since you build the objects you use as you go along – making sure you don't miss any steps. The sections on building objects that wouldn't immediately spring to mind when using SketchUp – such as a contoured computer mouse are particularly illuminating, since they show the program being taken into areas that maybe not even its designers intended. I mean, did you know that you can use section planes to simulate fog in your model? These examples also serve to illustrate the fact that the authors really know what they're talking about when it comes to this program. Even experienced users will probably find something that will change the way they work with SketchUp for the better. New features in version 5.0 are also covered, such as the Sandbox tools for producing accurate landscape terrains. There's also a chapter on getting started with Ruby scripting, although a little more information on how to install and get scripts up and running would be nice.
The final chapters are devoted to a collection of invaluable tips and tricks and a two whole project that you build from scratch – a steel framing for a building that makes particularly good use of components and a log cabin that concentrates on good fitting and cratsmanship in your modelling. What really shines out about this book is the sheer quality of the information on every aspect of the program. But what really shines out for this reviewer is the technique starting on page 385 that, had he known about it two years ago, would have saved your reviewer days of head-banging frustration. That's the quality of information that makes this book so valuable.
It's an old, overused cliché, but it this case it's absolutely true: if you use SketchUp, you need this book.
The SketchUp 5.0 Book by Bonnie Roskes with Bob DeWitt
Price: $84.95 (Physical, Colour) $69.95 (PDF, Colour). For other pricing options, see: http://www.f1help.biz/ccp51/cgi-bin/cp-app.cgi
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