There are many different software applications that can be used for creating patent drawings. One popular tool is SketchUp (formerly Google SketchUp).
SketchUp is focused on 3D modeling. If all you need are 2D drawings or flow charts, you may be better served with a different software option. It’s used by a wide range of professionals including architects, interior designers and engineers (both mechanical and civil), as well as in the film and video game design industry. It’s also suitable for patent drawings.
There are four different versions of SketchUp: Free, Shop ($199/year), Pro ($299/year), and Studio ($1199/year). The Studio version is really aimed at architects designing buildings. The different versions will be compared in more detail below.
The following is a review of the free version of SketchUp.
History and Background of SketchUp
SketchUp was first developed in 1999 by a company called @Last Software, which was bought out by web giant Google in 2006 and renamed Google Sketchup. In 2012 Google sold the product to Trimble Navigation and its name was returned to simply ‘Sketchup’ once again. Trimble Navigation is a leading GPS company, so they are focused on “location.” Not surprisingly, the focus of SketchUp now seems to be for architectural and design applications.
Comparison of Free, Shop, and Pro Versions (features relevant to patent drawings)
SketchUp for Web (Free)
Basic online 3D modeling capability. 10 GB cloud storage. No company support. Very limited interoperability with other file types. No extensibility or 2D design capabilities. The free version is not licensed for commercial use.
SketchUp Shop ($199/year)
The Shop version offers “advanced” 3D modeling capability, unlimited cloud storage, email support, and some custom styles and materials. Interoperable with more file types.
SketchUp Pro ($299/year)
The Pro version offers everything the “Shop” version does PLUS downloadable desktop software so you can work offline, a wide array of file types available for import and export, core Ruby API and extension warehouse, 2D capabilities with the Layout product (can take 3D drawings and convert to 2D).
Where to Download SketchUp Free Version
You can sign up for the free version, or subscribe to the paid versions, on the SketchUp website, here.
If you’re logged into Google on the computer you are using to access SketchUp, it automatically creates an account linked to your Google ID. You’re asked if you’d like to see the introductory tour, which explains the:
- Set Up. How to set up preferences and open files from templates.
- Toolbars. How to use the toolbars to draw, manipulate the geometry and orient the 3D model in space.
- Panels. How to use the panels to inspect, organize and style the model.
- Status Bar. How to access useful information, including help, from within the app.
- Measurement. What you need to know to be precise.
Features and Benefits of SketchUp for Web
If you can draw with a pen and paper, you can draw with SketchUp freeware. It’s based on direct editing push and pull technology. The user interface is well designed. It has a very neat and tidy feel to it, so users are not overwhelmed by too many options. There are the usual standard tools that allow you to adequately model geometric 3D shapes (e.g. buildings); however, it would not cope with organic shapes such as landscape outlines.
The color palettes are highly customizable, and the program allows you to add, remove or rearrange them as you wish. Designs are shown in a single window environment. There’s everything you need here for 3D modelling. It also has a basic renderer so it is perfectly capable of sharing simple images of your patent designs. The freeware version can only handle static images though, and not animation.
Instead of a feature list, it has large icons so the commands are very easy to find. Whilst most of the features are geared towards 3D designing, there will be plenty of tools to help with 2D designs.
Pros and Cons of SketchUp
If you choose SketchUp as your patent drawings tool, there will inevitably be some things that you find useful and others that are a disadvantage.
Pros of SketchUp freeware:
- Layout. The layout is very intuitive, so it is one of the easiest programs to use. In particular, the large icons and customizable toolbar make it easy for even complete beginners to get the hang of it.
- Measurements. SketchUp is suitable for designs that require precise measurements thanks to their tool kit.
- Support. There is plenty of Sketchup support out there, including a support forum, as well many YouTube videos.
- Saving your work. Models can be downloaded in STL format or as SketchUp’s own SKP format. You also have the option of saving it to a linked Trimble Connect account so your work is safe online. Users will be allocated 10 GB of storage.
- Updates. You never have to worry that you are not using the latest version because the online SketchUp 2018 is continuously updated.
- Formats. SketchUp freeware only supports native skp and stl files for export, and stl and png for import. Additional formats are available in the paid versions.
Cons of sketchup freeware:
- Importing and exporting. It is not possible to import or export CAD or PDF files in the free version.
- Extensions. You cannot use the Ruby scripts which enhance functionality in the free version.
- Plugins. The freeware version currently does not allow you to use plugins and has no 2D extras.
- Speed and responsiveness. As with any on-line application, the speed and responsiveness of the program can be severely affected by a slow internet connection and your designs could take a long time to load. Also, some browsers (namely Chrome) may work better with the program than others. It can be a matter of trial and error.
- Rotation. You cannot rotate the view cleanly in 2D plan view which can be frustrating.
- Solid objects. You cannot use solid modelling tools with SketchUp freeware so its use is limited. There are no advanced camera tools.
- Presentations. It has limited capability for presentations. You can’t use it to present files and full-screen presentations. Also, you cannot add dimensions, labels or title blocks.
- Operating systems. It will run on Linux and Chrome OS and you can now also use it on a Chromebook.
Overall, SketchUp for Web (the free version) is a great place to start for creating patent drawings, and it won’t take you long to learn how to use it. For more professional features, you will have to upgrade to SketchUp Shop or Pro. This tool is more useful for simple patent drawings but for complex utility patent drawings or for design patent drawings this may not fit. Also, since your files are stored online, data security Is a serious concern.
Please see our related article, 10 patent drawing software for drafting patent drawings your self