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The 8 Best Rendering Software and Plugins for SketchUp

SketchUp is quickly becoming a viable piece of modeling software. Here are some plugins that are taking it over the edge.

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.

1 | VRAY

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.

2 | JointPushPull

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.

3 | CurviLoft

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.

4 | Podium

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.

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.

7 | Mirror

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.

8 | Brighter3D

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.

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