Join our community Sign in
Already a member? Sign in
SketchUp or Vectorworks?

10 March 2021

SketchUp or Vectorworks?


First things first. What are SketchUp and Vectorworks?

SketchUp is a 3D modelling computer program for a wide range of drawing applications such as architectural, interior design, landscape architecture, civil and mechanical engineering, film and video game design.” SketchUp also has a 3D warehouse that has a huge library of components such as IKEA furniture through to cars, that are free to use.”

“Vectorworks is one flexible solution for your entire design process. Sketch, model, present. The ultimate software from start to finish.” Vectorworks has different packages for different design roles, but the two most relevant to us are the fundamentals and the spotlight package which is specific to entertainment industries, it also has a huge library of objects you can use (yes even steel deck and truss) and it will also happily get along with the 3D warehouse over at SketchUp.”

What are the costs?

SketchUp Pro (the version we will be describing today)

Subscription.             £276.00 per year

It is available at other prices for students, graduates and non-profits too.


Vectorworks has a few more packages to choose from

Fundamentals  2021  £1,873.20

Spotlight           2021  £2640.60

Add VSS                     £650 per year to maintain the license

(Vectorworks Service Select is a maintenance agreement that provides several added benefits in addition to your licence to help maximise your investment in Vectorworks. Service Select provides you with invaluable benefits like free upgrades, free premium support, free training and free online access to an exclusive web portal full of helpful guides. Best of all, Service Select offers all of this (and more) at a price that is well below the cost of regular updates. You also have access to the Vectorworks cloud for extra storage.)

Or finally they offer the following subscription service.

Subscription              £147.60 per month

What are the practical differences?

“SketchUp is similar to modelling with cardboard. Vectorworks is similar to modelling with solid polystyrene blocks.”

SketchUp builds its shapes out of lots of faces, even a sphere would be built out of hundreds of faces. Nothing is ever actually a “solid”.  Whereas Vectorworks creates shapes that are solid unless you shell it out or subtract from it. Both have types of geometry have their benefits!

It’s worth noting that SketchUp does import reasonably well into Vectorworks but it can look a bit funny because of the differences in geometry (the way it builds stuff). I have imported previous drawings and they have been really easy to work from! So you won’t lose years of SketchUp work if you decide to move over to Vectorworks.

Now for the natter…

Designer Profile: Anisha Fields

Years active in industry: 3

What other software you like to use? AutoCAD, Photoshop

What did you hope to get from the Vectorworks training? Initially – the ability to sketch model more efficiently and sustainably through the use of 3D digital modelling. I’ve been exploring SketchUp too with this purpose in mind, and this training offered the opportunity to see the potential of another software too. I also wanted to add to my skills as an assistant and associate designer. Having done the training I can see that it also offers potential to assist throughout the design process.


Designer Profile: Katie Scott

 Years Active in industry: 8

What other software do you like to use? A good old pen and paper! Though I recently got a hold of Rhino too.

What did you hope to get from the Vectorworks training? I wanted to continue my Vectorworks journey whilst in lockdown and I had some hours set aside in my DYCP funding to complete some more training. I came on board as a relative newbie to the software to help run the Sunday sessions and to also learn!

How user friendly are they?

Katie: I found SketchUp incredibly user friendly. You can be quite comfortable modelling in it quite quickly. I think it’s a really powerful software and a great place to start 3D modelling. I’m really glad I had used it for a while before I opted for a more expensive CAD package because I found the transition to Vectorworks relatively easy having gotten used to a 3D platform.

Vectorworks has a lot of elements that are super useful but it is a slightly bigger beast. It has the 2D capability of AutoCAD but the 3D modelling fun of SketchUp. I found it took longer to get used to seeing every thing on the screen but now I know it, I found that I could solve any drawing problems in a much more logical way (the answer is nearly always in the object info palette). It also does some BRILLIANT maths for you. Winner.

Anisha: I found having flitted between the two whilst we were doing the course, that half the battle was getting used to 3D modelling. I’d only done AutoCAD 2D before and suddenly I was in this world where you can fly around and it takes some getting used to! I’m still very much at the beginning of this journey. I found Vectorworks easier to negotiate. I’m so used to being precise when moving objects around because thats how AutoCAD works, but on SketchUp I found it difficult to be as precise. It felt like I was moving things and they moved to the wrong place, or lines weren’t quite joining up properly which I’m sure is probably practise and getting familiar with the programme. Move 3D Object in Vectorworks is an absolute revelation!

How would the software benefit me, is it really worth the cost?

Affording you more time to design.

Anisha: The main reason I started using CAD software, was that I was just wasting a lot of time trying to model things in cardboard that would then require incremental changes, and you’d almost have to rebuild the whole thing because it’s so structural. It just takes so long!

Katie: I didn’t realise how much design time I lost waiting for paint and glue to dry! Even if you look at software like procreate (iPad drawing programme), it’s more portable and you’re not waiting for ever for the ink to dry. There are some analogue things that I think are really useful and important. But doing your white card in Vectorworks and then printing it out to model make from is just super easy and more sustainable! SketchUp Pro with it’s Layout extension would also be great for this purpose!

Anisha: Absolutely. The thinking time that it affords you is brilliant.

I find that if I can have two or three options and then come back to them..  I’ll know which is right, because often when you’re in the middle of it, it’s hard to see the answer! But because model making takes up so much time that’s not always possible

Creating touring work

Anisha: Another of the key reasons that I wanted to move to digital drawing, is to make designing a tour easier. Obviously if you’re doing a big tour you’re not going to model every space and it can be quite hard to imagine what your set would look like.. particularly in tricky small scale venues or ones that have some form of idiosyncrasy to them. So being able to put a digital model into a virtual space relatively quickly would be really helpful.

Katie: I loved how easy it was to just put a 2D ground plan into Vectorworks, then take a section and stand it up so you can see the outline of that 3D world so quickly! It was incredibly useful (you can find this in one of the tutorials from Tom). Vectorworks also creates all that touring paper work really quickly too and you have it all; including model and construction drawings, saved in one neat file with the ability to just export what you need.

Of course in SketchUp you can model up the plan of a venue really quickly and that is great in terms of touring too! If you have Layout and you discover how to create ‘scenes’ within your model.. there are infinite ways to storyboard and pul technical drawings from your model, but from what I understand and have experienced.. it can be difficult to share that to other people or export it to a different file type.

Creative possibilities

Anisha: I do think there’s something in the creative possibilities of programmes like Vectorworks or SketchUp. Some of the models you can see in the 3rd session would be really hard to physically model!

Katie: Absolutely, complex curves and shapes and LED lighting can be really hard to design, particularly if it’s something you’re not sure you can communicate accurately. It was one of the main reasons I applied for DYCP! I felt I was designing to the standard of my draughtsmanship.. which is definitely not my strong suit!

Anisha: It sounds almost a bit defeatist to say “I couldn’t model that” but ultimately the majority of our jobs is to communicate what we need to build or make or paint. It’s just another useful tool in your tool box.

Katie: One of the benefits of Vectorworks is that its often used by lighting designers, so they can layer their model on top of yours and you can visualise the whole show before you’ve even rigged a light. Amazing!

Do you think learning to use these two programmes has benefitted your design process?

Anisha: One of the reasons I started doing CAD modelling was to quickly draft up and idea, get a vague idea of what it is, then go back and do my technical drawing separately.  But during the classes I thought, actually, some of these ideas can marry together. Maybe it’s not that those two elements are totally separate that some of the drawings can be pulled from the digital model you’ve done in that programme.

Katie: Yes this is something that Fiffi has really opened up for me. The philosophy of CAD, and the idea that it becomes a really integral part of the design process! A working model and document that develops with the project. As opposed to building a 3D physical model and then trying to draw it. I’ve found it has opened up my creativity enormously!

The Round Up

SketchUp is brilliant and you can have a go for free on the web version for as long you like, but to really make the most of this software.. do download the Pro edition. That way you’ll have it on your desktop too.

Positives: Takes up less space on your computer, is relatively cheap, quick and simple to use.

Negatives: Doesn’t have the same 2D integration that Vectorworks does, can be a little bit less precise than other software, not as widely used as a software in theatre and takes a bit of practice to get the exporting to different file types just right.

Vectorworks is a real all in one package. It renders well and can be easier to import and export DWG’s (drawing files) from. It has a much better scope for document organisation too.  

Positives: With this software, if there is a will, there is a way. It’s pretty limitless in its capabilities. There are lots of features that are incredibly useful.. The integration across other disciplines is strong too, particularly with lighting and AV.

Negatives: It’s a complex and vast software package that takes up lots more space on your computer and takes a lot more from your bank account. There are funding pots available such as DYCP which can help. There are often sales too to get 40% off, but it is just more expensive.

Related Articles

ITEAC Horizon Event

01 October 2022

ITEAC Horizon Event

Read more
Theatre Looking Forward

20 April 2021

Theatre Looking Forward

Read more