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App takes virtual photos of 3D designs

21 May 2014

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Imagination Technologies has released Visualizer for SketchUp, a new app that allows users to take virtual photos of their 3D designs with a "real life look" in SketchUp with only one click.

With no confusing settings and no need for high-end hardware, Visualizer for SketchUp is designed for all of SketchUp's users. A free seven-day trial of Visualizer for SketchUp can be downloaded at and a licence costs $19.99.

SketchUp is a 3D platform for architects, engineers, designers, educators, and construction professionals, as well as home DIY enthusiasts and members of the global maker community. SketchUp is available in both free (SketchUp Make) and paid (SketchUp Pro) versions. With over 30 million total users and several million active users every week, SketchUp is the most widely used 3D modelling software in the world today.

Visualizer presents itself just like a smartphone camera within SketchUp. As the user works, the image in the Visualizer updates in real time and provides instant visual feedback for the design in progress. When the user is happy with the results, the shutter button allows them to take an instant picture that can be shared with others, used for client presentations, or just provide a better understanding of how the design is going to look. By accurately simulating the pathways of light in 3D space, users can see shadows, subtle lighting details, and even the focal depth and exposure of the virtual camera itself. Using the physical dimensions and geolocation information provided by SketchUp, the resulting picture faithfully conveys what a photograph of the model will look like in real-life.

While traditional rendering software has been capable of producing photorealistic images from 3D models for many years, these software packages are expensive, and the process of using them is very time-consuming and typically must be done by a specialist in order to achieve good results.

Visualizer for SketchUp takes a different approach. With an intuitive and minimal interface, anyone can produce great results within minutes. Visualizer uses interface elements that are already familiar to most users from their smartphone cameras. Visualizer infers material properties directly from the information already provided in the SketchUp model without any alteration. To control focus and exposure, users can just drag an exposure and focus point around on the image and the picture updates in real-time. When the user is happy with the image, they simply click the shutter button and a photo is instantly captured. Just like SketchUp, Visualizer is designed with laptops in mind.

At its core, Visualizer for SketchUp relies on Imagination's PowerVR Ray Tracing software to produce photorealistic pictures in real-time.

John Bacus, director of SketchUp product management at Trimble, says: "Visualizer sits in a great place for SketchUp users. While we don't see it as a replacement for high-end renderers, now there's a simple, easy way to turn out quick, photoreal images from SketchUp."

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