AutoCAD vs. SketchUp: Which One is Better?

By Microsol Resources | CAD

Computer-aided design takes the drafting table out of your office and replaces it with a personal computer program that automates all the same processes.

Instead of piles of blueprints rolled up in a corner bin, CAD programs architects and engineers can now digitally save their workflow in incremental steps as each project nears completion.

Two of the most notable CAD programs are AutoCAD and SketchUp. In this article, we will look at AutoCAD vs SketchUp in-depth, tell you their similarities and differences, and how to select the best one for you.

What is AutoCAD?

Almost 40 years ago (December 1982) Autodesk introduced one of the most advanced computer-aided drafting programs for the growing personal computer market. They called it AutoCAD.

Originally, it was a desktop application that ran on microcomputers with internal graphics cards of both Microsoft and Apple PCs. That was a novel CAD software idea back in the day because before AutoCAD any commercially viable CAD program ran on bigger minicomputers or mainframes. At the time, users worked on their separate graphics terminals while all were tied back to the bigger computer.

AutoCAD allowed individual users to work by themselves. This worked for smaller firms and individual consultants, for they no longer needed to attach themselves to hunky computers that only larger drafting, architectural, or engineering firms could afford.

When users open this computer-aided design program, the user interface makes it look like they are sitting down at a drafting table. The ease-of-use toolbox offers a variety of drafting instruments to make technical drawings. These include T-squares, compasses, and rulers. In the beginning, AutoCAD was strictly a 2D drawing program, and very good at it.

Because of its precision, experienced engineers and beginners fell in love with this new program. Within five years, AutoCAD was the worldwide leader in computer-aided drafting programs. Users could automatically center lines, automate drawing dimensions, and copy geometric shapes.

Various and widespread industries have flocked to AutoCAD over the years. City planning agencies, graphic design firms, interior design firms, and architectural companies use AutoCAD. So do the gamut of engineering professionals, from those in civil engineering to mechanical, electrical, and aeronautics firms.

Different Versions of AutoCAD

AutoCAD is a companion to two of Autodesk’s other imaging programs. The first is Revit, a building information modeling (BIM) product. The second is Maya, a 3D animation platform.

Since AutoCAD debuted four decades ago, the company has updated the program 36 times.

  • 1990 was the first year AutoCAD incorporated basic 3D modeling.
  • When the 1994 version was released, AutoCAD no longer supported Apple operating systems. That continued for the next 16 years before Apple could run AutoCAD again.
  • The AutoCAD 2008 version introduced annotative objects.
  • The AutoCAD 2011 version added surface modeling and analysis and object transparency

During the past decade, Autodesk has continued to add new features, animations, and 3D design capabilities to its annual AutoCAD updates. These have included line smoothing, dimensioning, electrical architecture, and enhanced PDF saving. In addition, the company has developed a mobile application and an integration with Google Drive.

Pricing is higher than Sketchup. Individuals who use it more frequently might want to save some money by choosing an annual license fee or a three-year fee. Autodesk offers a free version for students or educators who will use it specifically for educational purposes.


What is SketchUp?

Almost 20 years after AutoCAD hit the market, a 3D modeling program called SketchUp debuted. @Last Software launched this design software application in 2000 after a successful stint at computer-based trade shows. Company founders created the 3D CAD program so design pros, including architects, product designers, landscape developers, and civil engineers could use SketchUp for a variety of projects.

SketchUp also earned a patent for its user-friendly “Push-Pull” design feature. With this functionality, users can click on a 2D object (push) and manipulate it to 3D (pull). In addition to “Push-Pull” and full 3D capability, SketchUp also includes a surface rendering function that enables design models to integrate with Google Earth.

Google acquired @Last Software in 2006 because of the plug-in feature.

Within a year, Google SketchUp began to include 2D drawings among its toolset capabilities. This was helpful because SketchUp previously needed the compatibility of separate presentation programs to work effectively.

  •  In 2008, Google released SketchUp 7, which integrated the 3D design elements with other Google programs (3D Warehouse, LayOut 2). It also included automatic model scaling.
  •  In 2010, the next version (SketchUp 8) added geolocation. This way models could integrate into Google Maps and Building Maker programs.
  • In 2012, Trimble Inc. bought SketchUp from Google.

In 2017, Trimble released SketchUp Free, a scaled-down, cloud-based application that anyone can use.

In addition to SketchUp’s 3D modeling software, Trimble has introduced 3D Warehouse. It’s an online storage space where users can view the work done by other graphic design pros and share their work. The company also offers an extensive extension warehouse, where certain software versions can access increased functionality.

Different Versions of SketchUp

Currently, SketchUp offers five versions in the marketplace: Make, Free, Shop, Pro, and Studio.

SketchUp Make began as a free version for desktops that students and personal users could access in 2013. The company has not provided a new release of this product since 2017.

SketchUp Free is an introductory, web-based version that took the place of SketchUp Make in 2017. Designs can be stored in the cloud or on a home computer using SketchUp’s unique file format SKP. As the trial version, SketchUp Free does not support any of the customization extensions that give more robust versions their abilities. It does offer various tutorials that help users understand the program more intimately and lessen the program’s learning curve.

SketchUp Shop is also a web-based version of the program. But it is specifically tailored to do-it-yourselfers who want the flexibility of using an online 3D modeling software program that syncs with 3D printing, automatic routers, or other shop tool plug-ins. Woodworkers and other makers find this version quite helpful.

SketchUp Pro is the main desktop version for design professionals. It works on both Apple and Windows-based computers while accessing and integrating with many common 2D and 3D formats. SketchUp Pro also includes a LayOut API (Application Programming Interface), which allows other apps to sync in for more robust design possibilities.

SketchUp Studio is the top-of-the-line version. It adds several analysis features to the Pro version. With this version, designers can check how much energy a building might use, how large an HVAC system would be required to heat or cool it, or how much carbon emissions might emanate from it.

The pricing of SketchUp has gone to a subscription model. SketchUp Shop costs $119 per year. Meanwhile, SketchUp Pro is $299 per year, and SketchUp Studio is $699.

Similarities Between AutoCAD and SketchUp

Both AutoCAD and SketchUp are used for two-dimensional and three-dimensional drawing. Engineers and architects use both products.

They are also proprietary, standalone applications accessible from a desktop or the cloud. The companies that own each product offer yearly licensing purchase options.

Each program also has a free version so new users can learn how to use the basic models.

Differences Between AutoCAD and SketchUp

AutoCAD is mainly for 2D drawing, while SketchUp was always designed to be a high-quality 3D modeling program. Because of this, AutoCAD has a student version, but SketchUp does not.

The most noticeable differences are that AutoCAD offers numerous customization plug-ins, which can be difficult to master, but it renders detailed models, especially when considering shadows. Alternatively, SketchUp is known for its easy-to-use interface, but the trade-off is that the renderings are a tad fuzzier. 

AutoCAD is very territorial and can only import its unique .dwg file extension and does not include a library of shared designs. SketchUp, on the other hand, opened such a library many years ago, and there are now thousands of designs in it that people can access for ideas. It also integrates more file types than AutoCAD.

One benefit of AutoCAD is that it supports users who are fluent in approximately a dozen languages. SketchUp is only up to nine languages currently.


Design professionals will not go wrong with either AutoCAD or SketchUp. That’s why each has been around for more than 20 years.

Architects and engineers looking to create floor plans or blueprints will probably choose AutoCAD. It’s been the standard-bearer for four decades now. It was also quite expensive.

Graphic designers, filmmakers, and product engineers likely will select SketchUp for its 3D prowess. At less than half the cost of AutoCAD, it’s also a relative bargain.

Both platforms work well for their intended users, and people familiar with both systems can easily go back-and-forth between the two. It depends on your needs as a potential user to determine which one is better for your team. 


INDUSTRIES: Architecture, Buildings, Construction, MEP Engineering, Structural Engineering

Published on February 12, 2022 in CAD.

About the Author

Microsol Resources delivers integrated solutions that help customers design, simulate and analyze their ideas, increase operational efficiencies, and maximize their return on investment in their technology solutions. As a team, we are passionate about helping customers improve their productivity and overall business processes. How can we help? Just reach out.