Bonzai 3D as replacement for SketchUp?

[ UPDATED 5/18/2012 – See Below ]

After the announcement of Google selling SketchUp to Trimble, there was talk (here, and here for starters) about what to do if SketchUp goes away (or at least the free version). I mentioned on one of the threads that I was going to look at Bonzai 3D (B3D) when I had a chance, and well, I’ve had a chance! I couldn’t find any first-hand use reports of B3D for making things for a Makerbot (or other at-home 3D printer) so I’d take a crack at putting something out there.

I use SketchUp and/or Blender for all my modeling, so ideally I want something that does what both of these do, easily and without too much change in workflow. SketchUp Pro would do what I mostly use Blender for—booleans—but beyond that, the additional features are things I don’t need. At times I like to use Blender for NURBS and more esoteric design features, but those don’t exist in SketchUp Pro.

When I first thought about buying software to design objects with, I had thought that SketchUp Pro was in the $799 range. Looking recently, I see that I was totally wrong (maybe it once was?) but now it is $495. I had thought Bonzai 3D, therefore, was half the cost, but it turns out that it is the same as SketchUp Pro. However, I think B3D provides a richer set of creation tools than SketchUp Pro.

I prefer the simplicity of SketchUp’s UI and way of working. I’ve seen folks using Rhino and Solidworks for designing objects to be 3D printed, but both were a little more complicated than I’d like, and even some of those users didn’t fully know all the ins-and-outs of the app.

The interface of B3D is very similar to SketchUp so it was easy for me to jump in and start drawing stuff. There was a definite learning curve with finding where certain features were located, how to set up the environment to work at the scale of my Thing-o-Matic, and figuring out the changes to what seem like 3D UI standards (B3D uses Middle Mouse = pan, Command+Middle Mouse = orbit while just about every other piece of software I’ve ever used is Middle-Mouse = orbit, Shift+Middle Mouse = pan). These are pretty minor things to deal with, and once you save your preferences and get used to the tools/mouse issues, things are pretty smooth.

Things I liked:

  • ability to draw lines and primitives as walls (think: no need to draw an extruded hexagon followed by another one a little smaller and push/pull to remove the middle, just draw an extruded hexagon with a set wall size and done!);
  • some pretty sweet additions to regular booleans (slicing, object and surface splitting);
  • NURBS with some really cool blending tools, in a much more approachable interface than Blender;
  • 4-up “old school” view (top, left, right, perspective all at once);
  • helix creation (screw tops!!);
  • rounded or faceted edges with myriad settings;
  • right-click on any tool and set a keyboard shortcut;
  • and my new favorite: thicken, which takes any non-solid and turns it into a solid of a specified width

Things I didn’t like:

  • some features require the setting of custom workplanes while some don’t and you don’t know until it throws an error dialog (workplanes are all new to me, but I like overall);
  • inconsistent workplane handling (“lock workplane” sometimes doesn’t lock, and you have to use “save custom workplane”);
  • adding dimensions to a part is hit-or-miss whether or not it will measure between the points you click or the entire edge you’re touching, while “measure distance” works perfect but doesn’t leave the dimensions on screen;
  • too much reliance on hovering to open up tool groups and additional options (small gripe)

Overall the pros outweigh the cons. I’ve been able to make some wickedly cool shapes using NURBS, booleans, and thicken, output the STL, and then print them all with no problem (like the tiny, 20mm “ottoman” pictured). Half the time I would have to rework parts I made in SketchUp that had holes or other simple design bits due to errors with slicing in RepG; no such issue with the many things I threw at it from B3D. Interestingly B3D has the ability to “diagnose” various potential problems when you export a STL file, but even with it reporting issues with a few of my objects, I had no problems with slicing/printing. Maybe they weren’t really bad issues. Not sure.

Overall I’m psyched that I can whip out some complex designs with some cool tools, easier than I can with SketchUp and Blender, but I’m still not sure I feel like buying it as it is a pricey investment for some software I’ll use as a hobby (though it’s still only half the cost of SketchUp Pro). We’ll see if I cut into my Replicator fund after my 30-day trial is up. 🙂

Sorry for the poor quality pictures, I only had my iPhone today.

UPDATE 5/18/2012

So, after working with Bonzai 3D some more, I’ve decided that yes, should I decide to purchase a piece of modeling software, I would purchase Bonzai 3D instead of SketchUp Pro.

However, that’s not to say Bonzai 3D is the only game in town.

I’ve seen good things about Cheetah 3D, and see that it lists a lot of the things that Bonzai 3D can do, though it also appears to be missing some things (rounded edges/corners, thicken). The UI appears simple and straight-forward, and the ability to write scripts is nice, but again it has a ton of features that I’m not really interested in (rendering, animation, etc). This may be the next app I put through it’s paces.

10 thoughts on “Bonzai 3D as replacement for SketchUp?

  1. I’ve also been always looking for software that could replace Sketchup not only because of the sale of the product but also due to its limitation. I didn’t know Bonzai but it looks like it’s got much more robust modelling tools that sketchup has but the pricing is way to high (as i find) for hobby 3d printing. The pricing of cheetah is nice but as you said it looks more like a tool for rendering and animation. Though i like it because it’s Mac OSX native and shouldn’t have the usual multi platform trouble 🙂

    • I played with Cheetah and ended up not liking it. I really like the simplicity of SketchUp, especially for designing things to 3D print and while Cheetah has more features than free SketchUp, it felt way more limited in use. I’m sure if one works with it longer it would get to be second nature and easy. Give the free trial of Cheetah a whirl and let me know what you think.

      And I agree Bonzai is pricey, especially for us hobbyists. However, I weigh the time I spend going back and forth between apps to get all of the things working together versus the price of the software that can just do it all at once. If I can save up and get an app that does it, I’d prefer it so I can get back to making 🙂

  2. I considered Bonzai3d and it looks even better (to me) than Sketchup? but the price is way high for hobby use. I played with another commercial software, which is not free but pretty cheap. Try ViaCAD 3D. They are now on version 8 and have several editions. Simple or personal ~ $99, and I would say it is very capable, should you need more they have Pro @ $300 level.

    • Thanks Yuri – that looks really promising!

      The thing that drew me to Bonzai was the similarity to SketchUp’s super-simple interface, not necessarily the features. It looks like ViaCAD has some of that, but hopefully it doesn’t go too hardcore too quickly. 🙂

      I’ll give the free trial a go and see what shakes. Thanks!

    • ViaCAD looks good on the feature side but the usability is inacceptable for me – i don’t know who designed the interface and who did worry about User experience stuff but i think they’re doing it wrong.

      Same goes for TurboCAD which looks kind of a 1:1 copy of VIA CAD.

  3. ViaCad 8 Professional – my favourite choice: Import/export Illustrator, STL etc. – great!!
    For Mac/PC.
    Sketchup is outdated now. Bonsai 3D too expensive.

    May 2013

  4. Am in much of the same boat as many here. I also feel that Sketchup is full of redundancy and lacks an intuitive face especially when you step into nurbs modelling. The lack of a truely solid modellng environment, makes things far more complicated in the long run. At the other end of 2d cad drawing , it is severely limited . simple things like control over line weight and line shape is missing unless you want to make global changes to all lines in your drawing… (why Skp decided to go into Layout to do decent 2d cad drawing instead of simply building these features into Sketchup itself, is beyond me).
    Nor as another commentater mentioned, can you view the std three planar views in Skp, along with the 3d projected view, simultaneously. However Sketchup enjoys ready access and relatively easy use of f ruby scripts for such as nurbs modelling ( well a bit at least) , actual animation beyond camera POV changes into actual independent -grouped- element motion, more alternatives to vector based and pretend dashed lines and a few more..

    Save for animation beyond its new spin feature, I would be diving into Bonzai ver.3 with both feet, as it seems to have most of these missing SkP features mentioned in a simpler interface.

  5. I’m a fan of SketchUp. You can do curved stuff with the Artisan and Soapskin Bubble plugins. If you need NURBS my favorite modeler is MOI3D. Windows and Mac, $295. MOI’s UI has wonderful simplicity, which belies the power under the hood. Kind of like SketchUp.

  6. Hi. Autodesk Inventor Fusion for Mac is free and for me easier to learn than Sketch UP. Misses some features (like keyboard shortcuts, limited import/export filters, no rendering). There are great video tutorials and it’s pretty easy learn.

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