Revit is not Sketchup

Blogger: Kevin Lynch, Director of Interior Architecture | Dallas, TX, USA
March 22, 2012

Lately, I have been hearing a lot of people ask, “Why are we still using SketchUp when we have Revit and it can do the same thing?”

To understand this issue more, we need to look at each software platform and its inherent capabilities.

SketchUp is essentially a down-and-dirty digital sketch program. It’s light and nimble and the user interface is very simplistic and straightforward. Everything about SketchUp is designed for quick creativity. After only a few hours of training, most designers (and most children for that matter) are up and running. SketchUp is ideally suited for modeling a concept and studying multiple options quickly. It is a wonderful design tool because it allows the designer to think on the fly and to create almost as fast as they can imagine. However, SketchUp falls short when it comes to being a true production workhorse (probably because it was never designed to be one in the first place). With its companion software, Layout, you can produce some very compelling working drawings. However, this tool does not have the depth and capabilities required to tackle a large commercial project.      

Revit on the other hand IS a production workhorse. It is designed with the intention of fully managing all aspects of the BIM production process. With its vast array of modeling options and associated database tools, Revit can manage almost anything BIM related with ease. It thrives on information and does a stellar job of collecting and organizing the entire workflow… with one exception: design. Unfortunately, Revit is just not optimized for design like SketchUp is. Its proponents say it is, and say it can be used “like SketchUp,” but in practice, it really just does not handle the modeling process in the same way. It is inherently too complex compared to the very simple modeling process of SketchUp. 

Thinking back to my Army days as an M1A1 Abrams tank gunner, I knew that the horsepower and firepower I was in control of was designed for a vastly different purpose than say the infantry soldier and his trusty M-16 rifle. Both could bring it to the enemy, but in very different ways with very different strategies and results. Each one certainly has its place on the battlefield, and when they work together, the results can be devastating to those that oppose. 

Revit (the Abrams tank) and SketchUp (the M-16 rifle) are in the same boat. They each have a solid place in the architectural world, and when used for tasks they excel at, the results can be amazing.

Critics of SketchUp say it’s not smart enough and that it does not translate directly to the Revit workflow. I ask those individuals one question:  has the architectural sketch ever translated directly to any workflow, digital or not? 

It’s funny that in my paper sketching days I never experienced even one person complain to me that my sketch was not translating directly to our CAD software! It was a given that an individual on the project team was going to have to dive in, study the concept and figure out a viable way to make it a reality. Isn’t that why architects and designers become architects and designers in the first place? I don’t know about you, but I LOVE the creative problem solving process. I want to work in architecture, and I want to spend my time figuring out the details of a project.

Maybe one day in the future the wonderful folks at Autodesk will create a version of Revit that adequately addresses the needs of the schematic design phase and provides a SketchUp-like experience. I’m honestly shocked that it has not happened already. Until that happens, like it or not, the SketchUp/ Revit hybrid is going to dominate our design process. Rather than fight it and try to insist that one or the other wins, we really need to find a viable way of having these two platforms coexist, and better still, work together for the greater good.

Image—Thinkstock: Jupiterimages

Reader Comments (25)

Nice post and I agree with you all the way.  When SketchUp was invented (before it became Google), I don't think Revit even existed or at the very least it was just evolving.  A former student of mine in AE at Penn State, John Ulmer along with some very talented programmers created SketchUp.  I remember talking to him one day when we were working on something in 3D AutoCAD.  Basically John said, there has to be a better, faster way.  Existing 3D modeling programs are too compllex and slow.  I think I was witness to the creative spark that resulted in SketchUp but didn't realize it until years later.  What also needs emphasized is that a student or practitioner can master SkethUp in a fraction of the time of Revit or one of the other modeling programs.  As you note, both have their place.

Love the analogy of the tank vs. the machine gun, though it's a little violent for me. My analogy would be an iPad vs. a desktop computer. I love my iPad, but not for construction documents!

...BIM is not about 3D...

good post

Autodesk will probably just eat sketchup one of these days, and maybe architecture too.....

Quote 'Autodesk will probably just eat sketchup one of these days, and maybe architecture too.....' I very much doubt it!  

Back in 1984 or thereabouts when I purchased my first PC, a twin floppy IBM, I opted for a little know application called MicroCAD as my CAD design tool of choice.  

At the time the other option was also a little know app, called AutoCAD!  The reason I opted for MicroCAD over AutoCAD was that I wanted to work in 3D not 2.5D.  MicroCAD has long since bitten the dust and AutoCAD has become a 'standard', in my opinion, not becasue it was better, more because it allowed 3rd party developers to get involved.  This is much the same case with SketchUp.

As far as an analogy goes, I would suggest a simple shelter building exercise! Using SketchUp is like working with a hammer, saw, set-square, spirit level, pliers etc .... immediately understandable tools that get the job done simply also allowing great on-site flexibility.  I would liken Revit to a timber-frame component manufacturing facility.  

The old saying, 'Horses for Courses' comes to mind.

Mike Lucey



Well said, Kevin- couldn't agree more.





nice post Kevin, this applies to multiple design platforms.  However, I think the SAW would be a better comparision for sketchup, ad photoshop the M-16

Hi there,

i like this discussion alot :) - i used to work with skp and revit in 2006 -

and created construction plans with revit (for school). the initial sketch

was done with skp. 


back then then - revit had this killer feature of interactive plans...

that's why i picked it up - sketchup's killerfeature on the other hand

is it's simplicity combined with the introduction of their components.


while there are now more and more people getting the hang of 

the basic concept's of 3d applications (navigation, snapping)

back then things were a little different - and most of all sketchup

helped changing that.


moreover it's a free tool. 


I agree 100% there are many tools required to be at the top of your game and Sketchup is one of those tools. In it's current state you have nailed the pros and cons of both software packages. I do think that a lot more can be done with SketchUp to make it more of a domestic tool and I have been working with some intelligent young folk who are doing their best to overcome the short falls of Sketchup . Sketchup will never be Revit and I doubt Revit will never be Sketchup. 

If you guys want some great Sketchup, Archicad and Revit Models feel free to check out as it has BIM professional models for you to make your own decision.  The Sketchup models do have BIM information that you can view through the attributes menu. 

Revit is the FUTURE, SketchUp is the PAST.


With any luck you will be right!  Working with two different platforms is a challenge.  Hopefully Autodesk will figure out how to make Revit as user friendly and as nimble as SketchUp for users who need that option.  Until someone figures out how to successfully blend the best of both into one killer platform, the reality is that both platforms will continue to have a strong influence in the industry.

Autodesk FORMIT

Rob - I hope you are not proposing this as a solution.  After playing around with the Beta version for a few minutes, it was clear that Formit is about as basic as it gets.  I can't imagine modeling anything with this platform.  

I can see the potential of something that is web-based and can utilize a tablet interface, but Formit is light years behind anything else I have used.  If I am missing something, please let me know...

Two years after originally writing this article, do you still feel the same about Revit and Sketch-up? 

I ask because I do agree your point was once true but having been a Sketch-Up user for many years and now having worked in Revit for a number of years I cannot see myself going back. I feel like it is much more intuitive than SU and allows me the freedom to create forms SU has always had trouble creating. With the addition of Vasari and Dynamo I definitely see a conceptual future for Revit. 

For me, the answer is yes. However, I think the real answer depends on what someone is using the two platforms to accomplish.

One of the main reasons for writing this post in 2012 was to help educate HDR's project managers about the inherent conflicts between the two platforms and to help them understand what to expect for output. At the time of writing, HDR was still trying to figure out the best way to use Revit and SketchUp together. In all honesty, I think that in many ways we still are. I can tell you for certain that Revit has become our solitary solution to producing construction documents and fully loaded BIM models. However, SketchUp (along with Rhino and other parametric solutions) are still the tools used most by our designers. 

Given that we are all trying to produce more with less, we (HDR designers) tend to find that SketchUp is king in terms of speed and ease of use.  It gives us the ability to quickly produce multiple studies while keeping the model very light and nimble. We find the tools in SketchUp to be inherently simpler and less time consuming. In fact, we often use SketchUp in live design sessions with a projector and a whiteboard. We use fast modelers as "model drivers" while other designers sketch over the projected model asking "what about this, and what about that?." It's not a perfect process, but it is a wonderful way to get the whole team involved in the design process, regardless of their modeling prowess. Plus, SketchUp is just down-right fun to use! Many of us don't have the same affection for Revit.

Perhaps if we all knew Revit as well as SketchUp this process would be different. However, my hunch is that the very left brained Revit process and interface (my perception) would still loose out to the very right brained workflow of SketchUp's pushing, pulling and orbiting. 

Thanks for the reply! 

Sketchup is not thought of highly enough as a serious tool. 

I just did all of workshop steel fabrication drawings for the extension of an international airport terminal. I did it in Sketchup!  Accurate? Absolutely!  There were no problems. I was able to manipulate 100mb file at the touch of my mouse. I exported to Autocad which had no chance. The architect used Revit, the engineer used Autocad. There was about 300tons of steel in it. 

IFC is now part of Sketchup, and To use Revit I would have spent months on Family production. I find Revit slow and is the lack of layers and the inability to save to a previous version does not work for me. There were about 200 drawings, and using certain plugins I did it all in 6 months myself. It would have taken twice as long in Revit. Every bolt hole every detail from 610UB. To rolled formed sections. 

Sketchup Pro does the Job for me. I use Revit 2010 and 2014 and the only way they can speak to each other is via IFC and you have everything to build all over again!

Thanks for sharing your success story John. I'm with you on people not taking SketchUp seriously. I find that those that oppose often seem to do so because of the simple nature of Sketchup. After all, how could something so simple possibly handle such complex and important data?

It's actually a nice metaphor for life. People seem to think complexity is inherently good thing, especially when we are talking about "experts."

With SketchUp, anyone is capable of achieving "expert" results without the complexity. Sounds like a winner to me!

Anyone who seriously thinks that Revit can do what SketchUp can do, is obviously clueless. The irony is that Revit enthusiasts defend it with a mindless zealousness that would make even a Nazi blush. Even more ironically, SketchUp is, and will soon beat Revit at its own game!

You should try out the newest version FormIt! It's vastly changed in the last year.

Sad to say Form-it is still basically a toy. A browser-based modeling platform has very few practical uses in a professional environment. Sketchup is still the only modeller that is great at conceptualizing large multi-building developments with multiple schemes quickly and accurately.


I’ve been doing the SketchUp to AutoCAD route for the last 10 years or so and it does work quite well, I love SketchUp for its speed and quick output-and I’ve done everything from two million sqft. Complexes to light fixture shop drawings with it,  prior to that I was doing everything in formZ and Electric image, which were great programs, but not nearly as quick.  I even did a small project once with Layout instead of AutoCAD, a mistake I never plan on making again.

So all that said I would really like to increase my productivity manly because once the changes start rolling in the updating and coordinating becomes a time consuming pain. I’m currently a one man shop doing large custom homes.  I’ve started using Revit a couple of times over the years but without adequate training to get a real complex building out of it and ended up exporting everything into AutoCAD to wrap up the project.  I found it very easy to make an ugly buildings in Revit but impossible to create any real architecture with it.  So I’m considering it again but with purchasing a couple grand worth of classes instead of trying to do the online junky tutorials and you tube shorts.  Any advice?  

I don't really have any solid advice to suit your situation.  My work and role lets me live mainly in the design world so I spend a lot of time using SketchUp with for three main purposes:  1) modeling the baseline for a more realistic rendering, 2) helping the client visualize the space, 3) study models for informing production documentation in Revit.

I have heard of individuals using SketchUp and Layout for construction documents.  You mentioned this didn't work for you, but perhaps it's worth another shot.  There is an interesting series of videos on YouTube about this topic.  See the link below.

Good luck!



Element Studio-

I can provide some guidance to incorporate Revit into your workflow - if that is what you are trying to do.  If you are looking to stay in SU through production, then that can also be a larger discussion.

Best benefits in Revit as in SU come from a well-built template environment to begin with.

Training and continuing to learn the various platforms plus's & minus's is equally important.  We all have to do CEUs for our profession, technology should be no different.

The opinions of people telling you one is better for one thing over another is often based largely on lack of knowledge.  With tools today such as Revizto and Fuzor - Revit can master even conceptual design work, presentations and rendering is off the hook. But so can SU especially with add-ins such as VRay and the like.

I always asses the needs of the design person or group, understand the workflows and find what will work best for them.  After 26 years of Cad, BIM, Autocad, ArchiCad, Revit, SU and on the down the line - I believe understanding all of the available platforms prior to advising is a solid approach.

It's not about the design platform - it is about what is the needs of the client and end deliverables along the projects' path.


What made you choose Sketchup for steel fabrication drawings, what is your workflow like? I used Revit in college and have been turning to Sketchup for custom house design. At work, Autocad LT 2013 is what I use for steel fabrication drawings. I am very interested in how you draw shop plans of structural steel with Sketchup?


What made you choose Sketchup for steel fabrication drawings, what is your workflow like? I used Revit in college and have been turning to Sketchup for custom house design. At work, Autocad LT 2013 is what I use for steel fabrication drawings. I am very interested in how you draw shop plans of structural steel with Sketchup?

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