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123D Design vs Sketchup: Which Is Better For You?

123D Design vs Sketchup: Which Is Better For You? | 3D Printing

Updated by

William Stone


January 13, 2023

3D printing has become more prevalent in recent years. As a result, 3D printing technologies have become widely available for household use. 123D Design and SketchUp are two of the most popular contenders used to design items for 3D printing. But which one is better?

SketchUp is currently the better option since 123D Design is no longer supported by its manufacturer, Autodesk. While 123D Design is available to download from third parties, it will no longer be updated. However, SketchUp, in addition to being an updatable application, is also more user friendly and has a push/pull feature that makes it unique.

In this post, you will learn more about 123D Design and SketchUp as two of the top types of 3D printing software. Read on to find out all the vital details of each program’s interface, key features, customer support, and best uses.

This article may contain affiliate links where we earn a commission from qualifying purchases.

Table of Contents

Comparing 123D Design and SketchUp: A Quick Overview

There are many similarities between 123D Design and SketchUp. Both of these programs are designed for being compatible with 3D printers and creating unique products. You will often see the argument that choosing between these two options comes down to personal preference. But that is simply not the case!

The following chart lays out a brief overview of the similarities between the two applications:

As you can see, 123D Design and SketchUp are similar on many levels. The most glaring difference is that 123D Design is no longer offered through Autodesk and cannot be updated. You must find the download online from a third party. SketchUp is only offered through a web browser, so you must have internet access, but it has excellent customer support options.

What Makes 123D Design Standout from Sketchup?

123D Design is a powerful program for designing in 3D. However, with it being discontinued, it lacks many stellar features and updates that SketchUp has. The next sections will discuss 123D Design’s interface, specific tools, customer support (or in this case, the lack thereof), ease of printing, and more.

Here is a quick chart comparison of the pros and cons of 123D Design:

Getting to Know 123D Design’s Interface Through Tutorials

Since 123D Design has been discontinued, there is no longer an active customer support service. Therefore, the best way to learn about 123D Design is by watching tutorials. One great list of video tutorials is available on YouTube, and they walk you through the different features embedded in the interface.

The following list highlights key points in the aforementioned video library’s 123D Design tutorials:

  • Sample exercises provided
  • Recorded with a beginner’s mindset to ensure easy understanding
  • Reviews many different tools

The main menus are across the top, bottom, and right sides of the interface. One nice feature of the menus is the ability to hover over an icon and have the icon’s name appear right away. With SketchUp, the icon names take a moment to appear, which can disrupt workflow, especially if you are still learning how to use the program.

Where Is the Support for 123D Design?

Unfortunately, there is no longer an Autodesk website or blog dedicated to this discontinued program. However, there is a wealth of knowledge on the internet. Many videos and personal blogs have content dedicated to helping 123D Design users get the most out of the application.

The tutorial series on YouTube mentioned earlier is a great way to learn 123D Design quickly! Another great option is a tutorial by Shapeways designed for beginners, too. Autodesk also has a YouTube playlist dedicated to 123D Design tutorials, which may be helpful as it has over 225,000 views. It even has videos to answer specific questions added to the support forum that is no longer active.

The Key Features of 123D Design

Most of the tools in each application are the same. Both of the programs have draw, move, select, and transform object functions. However, between each of the programs, 123D Design has tools that are only a part of its program. Each of these key features is described in more detail below to help you decide if you would rather choose 123D Design over SketchUp.

Does 123D Design Have an Autosave Feature?

You can autosave your work in both software programs, so you do not lose your progress if the internet or desktop program crashes. In 123D Design, you have a few options to control the autosave function. Autosave is useful in 123D Design if the program quits unexpectedly or your computer dies, effectively shutting down the application.

Tools for Faces, Edges, and Vertices in 123D Design

The array of tools in 123D Design is similar to SketchUp. However, between the two programs, 123D Design has some tools that are not found in SketchUp. These unique features add to the user experience and keep customers using this program even past its discontinuation.

The following chart shows the unique tools only present in 123D Design when compared with SketchUp:

(Source: 123D Design)

Do You Have Access to Offline Mode in 123D Design?

123D Design is better in this respect because you can use it offline. However, there is no way to connect your application to the internet. Therefore, you can’t easily save files directly to the cloud. You have to download or export your files to your local device and then upload them to your cloud storage.

How Easy Is 3D Printing with 123D Design?

123D Design’s process to print is much more straightforward than SketchUp’s. If you are ready to print in 123D Design, select export and then send it to the printer. All you have to do is export the STL file, and you should be ready to go. That’s it!

123D Design has a streamlined printing process. Its no-frills printing is definitely better than SketchUp’s printing, which you will learn requires a lot of preparation.

Why Is SketchUp Your Best Option?

SketchUp is by far the better option for 3D printing software when compared to the outdated 123D Design. Professionals, engineers, and architects frequently use SketchUp. But it is still easy to use and has some distinctive features that make it stand out from 123D Design, including its interface, tools, customer support, and more.

Here is a quick chart comparison of the pros and cons of SketchUp:

As you can quickly see, there are more pros than cons to using SketchUp. SketchUp offers a similar interface to 123D Design, but adds new and exciting tools for creating projects. Additionally, it also requires the internet, and it can be challenging to print a SketchUp derived file.

Getting to Know SketchUp’s Interface Using the Built-In Tutorial

Both of the graphical user interfaces for 123D Design and SketchUp are very intuitive. However, SketchUp’s graphical user interface is notably better. It is much easier to navigate and requires less clicking and maneuvering than Autodesk’s 123D Design.

When you start using SketchUp Free for the first time, you can start by opening the guided tutorial. This emphasizes all the essential features of the web interface, so you can start designing right away.

The critical points highlighted in SketchUp’s tutorial are:

  • Ability to set workspace preferences
  • Simple toolbar with intuitive icons
  • Quick access to 3D Warehouse using the right panel
  • Status and measurements bar for quick changes

You can access this tutorial at any time after you have begun using the application, as well. So, if at any point you get lost and need some reorienting, SketchUp allows you to reaccess the step by step walkthrough easily.

The Key Features of SketchUp

Both SketchUp and 123D Design have some great features that make them easy to navigate and create new projects. There are a few overlapping features in these programs, as to be expected, but SketchUp is better when it comes to available tools.

Does SketchUp Have An AutoSave Feature?

Like with 123D Design, you have a few options to control the autosave function with SketchUp. This setting comes in very handy when using SketchUp if your web browser, internet, or server crashes for any reason.

Tools for Faces, Edges, and Vertices in SketchUp

The array of tools in each application is mostly the same. Each program can draw, move, select, and transform objects. However, when compared to 123D Design, SketchUp has some unique tools.

The following chart describes the tools that make SketchUp stand out as a 3D design software:

(Source: SketchUp)

SketchUp has Instructor – A Panel for Simple Instructions and Hot Keys

SketchUp has a unique panel designed to help you navigate each tool without having to sift through a manual. This is quite different from 123D Design, which requires you to flip through the user manual or review shortcuts separate from the tool selection.

So, you may be wondering how does the instructor panel work; check out the following points to help you understand:

  • This panel is denoted by the graduation cap icon on the right side of the screen.
  • Once opened, whenever you select a tool from the menu on the left, it will auto-populate with information.
  • The instructor panel tells you the necessary steps for using the tool and the keys on your keyboard that change its function.

This feature makes it easy to figure out how to use each tool. Further, if you are still confused after reading through the instructor, there are advanced descriptions and tutorial videos, which can be found under User Guides in the Help Center.

Do You Have Access to Offline Mode in SketchUp?

This is one downfall of SketchUp; unless you pay for an annual subscription, you do not have access to your work or the application when you are offline. So, without an internet connection, you cannot work.

The Customer Support and Guidance of SketchUp

The SketchUp community is so large that there are several extensions and plugins available on many platforms. You can find plugins for SketchUp on 3D Warehouse and GitHub. Both of these sites allow you to download plugins, templates, and extensions for your software.

Additionally, you can find a plethora of videos from SketchUp on YouTube. Their SketchUp School channel is uniquely designed to answer common questions and walk you through SketchUp’s distinctive features.

SketchUp’s Customer Support Is Unmatched

Depending on the version of SketchUp that you use, you will have access to varying amounts of support. The tiered customer support allows you to contact and talk to different personnel or users as needed. There is no comparing the user following and community built around SketchUp products to the discontinued and widely unsupported 123D Design.

The tiered support will vary with the plan you have purchased, and the breakdown is as follows:

  • Community forum – Available to all SketchUp customers, the community forum allows users to ask and answer questions. It is also an easily searchable archive of past questions and answers.
  • Email support – SketchUp Shop, Pro, and Studio all have email support as an option in their tiered customer service.
  • Phone service – Reaching a SketchUp representative by phone is included in the Pro and Studio versions of SketchUp.

SketchUp offers an online forum for all users. If you purchase an annual subscription, you will have access to email and phone support. This forum is a great place to ask questions and search through previously answered questions. It is a fast and easy way to get the information you are looking for to complete your project or work out a kink.

On top of all three types of customer support, SketchUp also has a blog dedicated to helping you learn the program and new tips and tricks to try in your next projects. The blog posts are also easily sortable based on your skills and needs.

When Is Your SketchUp Design Ready for A 3D Printer?

The main things to consider when printing your 3D design are file format and model design. No matter what printer you use, you need to make sure your SketchUp design is finished, and there are a few ways to finish your SketchUp model.

Use the following tips from i.materialise to help ensure you do not waste money printing a poorly designed SketchUp model:

  • Install an extension – Solid Inspector 2, CleanUp 3, and STL extensions all cleanup and reformat your 3D model for printing. There are some other automatic file cleaners for SketchUp available, but these two are the most commonly used.
  • Make your scales match – When you export your SketchUp file as an STL file, choose the correct scale (either millimeters or inches) so that it matches the measurements set in your template.
  • Add a wall thickness – To print, you can’t use the default faces, which have no wall thickness. These faces will not print.
  • Make it manifold – This means your design has to be watertight. It can’t have any holes; all objects must be solid.
  • Create a continuous outer shell – Overlapping walls will not be printed; make sure to eliminate these before finalizing your project.
  • Remove reversed faces – These appear light blue in SketchUp. Standard faces will appear white and needed on all sides of an object to print it.

If you think you are ready to print and are using SketchUp, run through the quick checklist above. Many people have trouble printing their SketchUp designs because they do not know how or forget to make the above changes to their models. This can lead to some very unhappy customers.

What Are the Differences in SketchUp Programs?

SketchUp offers many different plans to fit any price point. This is great because their most basic version is free to everyone. In addition to the free option, quite a few different breakdowns are available, depending on what you are looking for in terms of use.

(This post will focus primarily on the options SketchUp has for personal use since many 3D printers are DIY makers and not necessarily 3D printing for a professional purpose.)  

The following chart lists the basic features unique to each version of SketchUp for personal use:

If you are looking for 3D printing as a professional, there is SketchUp Shop and SketchUp Pro available with all the above features. There is one other program available for professional use, and it is SketchUp Studio, which is the same as SketchUp Pro except for one thing. SketchUp Studio uses Sefaira to enhance its performance. 

What Are 123D Design and SketchUp Best Used For?

Both of these programs have their strengths. SketchUp is best for architectural studies and product design, where exact dimensions are crucial. This makes it the perfect program for use in 3D design and printing. It creates beautiful visualizations and has a host of add-ons that continue to make the software more user friendly.

123D Design is suitable for beginners, but it lacks some key design features, and its interface is less intuitive.  However, 123D Design does an adequate job of creating 3D models that can be printed.

The following list includes key items to consider before choosing to download 123D Design or SketchUp:

  • Use a powerful machineSketchUp recommends eight or more GB RAM, 2.8 or higher GHz processor, and one GB or more of hard-disk space; 123D Design needs two or more GB RAM, two or higher GHz processor, and 1.5 GB or more of hard-disk space.
  • Use a mouse, not a trackpad – This is an essential tool for increasing the interface’s usability and quickly finishing tasks.
  • Learn the navigations – Knowing how to navigate your maker’s space before designing is essential to simplifying your workflow.
  • Save often – These applications can sometimes crash unexpectedly, so it pays to save often and make sure autosave is turned on.

How Can You Start Using 123D Design or SketchUp Right Now?

Like the actual programs, most of their setup is fast and straightforward; all you have

dy to start making.

Use the following steps to get started in SketchUp today:

  1. Navigate to the SketchUp website.
  2. Click the sign-in button. This button can be found in the top right corner of the site.
  3. Enter your email address, or sign in with Google or Apple.
  4. Set up your password.
  5. Accept the terms and conditions.
  6. You are ready to start sketching!

Getting started with 123D Design is slightly more complicated because the original program has been discontinued. There are many places where you can download the software on the internet; however, you want to make sure these downloads do not come with any viruses. Take time to vet the websites and make sure you trust the source before downloading 123D Design to your computer.

In Summary: SketchUp Is the Software for You

SketchUp is easy to use and fast to set up. There is a learning curve, as there is with any new software. However, much of the interface is intuitive, with simple explanations of each of the available tools. 123D Design cannot compare to SketchUp. 123D Design is just as user-friendly and free, but it lacks some of the fantastic tools and resources that SketchUp has to offer.

Overall, the choice is clear; SketchUp is the better software. It is available for all different price points and gives you the support you need if you are just beginning. Even though the export process may be a bit difficult, it is worth it. The other features, like SketchUp’s push/pull tool, animation, and plugin capabilities, all lend to SketchUp being the superior choice.

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123D Design vs Sketchup: Which Is Better For You?


William Stone

William Stone

William has spent 20 plus years in the custom manufacturing industry as a COO, CEO and Owner of various custom product businesses. His experience has exposed him to all types of manufacturing from die cast, die struck, injection molding, CNC machining, laser etching, engraving and of course 3D printing.

Learn more about William Stone

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