Weighing the Pros and Cons of Chief Architect v. SketchUp

One of my favorite things about working virtually is building a community of designers across the country who are eager to lift one another up as we navigate design and business challenges. That’s why I created my Facebook group, Presentation by Design. It’s a resource and sounding board for us to come together for inspiration, troubleshooting, and support.

A few months ago, my co-administrator, Sarah Durnez, and I went live on Facebook to discuss one of the biggest questions facing designers and rendering artists: What application should I use for rendering? What are the pros and cons of Chief Architect v. SketchUp?

If you haven’t joined Presentation by Design on Facebook, you’ll definitely want to do so to stay on top of future trainings and Q&A sessions. In the meantime, however, I’m going to break down our Facebook Live for you here.

Meet the Chief Architect v. SketchUp Designers

To give a little context to our experience with these platforms, Sarah and I are both small business owners who work with interior design clients to bring their projects to life virtually. We are virtual design assistants, interior designers, and rendering artists.

But, when it comes to our day-to-day work, Sarah works primarily in SketchUp, while I specialize in Chief Architect. If you’re in the interior design world, you’ve probably wondered which rendering platform is right for your needs. Maybe you’ve googled the pros, cons, and differences to try to make sense of which is a better investment for your business. 

We’ve been there! And, we both made different decisions––and we’re here to walk you through how we chose Chief Architect v. SketchUp and why.

Let’s Dive into Chief Architect

I work primarily in Chief Architect and Home Designer (check out my trainings here!), and, as a former AutoCAD user, I appreciate the technical abilities of the program. 

Here are the advantages:

Living Roomtv room rendering FINAL with logo.jpg
  • Chief Architect is ideal for someone who wants a more detailed, technical approach with drafting capabilities. If you work closely with architects, this could be your program of choice.

  • There’s no need for plugins. Everything is native to the program. Finish options, drawing views, it’s all there from the moment you purchase Chief Architect.

  • You have multiple drawing views at your fingertips. From a glass house view to a vector view that easily shows measurements and details like cabinet depth, to technical illustrations to artistic renderings, including watercolor and sketch, your options are just a click away.

  • Settings allow you to customize views and line types. You can even make your rendering look as if it was designed with watercolor markers!

  • Toggle between architectural elevations and design renderings. This allows you to easily work on the same drawing with both contractors and clients.

And, the disadvantages:

Now, Let’s Talk SketchUp

First things first, Sarah is a serious SketchUp whiz! She has an amazing wealth of SketchUp knowledge and it shows in her stunning renderings. That’s why she’s an awesome person to talk to the advantages and limitations of SketchUp.

Here are the advantages:

  • It’s free(ish). You can’t beat a price point of $0! For full rendering capabilities, however, you’ll want to make the investment and purchase the license (especially since its against their agreement to use it for professional purposes).

  • SketchUp is simple to learn. Many designers will tell you that it’s the easiest and quickest rendering platform to use. 

  • You have the ability to use both free and paid plugins, including Podium, that allow you to create more photo-realistic renderings. Podium gives you the option to add finishes and textures (think fur!) or intricate details such as tile and wood texture, ornate furniture carving, or even tile grout dimensions. The plugins give you the freedom to put the icing on top of your base design. **Sarah has recently also added Lumion to her rendering scope which, like Podium, is a plugin for Sketchup users (it just has a much higher price tag than podium).

  • Line types can be adjusted to resemble actual sketches. 

  • SketchUp 2D drawings are great for simple floor plans and elevations. If you need an easy-to-use alternative to a CAD drawing, this could fulfill your basic needs.

And, the disadvantages:

  • You have to use plugins for anything beyond the basic design. Plugins also fell into the advantage category because of the incredible variety they allow users. However, it can be time consuming to rely on finding the right plugin rather than having it easily accessible in the application itself.

  • SketchUp only has access to daylight. But, of course, you can find plugins that give you more options.

  • If you’re working on custom projects, SketchUp is probably not your best bet. You can get a simple drafting job done with sections and elevations, but anything veering towards custom will need to be done in CAD before it’s brought into SketchUp for rendering (this is what Sarah does!).

Final Thoughts: Pros and Cons of Chief Architect v. SketchUp

At the end of the day, with enough know how and experience, you can create gorgeous renderings in both SketchUp and Chief Architect and the results are pretty darn close, particularly to a non-rendering artist eye. Your preference really comes down to which works best for your skill set and your clients’ needs. 

And, it’s important to remember that these two platforms, as well as many other platforms that designers use, can speak to each other. If something that you need is not available in your chosen application, there is likely a workaround to create it elsewhere and pull it into your own drawing. It all comes down to a bit of creativity, patience, and a willingness to try, fail, and try again.

*I receive a small affiliate commission when you purchase Chief Architect or Home Designer through my link.