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10/10/2008
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Google SketchUp Gets 3D Printing Plug-In

The software may make 3-D printing more appealing to a wider audience, just as the declining price of laser printers in the '80s and '90s launched the desktop publishing revolution.

Google on Thursday announced the availability of a third-party plug-in for its SketchUp application that makes it easier to generate 3-D models from 2-D computer renderings.

"Our friends at CADspan just released a plug-in that allows for the generation of solid, 3-D printable files directly from a Google SketchUp model," said Google's Tasha Danko in a blog post. "This software re-creates a model by 'shrink-wrapping' it with one continuous mesh. The result is a single object, in STL file format, that is completely solid and ready to print."

STL is a file format used by 3-D applications for 3-D printing, a method for generating rapid prototypes of objects modeled on computers.

With the availability of CADspan's plug-in, Google SketchUp is likely to make 3-D printing more accessible and more appealing to a wider audience, just as the declining price of laser printers in the '80s and '90s launched the desktop publishing revolution.

Long used by architects and product designers, 3-D printing is being used by a new set of people and industries as 3-D printing and equipment have become more affordable.

Z Corp., for example, recently partnered with Harmonix Music Systems and MTV Games to offer 3-D physical models of Rock Band 2 avatars.

Last year, Z Corp. introduced its ZPrinter 450, the first color 3-D printer to break the $40,000 barrier, according to the company. And open source 3-D printing efforts like Fab@Home let individuals get into 3-D printing for as little as $2,300, if they're willing to assemble their own printer from off-the-shelf parts.

For those curious about how CADspan's plug-in works with Google SketchUp, the company has posted a full-screen video demonstration.

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