9 SketchUP Tips for Better 3d Modeling Workflow

I picked up SketchUP my first year of architecture school back in 2002 and never stopped using it since. It is as powerful as it is simple, and yet I’ve seen too many pick up bad habits who find it hard to utilize SketchUP to its full potential.

So while I work on the continuation of the Making of ‘MS House’ – Part 1, Let me elaborate further and share some more of my SketchUP work-flow. Before I get specific about a few things, I should mention that it is good practice to have the manual comfortably nearby while modeling and I also highly recommend watching the SketchUP video guides. The information I’ll elaborate here will, hopefully, help you model fast and efficient with a great amount of control over the 3d modeling process.

This is a pure text post, so please bear with me.

1. Shortcuts

Learning to use shortcuts is essential for fast modeling. I hardly ever use the standard toolbars and menus, just those related to plugins that can’t be mapped to a shortcut conveniently. On my SketchUP workspace you will find just the Layers, Shadows and Face style standard toolbars most of the time. With everything mapped to shortcuts you can free up some screen real-estate for the actual model and some other plug-in toolbars.

It would have been really nice if Google could add support for saving the toolbars area scheme, or even just fix the jumping syndrome they tend to have when moving them around.

You can export / import shortcuts through the preferences dialog when moving from one computer to the next and you can re-map them all as you see fit – even assign more then one shortcut per command (for example a left and right keyboard combination).

I recommend mapping these commands

  • window / hide dialogs
  • edit / delete guides
  • view / component edit / hide rest of model
  • view / component edit / hide similar components
  • view / rendering / edge / by axis
  • view / face style / monochrome
  • view / face style / x-ray

2. Guides (Tape Measure & Protractor tools)

Guides are a blessing, use them all the time. Add parallel ones using the Tape Measure tool and angular ones using the Protractor tool. I use them to layout grids, check measurements, to assist with snapping and a lot more. When you find that you have too many of them just clear them all out with one shortcut combination.

3. 3d Modeling control Quintet

If you followed my advice in the Shortcuts section above, you have created five on/off toggles I call Color by Axis, Monochrome, X-Ray, Hide Rest & Hide Similar. These will allow you to quickly check the model while working and keeping it all under control.

Color by Axis

This command will uncover all un-parallel linkwork issues and will allow you to fix them with a visual feedback. I use this command all the time when I insert a CAD drawing into SketchUP just to make sure all is well with the lines. Later on while modeling if you ever stumble upon stubborn non closing faces – turn this option on, it is most likely due to non parallel lines that were introduced to the model.

Monochrome mode

This face style uncovers all flipped normal issues, specifically after textures have been applied to the model. Some SketchUP commands like PushPull and FollowMe tend to create flipped faces that you sometimes can’t see if the model is textured (Many plugins have this issue too).

X-Ray mode

This face style will allow seeing through the geometry and model in a way impossible without it. Instead of rotating or hiding elements just to snap to something you can switch to X-Ray mode even during a command and quickly edit in place while saving a lot of time and allow for model checkup too.

Hide Rest & Hide Similar

This commands are convenience toggles. While X-Ray lets you see through the geometry, these commands actually hide elements away so that you can focus on the one in hand. It is very helpful modeling with a clear workspace and you can always toggle in the rest of the element for quick checkups and for re-orienting.

4. Geometry separation using – Group / Layer / Scene

SketchUP’s layering system, as opposed to the common in other application, provides visual separation only! Not geometry separation. What this means is that while you hide a layer, all its content can still be interacting with the visual model, snapping to it when intersected causing all kinds of problems.

My rule is that nothing goes into a layer before I grouped it first. This makes sure I get geometrical separation and all the geometry inside the groups remains on default layer 0. So by grouping and assigning to layers you can have two levels of information separation which can be enhanced by using the page or scene system for more then just saving viewpoints.

A scene can be set to just save the layer status, and so you can hide and show different sets of layers for each scene effectively introducing a third separation level, something like parent layers. The ideal would be if Google add a tree like layers hierarchy like the Outliner works – but till then the Group / Layer / Scene system work just fine.

Martin Rinehart just released a new plug called VisMap that handles this trio. I’m in the process of testing it myself currently.

5. Auto save

SketchUP will fail on you, especially when using more and more scripts, so make sure this feature is on and that the saving period time is set to something that suits your modeling speed. Regardless of the auto save feature, I made it a habit to manually save to a new file after each important modeling step. This way I get version history and fight file corruption (even though this is not common anymore)

6. Check for scripts regularly

There are many scripts for SketchUP out there, most of them for free. Don’t just limit yourself to the built in functionality, these plugins might be very useful and time saving to pass out.

Places to look for scripts at

To the right I list some of my favorite scripts which you can easily find by searching the resources mentioned above.

7. Housekeeping

SketchUP model saves all the information inside. Each image, component, material and cad drawing blocks are saved into the model file and stays inside even if you delete it from the workspace. To clean all of these excess elements you don’t need use the purge command in the components, material & layers dialogs.

8. Templates

Use templates to save style, units, location, layers and components for easy start-up of a new model in a new file. I use a template with a preset of layers using a standard naming so that everyone will be on the same page all the time. I also add components & materials to a template if I keep reusing them for some types of work and so starting from that template I have it all in and very fast to use.

9. Planning

While SketchUP is a powerful little application, it will not do the thinking for you. As opposed to more advanced 3d modeling application that offers modifier stacks and history panels, in SketchUP you essentially use destructive modeling. Since what you do is what you get, it is best to plan a little before you rush on with the modeling.

Topology

Take care when setting the number of segments for circles & arcs and where you point the first creator line to for example. If it is a round facade with windows, you are modeling, i would suggest counting the number of windows and decide if those are meant to fit inside the segments or span across them. This method of thinking can be applied to each aspect of the model and assist you with further updates later on, besides the fact you allow yourself to create a clean model this way.

Hierarchy

Think and plan ahead the use of components. A clever setup will allow you to perform updates across the entire model with a few mouse clicks – but be careful not to abuse this method, especially when nesting components inside one another. Editing a nested component might alter another parent component that has it inside too. Use the ‘Make Unique’ command to component at hand from the batch.

You can use the Outliner dialog to keep tabs over things though i personally did not integrate it into my workflow, since it involves naming each element descriptively to be useful, and that is rather tedious IMHO.

36 comments
chopsuey
chopsuey

I´m using Sketchup since 8 years now and just stumbled over this website some days ago. I´m already using 90% of the methods,  but the usage of monochrome mode, described here, is big news for me - just added it to my shortcuts :)


What I also find great in sketchup is the possibility to combine some comands with basic math e.g. MOVE-COPY * 10 , ROTATE-COPY / 5 .... it is such a time saver and I so wish Autocad would get this simple workflow integrated. 


brodiegeers
brodiegeers

Great article Ronen, and a nice compliment to the 3d World article. Very solid advice for all users. -Brodie Geers

Rendersi
Rendersi

Great tips. Thank You Ronen!

Diego Bortolato
Diego Bortolato

Ah fantastic. I've started to use it quite strongly for draft presentations, but found it a bit too inaccurate, but with great potentials. I'm thinking to sell my revit licence... :-)

Ronen Bekerman – 3D Architectural Visualization Blog
Ronen Bekerman – 3D Architectural Visualization Blog

I'n not using Layout enough... since documenting is not one of the things I need to do very often, But from the brief tests I had with it it look very promising and so I will probably do more with it in the coming weeks.

Diego Bortolato
Diego Bortolato

Thanks. So usefull.. when something similar related with Layout? :-))))) is never enough...

ronenbekerman
ronenbekerman moderator

Hi all, I've made a more detailed version of this post in print on 3D World Magazine, March 2013 Issue, Pages 68-74 - "Pro SketchUP Workflow Tips for arch-viz". Lots of other good stuff on that issue ;)

debarati1
debarati1

Hello Ronen, I am a big fan of u. We publish an emagazine Sketchup ur Space. Can we publish this doc on our magazine with the link of this site? It will be great help for all our readers. You can also contact me through my email id: [email protected] am eagerly waiting to hear a positive reply from you!

Thanks and regards,

Debarati 

 

ronenbekerman
ronenbekerman moderator

Working on a new version of this post about @sketchup Bigger, Better and much more up to date.

ludnid
ludnid

oh yeah... in my excitement I forgot to ask...

@ Ronen

About the vertex welding… I think you were referring to the fact that when exporting with textures keeping the UV’s the vertex’s are separated. This is why I never export textures and so the model keeps all vertex’s welded this way. and most time the UV’s are kept too – so you just need to load the JPG in the material and it works!

In most cases I tend to apply textures in sketch and modify in max. Doesn't really give problems and they appear OK but its till rigid cos of the inability to use the UV modifier in max when I export as single object...

Based on ur methods, are u models plain (white) when u bring them into max? or u simply apply colours and texture in max?... It got me confused really... thanks in advance :D

ludnid
ludnid

wow... all these for SketchUP alone... :D lol

Based on "MY" judgements so far, SketchUP is actually one of the best if not the best 3d program for creating architectural models. Recently with the wide range of plugins and scripts released, you could do almost anything... and I mean ANYTHING =).

Not as good as Ronen and Peter (their sites are my fav, can't blame me ;) ) still where I am, I could cancel out 3 jobs in a day from conceptualisation to model to render all because sketch gives the freedom to quickly modify designs. The grouping and component system is perfect.

Like Peter I hardly ever use guides and really NEVER LAYERS... :) thats a work load... though I just got something new from the forum with respect to file exports...

Anyways SketchUP's still the bomb... Here are recent scripts and site downloads that even make it better. I use these everyday...

Curviloft, loftspline - I'd say a perfect tool for organic modelling. You'll need to register to download. Its free all thanks to Fredo and Jim at - http://sketchuptips.blogspot.com/2010/06/plugin-fredos-curviloft-10a-beta-now.html

1001bit tools - Really great for the building industry as whole http://www.1001bit.com/products/products.shtml

and a lot of others with descriptions from - http://rhin.crai.archi.fr/RubyLibraryDepot/

Check em out for a change... :D ciao

Alex Gruber
Alex Gruber

I'm importing CAD files to sketchup like in this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MtqJh-DUG30

Some good plugins: Drop, Make Faces, Simplify Contours.

It's really awesome that 3ds max can load skp files straight out of the box, it would be nice if sketchup could do that with max files too :).

Thnx for the tips.

Dave
Dave

Nice Article with very useful links.
If i would've known these plug ins, i would've been much faster with most of my previous models =)

Some export problems where mentioned, so i just tell, what methods i use, to get a 3d model or 2d graphics out of SU.

I use the SketchUP 6 free version. You can Export as Google Earth and Google Earth 4 (.KMZ) Models. So i export Google Earth 4 files, rename the ending .KMZ to .ZIP, than unzip the file. You'll find several Folders, one is called Model, inside there's a .DAE COLLADA file.
Now i use the free Autodesk FBX Converter and i can convert the File to nearly everything i need (.DXF to import an Object to Archicad, 3ds for further scene modeling in Maxwell Studio...)

For 2d drawings, i Print a PDF with HLT exact..., open it in the Adobe Illustrator, voila, just Lines to work with. =)

I know, these are very harh Methods, but they worked for me an my Models. By the way, i'm an architectural Student =)

greetings, Dave

jebusk
jebusk

Nice roundup.
Gotta say that your blog ain't exactly the starting point for a newbie but for sure abundant in useful tips.

I used to work with CAD / MAX more than 7 years ago so more sure than not this will be a challenge to start use them again.

Looking forward to seeing more great stuff

Roger Waggener
Roger Waggener

I have one suggestion for this post - it would be very valuable if you could add links to your list of favorite plugins above.

Thanks - I've added this blog feed to my reader.

Peter Guthrie
Peter Guthrie

I just want to tell you once again that I love this article!

Amanda
Amanda

I think Max has a similar modifier to do that, I think its called distribute. But its nice to have such a light weight yet powerful 3D application for quick designs that pop into your head.

favSHARE
favSHARE

This article has been shared on favSHARE.net. Go and vote it!

Kurt
Kurt

Ronen,

I appreciate this blog. I have been using sketchup for quite some time as well, and am always looking for ways to improve my workflow. I am wondering, did you create that image above in sketchup? what tools/plugins did you use? thanks and keep it going.

Felix
Felix

he, always the same faces .)

very nice article!
i like sketchup alot, although I've to admit that i use it rarely these times. mainly to help with some stupid import export stuff.

for me the main downsides were (probably all a lack of skill):

- problematic to get a clean mesh always (i somehow ended up to check every model i imported to my host app)
- export of sketchup did few times not work very well

and mainly: the layering system, to be honest, i consider it quite a mess (exactly as you've pointed out).

still, i wish i had such a nice snapping system in bigger 3d applications!

tolas
tolas

Great article, thank you.

I'm not a SU user but I had an opportunity to play with it a bit in past. Good to know theres "color by axis" mode, it would have helped me a lot with some drawings I had to deal with.

I remember using tape and linear guides A LOT. It saves so much time as it's well integrated with fantastic snapping system.

The main reason why I stopped using it was layers/groups mess. I've never found it suitable. Also, the obj exporter wasn't working exactly as I was expected.

I plan to test SU->MODO Collada export soon so I'll give it another try. I'm keen to test your scripts too :)

Peter Guthrie
Peter Guthrie

excellent post/article! Think I'll be directing a few people in this direction! I might do a similar post myself, but just thought I would share my shortcuts here seeing as they sound almost exactly the same as yours..

a - unhide all
l - unhide last
h - hide/show rest of model
j - hide/show similar components
m - monochrome mode
n - (normal) shaded with textures mode
x - xray mode
g - make group
\ - position texture (mapping) (next to enter key for speed)

a lot of commands I just use by the right click menu probably from habit rather than anything else. I must confess I hardly ever use guides, and never layers! (layers maybe if I was making a sketchup presentation)

takesh
takesh

Hi Ronen. Nice site. I added it to the list as you requested.
BTW export function of Automated 2d output never worked for me on Mac or Windows. It just spits out BMP, JPG, TIF, PNG but never DXF, DWG or PDF. Does it work for you?