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.


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

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.

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.

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.

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)

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

40 replies
  1. takesh
    takesh says:

    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?

    • Ronen Bekerman
      Ronen Bekerman says:

      Hi takesh. I do use the Automated 2d output script just for raster output… but PDF & DXF seems to work fine. DWG export didn’t work for me too.

      Sometimes i get 20+ scenes in a file for presentation purposes and then the automated JPG output is really a blessing.

      • debarati
        debarati says:

        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: debarati@sketchup4architect.com.I am eagerly waiting to hear a positive reply from you!
        Thanks and regards,

  2. Peter Guthrie
    Peter Guthrie says:

    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)

    • Ronen Bekerman
      Ronen Bekerman says:

      Thanks Peter!

      It’s nice to know about others workflow too. How do you manage without layers really? the most common use I have for them is assigning the CAD drawings i insert into SketchUP to layers for easy hiding, and sometimes also version tracking. (Perhaps you were referring to pages/scenes?)

      • Peter Guthrie
        Peter Guthrie says:

        ok, maybe I occasionally hide CAD stuff, but usually I trace over what I need in AutoCAD and bin the rest as I hate having crap imported into sketchup!

        One plugin I just installed is UV Tools, v. handy for cylindrical mapping on columns etc.

  3. tolas
    tolas says:

    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 🙂

  4. Felix
    Felix says:

    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!

    • Ronen Bekerman
      Ronen Bekerman says:

      Thanks Felix,

      That snapping system and ease of use is exactly whats keeping me from moving on to other apps for modeling. I would have loved if Modo utilize such a system for example.

      But check out my new post about the SketchUP Importer for 3d Studio Max 2010 – this seems to solve all exporting issues.

      • Felix
        Felix says:

        yes i did – it looks quite interesting!

        i still could’nt get deep enough into modo, but from what i’ve seen i consider the snapping quite thought through.

        some things are very easy to do, which i always shaked my head about in different software.

  5. Kurt
    Kurt says:


    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.

    • Ronen Bekerman
      Ronen Bekerman says:

      Thanks Kurt,

      I did create the image above in SketchUP. I used the sandbox tools to create the topography element and SmartDrop script to lay all the boxes down. I can send you the model if you like?

  6. Amanda
    Amanda says:

    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.

    • Ronen Bekerman
      Ronen Bekerman says:

      SmartDrop doesn’t handle the distribution though, just drops the items onto the mesh below taking the face normal into account – it’s up to you to distribute the items before that (but there are other scripts for this)

  7. Roger Waggener
    Roger Waggener says:

    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.

  8. jebusk
    jebusk says:

    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

  9. Dave
    Dave says:

    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

    • Jamie Kerr
      Jamie Kerr says:

      Hi All,

      Just a quick comment to bring up a few issues with SketchUP.

      I understand why many use SU because from what I have seen it is very easy to use & understand, especially for new-comers to 3D.

      Now to the down side…

      I have had to work with SU models (exported in every format possible) for the last year & I got to the point where I refuse to use SketchUP exported models any more. The main problem I see is that it is designed for quick and easy 3D modelling and not high-end render-ready modelling.

      The three main points I see that unless are fixed remain a serious drawback to using the software for high end rendering are – Smoothing groups, Vertex welding and normals. I find myself wasting so much time fixing things related to that… These really are most basic yet important issues when modelling.

      It is easy to be tricked into believing that your modelling is great when it looks okay in the SketchUP viewport. Bring it into 3ds Max and convert the mesh to an editable poly and you will see how disastrous some of these models really are. I have lost count of the many hours spent due to using SketchUP models and the problems they can cause when using high-end rendering software such as VRay.

      The boolean and extrude functions in SU seem to be the most problematic with this. It also lacks many simple & high-end tools such as a chamfer tool.

      As mentioned at the start I am not against SketchUP… it’s just that I feel as a high-end modelling tool it just can’t cut it.

      Kind regards,


      • tolas
        tolas says:

        I’ve been trying to add in SketchUp to my pipeline for some time already. It would appear as a perfect tool for quick modeling based on 2d plans. It’s fast indeed, unfortunately, cleaning resulting meshes takes too much of my time to be called efficient.

        I think I found relatively quick way of dealing with double verts and one sided polys. Once you get them fixed it’s easy to maintain nice smoothing without much of effort, at least for most models I tested. The main reason why I hate using SketchUp geometry is it’s structure (topology). I find myself constantly remodeling meshes to gain more control over polygons. It is essential when I plan further modification to base model and it takes a lot of time.

        Several people mentioned modo above. I’ve been using it since 102 and I have to say that snapping tool set is not even close to what SketchUp can offer. Additionally UI organization for snap tools is not the most fortunate making it hard to explore for newcomers. However polygon tools are far more advanced giving me full control over mesh and uv. At the end of day I find it quicker to model everything from scratch in one environment, especially if I have a SketchUp model in a background layer serving me as a reference.

      • Pixel
        Pixel says:

        Can’t agree more. Sometimes clients ask me how rebate I can make if they provide a 3d model, and I’m often tempted to tell them I’ll charge MORE if a sketchup model is the only document provided.

        Best workflow is to freeze the model in a layer and redraw on top of it. Not to mention that it takes time for complex models!

        Your weld is issue (and smoothing group I think) is resolved with the skp importer in max 2010 (connexion extension) and 2011, but another problem then occurs, it creates Architectural material, which are a nightmare to convert into Vray materials (but it’s doable with 3 scripts (1) Gtools material converter, (2) Vray scene converter then (3) Vray material changer aka “VMC”)

        But the biggest issue is the normal one, and nothing could be done except a properly trained SU modeller (that does exists, Ronen did a wonderful job with the GH house model 😉

      • Ronen Bekerman
        Ronen Bekerman says:

        SketchUP is a very unique 3d modeling tool… It’s strong point is also it’s weak one – Simplicity.

        I have yet to find something else that will allow for fast / free / nice looking modeling that can be shared with the client as you go! and get him to understand and add feedback and enjoy the process.

        I think that since it is so simple it is also very easy to start using it in a wrong way if you think about taking it to more advanced usage such as photo-real rendering.

        Keeping it under control is most important and no one tells you how to (well, I try in this article 🙂 )

        The inverted normals is very easy to handle using the monochrome view mode. assign a shortcut key to it and keep using it and no normal will flip on you!

        Smoothing groups might be handled by assigning different colors to the sections of the object so that later you can develop on that.

        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!


        You must also keep in mind all the new plugins available for SketchUP making it much more capable! I must to a roundup about some of the new ones I use daily.

        • Peter Guthrie
          Peter Guthrie says:

          I’d rather receive a SketchUP model than any other format, I’d clean it up in SketchUP first of course though! I often even take crappy max models back into SketchUP to clean them up and instill some kind of order on them.

          Architecture tends to be very repetitive, people are often very surprised how a building can be reduced to a number of repeated components. I often make use of 1 dimensionally scaled components to save making 2 or more unique ones. I haven’t even got into dynamic components yet, must find the time sometime to learn how they work…

          A well organized SketchUP model with clever use of components is truly a thing of beauty 🙂

          • Ronen Bekerman
            Ronen Bekerman says:

            Words out of my mouth Peter! To me, SketchUP is the nearest thing to pen and paper – It lets you run wild and free but you can instill control over the process.

  10. Alex Gruber
    Alex Gruber says:

    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.

  11. ludnid
    ludnid says:

    wow… all these for SketchUP alone… 😀 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… 😀 ciao

  12. ludnid
    ludnid says:

    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 😀

    • Ronen Bekerman
      Ronen Bekerman says:

      My models have mostly colors as placeholders for separation of geometry since I mostly export using the by material option.

      So for example all glass panels are color X, all window frames are color Y, all roads are Color Z, etc…

      If I want to map a texture on surfaces I also do that in SketchUP for simple mapping – the UV’s for such thing are kept even if not exporting the textures out… I then apply the same texture in MAX and 99% of times it shows exactly as in SketchUP.

      When it’s not then I add a uv mapping modifier in 3ds Max and fix it.

  13. debarati1
    debarati1 says:

    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: debarati@sketchup4architect.com.I am eagerly waiting to hear a positive reply from you!
    Thanks and regards,

  14. chopsuey
    chopsuey says:

    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.

  15. RanaRehman
    RanaRehman says:


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