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9 SketchUP Tips for better 3d modeling
September 15, 2009 | Tips |
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
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.
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).
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
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.
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
• Ruby Library Depot
To the right I list some of my favorite scripts which you can easily find by searching the
resources mentioned above.
My favorite plugins
• Soap Bubble
• Joint Push Pull
• Surface Operations
• Free Scale
• Sketchy Bevel
• Tube Along Path
• Automated 2d output
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.
So, i hope this information was helpful for you in some way. It is my personal take on the
subject and if you do things differently and have useful insights please join in and share
by commenting below.
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