For years now, SketchUp has been an item on one of my lists, specifically the (VERY LONG) “Things to learn eventually” list. It’s been on that list because, although several people have told me how great and simple it was, I’ve never had a great need for 3d modeling things. My art school days taught be quite a bit about perspective, so I have no trouble drawing sufficient plans when building something new. Also, my brain is wired to be able to pre-visualize projects, if I’ve got enough definition. My wife, however, is not this way. We’ve gone in circles for years on how new home projects should look, as I try to explain it, expecting her to be able to visualize the same way that I do. That is not fair, of course. She’s more visual, and wants to see things before she commits to them. We’ve ended up with lots of drawings and “trust me” ‘s over the years.
So, recently, after looking through a bunch of plans on ana-white.com (you’ve seen her site, right? It’s great!) I was inspired by how many Sketchup models she provided, as plans for her projects. It got me interested to see if it’d be worth learning to help me out with some more complex projects that I’ve got coming up. So, I decided to dive in.
Luckily, SketchUp IS A FREE DOWNLOAD!! Just a quick download, install, and you’re ready to go!
Quick disclaimer, I HAVE used 3d modeling programs before, but the ones I learned are way out of date, and I never really used them outside of a school environment. Honestly, I don’t think anything I learned in school was helpful in getting used to Sketchup.
After SketchUp was installed, I went straight to YouTube, naturally. I found the official “SketchUpVideo” channel, which has tons of tutorials. Mainly, I went through the first 4 tutorials, which give you a good overview of the tools and process. You can watch those for yourself, but I’d like to give you a quick highlight of the things that I think are unique and interesting from those 4 tutorials. I’ve only been playing with SketchUp for a few days, so I’m absolutely not an expert, but I’ve made quite a bit of progress in being able to execute the ideas that I have.
As a starting point, you draw 2d shapes using the shape tools. The shapes can combine as you overlay surfaces and remove the separating edges, so it’s very easy to make complex shapes. You then use the Push/Pull tool to make it into a 3d shape. In other 3d software, this is usually called “extrusion”. I’m not entirely sure why, but this seems much simpler in SketchUp than other programs that I’ve used.
Need a set of stairs? Simple. Just draw several rectangles with overlapping edges, erase the edges, and use the push/pull tool to give it depth.
Need a hole in your mini golf course? Draw a circle and just push it down, making a void in the shape.
Setting dimensions has been annoying for me in other 3d software, usually hidden in a Properties popup or something. In SketchUp, you just type. You don’t need to put your cursor in a textfield (in fact, you CAN’T) you just start drawing a shape then type the dimensions, hit enter, and there’s your shape, precisely drawn to your needs. The format is forgiving too.. 3 1/2″, 12″ is the same as 3.5,12. It will use the type of unit that you set when you started the project. The only problem I’ve found with this, is that you have to start drawing the shape in a certain direction for it to use 3.5 as the width, and 12 as the height. On occasion, it will reverse them. No big deal. While still in the shape tool, you can click into the measurements field and adjust the values. I haven’t been able to manually adjust this field in any other situation so far.
This thing is really handy for adding details. It lets to take any shape and create a duplicate but offset shape. For example, if you need a window, draw a rectangle, create an offset of 2 inches, then use Push/pull to give the window a frame. Done. (How simple is that?!) This tool is awesome for adding trim and edges to existing shapes.
Follow Me Tool
Another great one, although a little tougher to effectively use is the Follow Me tool. Basically, it lets you push/pull a shape, but it will follow you around, as the name suggests. Need to add baseboard around a room? Draw a rect for the baseboard, then select Follow Me, and move around the bottom of the walls. Done. (Fyi, you could also have used the offset and push/pull tools to accomplish the same thing.)
SketchUp gives you lots of pointers and helpers along the way when modeling something. Inference points provide you references to common/useful points along a given edge or shape. They make it very easy to find the center of an object, for example. I won’t go into much more detail because there’s a good reference here, and it’s pretty natural to use them once you start building. There’s also “snapping” which helps you get to a common angle, if drawing a shape. It’s very helpful to keep you on an x, y, or z axis. This is also natural to use, but handy to know about.
Guides are simple, but a great help. They let you measure and place without actually affecting any geometry. It’s handy to be able to see when something needs to be drawn before really drawing it.
To give you an example of how quickly SketchUp can become useful to you, here’s scale model I built of our boys bedroom. It started out as just their closet, because we’re planning some shelving and I wanted to be able to experiment with what might work best. Once I had the closet, it only made sense to do the whole room. I’ve got other projects planned in there, so it will continue to be useful. Truth be told, I rebuilt the closet a few times, and the room a time or two, as I learned better ways to model things. But all in all, I spent about 3 hours. If I started from scratch now, I’d expect it to take 20/30 minutes tops.
Well, that’s it for now. I hope this gives you some idea of how simple it is to get started with SketchUp. I know that I’ve already got tons of projects that will be much easier to plan using it as a pre visualization tool, and being able to provide plans on this site is pretty exciting!