It's not hard to create simple three-dimensional objects and buildings with SketchUp software. Here's a simple introduction with lots of links to learn more.
There are lots objects and buildings you can import into your sketch, or you create your own. SketchUp software is mostly easy to learn and makes a great first step before you move into more complicated software like Blender (for making characters and movies, as well as objects) and CAD (computer-aided design) software used professionally.
This article introduces the software and provides links where you can learn more. Links to download the software and watch tutorials are at the bottom of this article.
What is SketchUp?
It’s software that lets you use your computer to create models of objects and buildings in three dimensions. When you download SketchUp, they let you use the full Pro version for 8 hours before the software changes to the free version. However, there’s lots of functionality in the free version. And there are a number of great tutorials.
How does SketchUp Work?
When you start the software, first pick a template from the Welcome screen. The main differences between templates are the default units of measure SketchUp will use for your drawing, meters or inches. Another difference between templates is the starting view for your drawing, from the top or the side.
Here’s a tutorial to explain how to get started using the navigation to how to create your first object, a house:
Notice all the action revolves around a central point on the computer screen. This is a point of reference you use to place and size your objects. Also notice how the different menu and tool bar options are clear and easy to figure out by clicking around.
I especially like the push/pull extrusion tool that lets you take a flat rectangle and instantly turn it into a three dimensional object. Saves a lot of tedious time spent drawing lines and aligning the lines.
Once you’re familiar with the basics, explore the software. Here are some examples to show how the software is used:
If you’re wondering, Google originally owned SketchUp then sold the company to its current owner, Trimble Navigation.
Finally, if you have time and want to see the full power of SketchUp Pro, and how it is used by a professional architect, watch this video:
From watching some or all of these videos, it is clear teachers and students could begin by picking a simple table or object to create then evolve into more complex objects and then buildings. You also could use the push/pull extrude tool to create a simple house then repeat the process by building the frames and adding plywood, as shown in the tiny house video.
Another key skill is learning to organize parts of your models to different layers, for example, a house might have a layer for the outside walls, frame studs, floor, roof, and so on. Splitting a model into layers makes it easy to check your work and update your model as needed.
No matter how you begin, this software rewards clicking around. There are lots of tutorials to watch. The only hard part is which object to create first.
SketchUp is available in two versions, free and Pro. For teachers and students, the free version has enough functionality to get started, learn the software, and have fun. The Pro version is not required unless you really want (or need) to dive deeply into the software.
If you do outgrow the free version, you might want to compare SketchUp Pro with Blender (a free open source 3D software tool) or CAD software, both of which are high end professional software. There are other professional 3D software tools to consider, as well.
In addition to the SketchUp Video channel on YouTube, there are a number of other videos online, including one that shows how to turn a SketchUp model into a printed 3D object. Links are below.
Definitely SketchUp is simple enough to appeal to people who don’t like programming but want to play with computer software in fun useful ways. Creating three-dimensional models also happens to be a skill you can use to get paid work if you master the software.
SketchUp for Education K-12
SketchUp Video on YouTube
3D Printing from SketchUp
How to Draw a Tiny House with SketchUp
For example, I recently installed new flooring in my house, and I needed to calculate the square footage of the rooms I needed flooring in. In a typical room this is fairly easy. You measure the width and length of the room, and multiply them together to get the area.
But in my case, I needed to calculate the area of my living room that is open to my kitchen so I had a lot of funny corners and cabinets to measure around. Then the task of figuring out the area meant trying to split up the dimensions into logical squares so I could easily calculate the square footage; It was starting to look like a homework assignment from back in high school. Instead, I turned to Sketchup to draw my floor plan.
Use Sketchup to Create a Floor Plan
Sketchup is a great tool for creating a floor plan, especially if you are just looking to calculate the area of the floor. But before you open up Sketchup, you’re going to want to go and measure the room. Take as many measurements as possible. It’s better to have more information than not enough.
Step 1 – Measure the Room
So just grab a piece of paper, a tape measure and maybe a helper to hold the other end of the tape. On the piece of paper, draw a rough outline of the room. It doesn’t have to be perfect, just try to draw each of the corners of the walls as you see them. You’ll probably notice that you don’t get the proportions just right, and that’s OK! Sketchup will take care of that later.
Measure each length of wall and write down the measurement. I would measure to the nearest half inch. Go around the room until you have measured each wall.
You can see from the image to the right how complex this layout would have been to calculate the area. Granted, I could’ve just over estimated instead of trying to be so detailed, but I didn’t want to have to buy more flooring than I needed. Plus I knew it would be easy to figure it out in Sketchup, so that’s what I did.
Once you’ve created your sketch and have collected all of your dimensions, go ahead and open up Sketchup.
Step 2 – Recreate the Floor Plan in Sketchup
QUICK TIP: One thing I like to do every time I open Sketchup is just create one big rectangle group to create a “floor”. This makes it easier to orbit when you have something solid to reference from. It also makes it easier for the inference system to know what you are trying to draw. Try it out and see if you like it.
In this case, a rectangle about 50′ x 40′ will be plenty big enough for what I need. I like to create it a little bigger than the model I need to create. So after creating a big rectangle group to give me a surface to reference, I start drawing an outline of the walls. Now, I don’t care about the wall thickness or anything. I just want to know the area so we’re not going to get fancy at all. This will strictly be a 2D flat drawing.
So just start at one corner of your model with the line tool and start drawing. Click once to start the line, then drag your mouse over until you lock into the axis you want. To start your floor plan, you would do this:
- Start the line tool action by clicking once.
- Drag the mouse toward the general direction you want to go.
- Type in the length of the wall like this and press .
Once you’ve created your first line, Sketchup will be ready to draw another line from the endpoint of your first one. So it’s as easy as nudging the mouse over to the direction you want to go to lock the axis, and typing in your next dimension. Just keep repeating that process until you’ve returned to your starting position. So creating additional lines would be like this:
- (After pressing from previous line) Move mouse and snap to new axis
- Type in the length of the wall and press
This will start to go pretty fast, and you’ll be done in no time.
When you get back to your starting point, things might not line up just perfectly. You will probably find that you are off by a few inches or so depending on how precise your measurements were, and how squarely you house was built. Check you measurements if you think you made a mistake, but you can also make a small adjustment somewhere in order to keep your Sketchup model square.
Once your floor plan is complete, delete the “floor group” you created at the beginning of this tutorial. You’ll end up with just your floor plan outline.
Step 3 – Calculate Area
Well, really Sketchup does all the calculating, so this step is super easy. You just go to Window –> and select “Entity Info”. Then, with the select tool, highlight/select the face and you’ll see the area of the face pop up in the Entity Info Window.
Piece of cake!
So now I know I have exactly 358 sq ft of flooring area. So when I go to buy the flooring I can be confident in knowing what I’ll need and not buy too much. Of course you have to figure in a little extra material for cut-offs and waste, so I’ll get a little extra.
No Fancy stuff
This is a great example of how to use Sketchup to solve a problem quickly, without getting fancy or complicated with your model. Could I have drawn 3D walls, and the kitchen cabinets, and the doors, etc? Yes. But would it have provided any more value to me in calculating the area of the floor? No.
Make sure you take some time before modeling to think about the purpose of the model. You don’t always have to create detailed models to create something useful. Sometimes the simplest models are the best ways to leverage the amazing power of Sketchup.
About the Author
Matt DonleyFacebook Twitter Google+
Matt has been creating SketchUp tutorials since 2012. After writing the book SketchUp to LayOut, he conducted the "Intro to LayOut" seminar at the official SketchUp conference in Colorado. Matt writes about how to use SketchUp for design, construction and 3D printing.