Sketchup 3D design software from Trimble (previously from Google) is a very simple, yet powerful, program. Starting from basic shapes, you can build up to elaborate designs, ranging from small engineering components to vibrant cityscapes.
A lot of people are put off from using 3D design packages as they see them as complicated and fiddly, but with Sketchup, this is not true at all!
Here I would like to look at some of the most basic features, and how they can be used to create advanced designs.
I will be walking you through features, so it will help to have Sketchup running, and switch between it and this page (You know how to use ALT-TAB, yes?)
Obviously you will need to download, install and open the program. It is available here: https://www.sketchup.com/
Once you have it up and running, you should see the Main Screen, with tools all around. We shall be learning what some of these tools are for.
First, though, some basic controls. I would advise trying these now, to gain some familiarity
- The Mouse Wheel controls zooming in and out. It will focus on where the mouse pointer is, so scrolling out, and then back in can be a useful way of moving around the scene.
- The Mouse Wheel also controls the angle you are looking from. Holding it down, and moving the mouse will rotate the camera.
- Left-Clicking will select an Object. You can tell it is selected by the Blue border it gains. You can also do this by dragging a Selection Box around an object, but this will select EVERYTHING it contains, so use caution!
Your scene is currently quite bare, so let’s add some features! Strangely, for a 3D program, we do not add 3D shapes. We draw 2d shapes, and extrude them. This is easier than it sounds!
Begin by selecting the Square tool, from either the Top or Left Menu. Your Mouse Pointer will change to reflect the current tool (as always). Click where you would like to begin, and move the Pointer around. You will see the Shape begin to form. If you move around enough, you may notice the useful Snap effect. Sketchup tries to guess if you wanted to line up with something, and “snaps” to be level with it. We will not use this now, but be aware of it as you go forwards.
In the bottom right-hand corner, you will notice the “Dimensions” area. This shows the dimensions of the Object you are creating. It also allows you to directly enter the Dimensions you would like. Try making a square 10 feet by 10 feet. Watch the Dimensions area, and do not worry about being exact. Once you have clicked to place the square, ,type “10, 10” (without quotes), and hit Return. You will notice that the square becomes exactly 10 inches by 10 inches! You must put a ‘ (apostrophe) after the number, to signify Feet! Try again! (Pro-Tip: CTRL-Z will undo your last action(s))
You can now test some of the Selection methods. Choose the Select Tool (an Arrow, like a normal Mouse Pointer), and try clicking an edge, or the face. Try double-clicking.
The Third Dimension
You have a square, but we want a 3D object! So, select the Push/Pull Tool, and move over your Square. You should notice the face become ‘spotty’, to show that it is selected. Click on the face, and move the pointer. The face will “extrude” to form a solid. Again, note the Dimensions area. You can try to get the right height for your box, or click in approximately the right area, and then type the distance you actually wanted!
Groups and Components
Before we go further, I can’t stress enough about using Groups and Components! USE THEM! Select a complete object by treble-clicking on it with the Select Tool. This Selects all connected edges and faces. Then press “G” (for “Group”). This locks the object, allows it to be manipulated independently of the rest of the scene, and moved as one piece.
It also allows you to replicate objects without having to recreate them, using less memory and being able to edit them all at once!
If you move normal pieces together, they will connect. This is good if you want them to, but you cannot un-connect them without a lot of work. Groups or Components that touch will “Snap” together, but you can move them apart easily! They are effectively their own “mini-scenes”.
NOTE: To edit an object once it has been made a Component, you need to double-click it to “enter” the component. Or “Explode it, making ti a non-Component again.
Moving Objects and Components
I get a lot of use out of the Push/Pull tool, so watch closely!
Adding pieces is easy enough, especially using the “Snap” effect. Make two cubes of different sizes. Make them into Components. Click on the “Move” tool. Hovering over an object will outline it in blue to show it is selected. You can “grab” any part of it and drag it around. The Snap effect will try to guess if you are moving it along an axis, or you can hold the cursor keys to force it to lock the movement to an axis, if for example, you only want to raise the object without affecting its horizontal position.
If you “grab” an edge, or corner, you can take advantage of the Snap, and line it up with another object. Try this with your two cubes. Put the smaller cube on top of the larger. Rotate the View to make sure they are in the right place, with no gaps.
You should now be able to create and move blocks in your scene. The best idea now is to practice this, creating blocks of specific sizes, placing them together in specific ways.
Do not forget to save your work!
Have a go at this, and let me know how you get on!
The next part will deal with some other basic techniques. If you have any features you wish to know about, feel free to let me know!