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9 SketchUp Tips for Architects

Use SketchUp to its Maximum Potential with These Tips

With so many digital design software available it can often be difficult to choose one to get started with. Each has its own tools and methods that you need to get to grips with. Even so, there is one software that tends to stand out as a great choice for beginners. SketchUp has long served as an introduction into 3D modelling for student architects.

Simplicity is at the heart of SketchUp. Many students point to how easy it is to learn as a major selling point. You can have basic models created in a matter of minutes. This also helps to make the digital design software fun to use. You can jump straight in without having to learn about an array of complex tools.

Simplicity aside, SketchUp still has a lot to offer the professional architect too. The user-friendly interface may make the software easy to get to grips with. However, some exploration shows that it has just as much depth as any other digital design software. Many professionals use it to create concepts and organise workflows.

No matter how much you know about the software, you can always learn more. Here we have ten useful SketchUp tips that will help you make better use of the software.


Tip #1 – Use Photoshop for Plant Models

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SketchUp has an expansive 3D Warehouse. It contains many pre-made models that you can insert into your drawings. However, it falls down when it comes to plant life. For some reason the warehouse contains very few convincing images of trees and plants. Those it does have tend to be fairly unrealistic and have large file sizes.

Importing such large files into SketchUp will slow the software down. You’ll also find the pre-made vegetation is at odds with the quality of the rest of your model. You could create some models yourself, but that takes time. Instead, use Photoshop to help you along.

Create a few decent drawings of vegetation in Photoshop and save each as a PNG file. You can then export the PNG into the model and have a much more realistic looking tree or plant that takes less file space than one form the 3D Warehouse. Better yet, this is a big timesaver. It’s easy to spend up to 15 minutes searching for plant models in the 3D Warehouse. Making your own through Photoshop can halve that time.


Tip #2 – Using Measurement Tools

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One of the big problems with digital design software is trying to visualize your 3D model on a 2D screen. You have to get around a lot of limitations imposed on you due to the computer screen. This goes for SketchUp, as it does for most modelling software.

One of the biggest issues is aligning your models on the right plane. You need to consider the x, y, and z axes in everything that you do. A change to the model on one axes will cause changes on the others. The same goes for moving the model around. This leads to the problem of lines failing to match up when you switch views. What may look great across the x axis could be a complete mess when you check it on the other axes.

SketchUp offers a few tools to help you get around this issue. The most valuable of these are the Tape Measure and Protractor tools. This marks out the three main axes so you can see them at all times. The key benefit is the ability to figure out how your changes will affect the model in the entire 3D space.


Tip #3 – Use Good Rendering Software

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SketchUp can help you do many things. You can create great models and bring entire teams together to work on a single project. One of the few areas where it falls down a little is rendering. The software isn’t built to help you achieve photorealism in your renders. That doesn’t mean you should stop using it.

All you need to do is find a software that will help you make great renders. You can integrate a variety of software into SketchUp for this purpose. Maya and 3DS Max both have solid rendering capabilities. However, the best software for the job is V-Ray. Used by professionals in an array of industries, V-Ray can create amazingly realistic renders of your models. Combining it with SketchUp is often all you will need for professional results.

There are options if you don’t want to invest in a rendering software yet. SketchUp also integrates with several free rendering packages. These include Indigo Renderer and Kerkythea Render Engine. They won’t offer the same results as V-Ray but they can help with basic renders.


Tip #4 – Understand Your Measurement Tools

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When working in SketchUp you will find yourself using a lot of measurement tools. You need to change lots of data to create your models. This data includes angles and the dimensions of your model. This is something that SketchUp shares with a lot of digital design software. For example, the AutoCAD software uses similar measurement tools to help you get the job one.

The key similarity between the two is that you won’t need to select a text box when entering your measurements. In most cases, SketchUp will recognize what you’re trying to do and will handle the selection for you.

This makes building models both fast and precise. Correct use of your measurement tools will ensure you create professional grade models. Learn how measurements affect your models and apply what you learn to your work.


Tip #5 – Creating Section Animations



The animation is a key weapon in the architect’s arsenal. With a few animations you can show what your models will look like when you bring them to life. For example, you can use animations to show how people will interact in a crowded building model. Or, your animations will show how a specific part of your model operates. You can even use them to move from floor to floor of a building model.

Despite the importance of animations, a lot of digital design software don’t offer users many tools for animating. This is not the case with SketchUp. You can animate all sorts of things using the software. Best of all, the process is very easy to pick up and learn.

All you need to do is add scenes into the software’s animation tool. Change the view you would like so you create a sequence of scenes. From there, you can create transitions between each scene to smooth things out. You can build a fly-through of your building in no time at all. This allows you to present your model more professionally during big meetings.


Tip #6 – Using Clicks for Selections

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Making selections is key to success in any digital design software. You will make one whenever you want to edit a face or edge. SketchUp offers a unique take on the selection process and it all comes down to how many clicks of a mouse you do.

It works like this. A single click will select a single face of an object. This will be the face that you have placed the mouse’s cursor over. You will use the single click when changing the colour or texture of a face. A double click selects both the face of the object and the edges that surround it. This allows you to mess around with the entire face while accounting for its edges. Adding a third click into the mix allows you to select the entire object.

It’s not a tricky system at all. Still, it can take some adjusting to if you have used other types of digital design software. After a little practice you will find that you master the selection process and can build your models quickly.


Tip #7 – Using Textures

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SketchUp has a reputation for being at its best when creating simple models. We even mentioned in a previous tip how you will need to use a separate rendering software if you’re going for the more realistic look. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t achieve realistic textures for your models using SketchUp. It just takes a little work.

The key is importing. You can import an array of different textures into the SketchUp software. Better yet, the software allows you to modify these textures. Using its editing tools, you can create the exact texture you need to add the right finishes to your models.

So where can you get these textures? There are plenty of resources online. One of the best is the Mayang Free Texture Library. There you will find textures for almost any kind of model. From metal cladding to different types of stone wall, there is a texture for every purpose. Best of all, they are free to download. A bit of time spent on searching for and editing textures will allow you to do so much more when using SketchUp.


Tip #8 – Check out the Extension Warehouse



As it’s one of the most popular digital design software, it should come as no surprise that SketchUp has a big community behind it. Developers work constantly to create plug-ins to improve the basic functionality of the software. Large companies create the most commonly used plug-ins, but there are many independent developers who contribute to the community as well.

The point is that you can do much more with SketchUp than you may have thought. For example, some plug-ins help you to create and edit curved lines. Others will help you create 3D prints or provide tools for building specific models quickly.

You can turn SketchUp into a more professional digital design software using the right plug-ins. Just head on over to the extension library. There you will find plug-ins for almost anything that you might need. There are over 500 to choose from. Each also comes with reviews from the community so you can find out how it works and if it will offer what you need.


Tip #9  – Learn the Hotkeys

Hotkeys will help you to speed up the SketchUp Workflow. You just need to learn what they are. Plenty of websites have lists of hotkeys for you to use and it helps to learn as many as possible through repeated use. They will become second nature in time and you will find your work speeds up as a result.

That’s not all, though. The makers of the SketchUp digital design software know that many users want to create their own hotkeys. You can do that by heading to Window and selecting Preferences. From there, click on Shortcuts. Here you can edit existing hotkeys and create brand new ones.


The Final Word

A lot of these tips cover the basic functions of SketchUp. Others focus on how you can use other software to make SketchUp better. By following these tips, you can master SketchUp and create better models faster.

ArchiStar Academy also offers several tutorials and courses for SketchUp. 

Click here to see the ArchiStar Academy Sketchup Tutorials

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Posted on 20 Jan 2020

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