Introduction to 3D Design Using SketchUp

PROJECT OVERVIEW

  • This introductory course provides an overview of all the essential elements of SketchUp skills needed for design, layout, and modeling 3D products. This course is intended for participants with little or no 3D design, 3D drawing, or SketchUp experience, but who want to create 3D models and products using SketchUp. 

PROJECT MATERIALS/LINKS

  • Computer (Windows or Mac supported)
    • SketchUp Web is supported starting from basic laptops such as Chromebooks to high-end computers with dedicated graphics cards (for increased speed/rendering of 3D assets).
  • Mouse
    • Using a mouse is highly recommended to more accurately design objects in 3D. 
  • SketchUp Web App Link
  • SketchUp Web Help Guide from Trimble

PROJECT OUTLINE

  • Lesson 1: What is SketchUp?
    • In this lesson, students will learn about the uses of SketchUp to create basic 3D models. For the purpose of this course, students will use the SketchUp for Web app which can be accessed online and does not require an application download. 
  • Lesson 2: Learning the SketchUp Toolbox
    • In this lesson, students will learn about many of the different tools that are used in the SketchUp Web application.
  • Lesson 3: SketchUp Project
    • In this lesson, students will be given three different 3D modeling projects to recreate their own versions of SketchUp Web. 

Lesson 1: What is SketchUp?

For this course, the free version of SketchUp will be utilized known as that runs in a web browser. It is a simple application where you can simply draw and create 3D models. The goal is to enable you to create anything you can imagine in 3D and without requiring a paid application or subscription. 

The main link to access SketchUp Free app can be found here: 

https://app.sketchup.com/app?hl=en

In order to use Sketch Free, each user must create a Trimble account: 

It is easiest to sign in with an Apple or Google email account. 

Once signed in, it is advised for all new users to view the basic tour of the SketchUp Web app to learn about its many features and the locations of each of the tools.

The basic tour of the app will include the following:

The tour will also display the names of all of the tools that can be accessed within the web app.

Once the tour is finished, it will take you to a blank project page to get started!

With the basic tour out of the way, now it’s time to learn how to sketch in 3D!


Lesson 2: Learning the SketchUp Toolbox

2.1 – Choosing a project template:

When signing in, there will be an option to start a new SketchUp project. By clicking on the ‘Create New’ icon, there will be a choice of options in whichever corresponding units are desired for the 3D object being constructed. 

2.2 – Reviewing the main tools of SketchUp 

The main tools of SketchUp can be found on the left side of the 3D modeling interface. For this section, each of the main tools will be explored.

2.2a Basic navigation

One of the primary steps of using SketchUp is understanding how to view the 3D model(s) properly to make the most of the available tools. There are a variety of main viewing tools that will be used. 

They include: Zoom, Pan, and Orbit. 

2.2b Zoom Tool: 

For this tool, users can utilize their middle mouse scroll wheel to zoom in and out of a scene of a 3D model. They can also use the zoom icon found in the viewing tools menu on the bottom left of their interface where they are able to select the zoom tool and use it by holding down their left mouse button and sliding it up or down. 

There are also the ‘Zoom Extents’ and the ‘Zoom Window’ options that will allow the user to resize their screen to view the entirety of the model they are designing in case they get lost or to highlight a particular area to zoom into.

 

2.2c Pan Tool: 

To slide the viewer around a particular area from within a frame, the pan tool is highly effective at doing so. The icon looks like a left hand found in the same menu as the zoom tool. 

Using the Pan tool, holding down the left mouse button while sliding in any direction will allow the user to move the camera about a particular frame of a 3D model. This will allow the user to view different areas of the model in a frame to work on it. 

2.2d Orbit Tool: 

The last of the viewing tools, the orbit tool can be used to rotate the camera around the center of the screen around the area of interest within the 3D model. The orbit tool can be recognized by the rotating arrows in the same menu where both the zoom and pan tools can be selected. 

To use the orbit tool, use the left mouse button while holding it down and moving the mouse to rotate the camera about the center of the screen to change the angle at which the viewer is displaying the 3D model being worked on.

2.3 Understanding the XYZ axis

An important concept when working with any 3D software is understanding the 3 axes, X, Y, and Z, that will all affect the placement of 3D sketches and assets within the application interface. 

Each of the axes are color coded within the SketchUp Web app interface.

 

Blue corresponds to the Z axis (height)

Red corresponds to the X axis (length)

Green corresponds to the Y axis (width)

Proper use of the viewing tools to understand which axis or axes will be sketched upon when using the drawing tools is an important concept when designing any object. 

When using SketchUp, for example when using the line (pencil) tool, when drawing along a particular axis, the app will color-code with the specific color of the axis that is being drawn on to assist the user with alignment. 

Example 1: Drawing along the blue axis (height)

Example 2: Drawing along the red axis (width)

Navigating between each of the axes will be paramount to accurately adding in shapes, lines, curvature, etc. to any 3D model to avoid placing geometry where it is unintended. If a line or curve being drawn is not corresponding to a particular axis, the sketch will appear in either black or a mixture of colors, including purple which will indicate the drawing of a line or curve in both the Z and X-axis (the corresponding colors blue and red combining to make purple). 

Now it’s time to practice using tools!

2.4 Drawing and using the line (pencil) tool 

The line tool is one of the most important tools when starting a sketch. It is used primarily to draw line segments across a plane or across a face of a 3D model to include additional shapes and/or geometry to the plane that can be further manipulated with other tools. It can be found at the top of the left toolbar.

To use the line tool, click on the icon to change the mouse cursor into the line tool and bring it to the plane that will be sketched on.

After clicking on a particular area and dragging the mouse in the desired direction, a line will appear that will be of varying length. 

To lock a line in place, click the mouse at the desired length and the line will be produced. Upon the completion of this initial line, the tool will attempt to connect another line from the endpoint of the first line. In order to prevent additional lines from being drawn, hit the ESC key on the keyboard to cancel the line tool to stop it from sketching undesired lines.

Example (below): Drawing along the Red Axis

When first learning to use the line tool, make use of the color indicators to help visualize the direction and plane with which each line will be drawn. Creating intersections and closed faces will result in the SketchUp app filling the gap between lines and creating what is called a “face.” 

Currently, in the app shown above, the faces of the model are colored in light blue and a shadowing effect is being applied to the viewer to assist with viewing the particular model being drawn. 

2.5 Using the measuring tools

In addition to having the accurate units desired for a 3D model, whether in inches, centimeters, millimeters, etc., an important set of tools to verify the accuracy of a sketch or 3D model are the different measuring tools offered from within the SketchUp app. 

These tools include the: tape measure tool, protractor tool, and text tool (used to annotate areas of a model with specific information such as length, shape, etc.).

2.5a Tape Measure Tool

The tape measure tool can be found on the lower end of the left toolbar and is used to measure distances between endpoints in a 3D model and also to create guidelines to assist with sketching parts of a 3D model.

After selecting the tool, the mouse cursor will change as it does with any other tool to reflect the tape measure tool being enabled. To use the tool, click on any vertex, surface, or point from without the 3D model and then drag the mouse to the desired distance and click once more to confirm the measurement. 

Looking at the bottom right of the application, the measurement will appear for the length that was measured using the tool in the units set for the 3D model off the template (inches vs. centimeters, etc.) selected at the beginning. The measurement will also display as a pop-up nearby the cursor once two endpoints are selected.

2.5b Protractor Tool

The protractor tool is used to measure angles and set guidelines at specific angles to assist with the placement of lines and objects.

The protractor tool can be found in the same menu where the tape measure tool is found at the lower end of the left toolbar. 

Once selected the protractor tool will display a silhouette of the measuring end of the tool which can then be applied to a surface on a 3D model to measure angles and also to create specific guidelines along the degrees needed (up to 360) that will lock on to the face of that particular model.