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Posted by on Oct 7, 2014 in Fresh Trends

Top 10 Hints & Tips For SketchUp

Useful tips for the dynamic, quick and functional SketchUp software.

Since its inception, SketchUp has been used as a quick 3D modeling program, rapidly becoming a favorite of landscape architects. It is easy to pick up, but with enough depth to take years to master. Over time you find shortcuts to better your workflow, these little tips can make a world of a difference.

No matter what level you are at, they’re always new things to learn in SketchUp. Here’s a list of my top 10 hints and tips to better yourself in this awesome program.

1. Arrow Keys To Lock Axis

It can be quite disorientating while working with shapes in a 3D space on a 2D screen. You’ll move a circle, think it went upwards along the Y-axis, but in reality it moved backwards along the z-axis. A great way to alleviate this is using the arrow keys on your keyboard to lock in the axis. The up and down arrows being the Y-axis (blue), left being the Z-axis (green), and right being the X-axis (red). This will ensure you in knowing which direction your objects are moving.

SketchUp - Visual guide to the axis to arrow lock. Image credit: Kevin J. Pfeiffer

Visual guide to the axis to arrow lock. Image credit: Kevin J. Pfeiffer

2. Using Copy To Array Objects

A lot of SketchUp is copying and pasting shapes, objects, and components. Aligning them to be in a line can be very tiresome and pressing Ctrl+v 100 times takes a prodigious amount of time up. Using the copy function to mimic the array tool in AutoCAD greatly increases your workflow in SketchUp.

WATCH: Video: A quick tutorial on how to use this function. Highly recommended watching

3. Use Photoshop For Vegetation in Collage Making

While SketchUp has an absolute huge collection of downloadable content through their 3D warehouse, it’s quite hard to find quality vegetation models. Even if you do find some good tree models, their file size is often large and will bog down your computer. The best avenue I have found it to add vegetation in Photoshop by collecting PNGs of your plant material and placing them within the exported image of your SketchUp model. See my process below.

SketchUp - The top image using Photoshop, bottom using 3D warehouse models. The Photoshop render took me five minute, while I spent ~15 minutes looking for plants in the 3D warehouse. Image credit: Kevin J. Pfeiffer

The top image using Photoshop, bottom using 3D warehouse models. The Photoshop render took me five minute, while I spent ~15 minutes looking for plants in the 3D warehouse. Image credit: Kevin J. Pfeiffer

4. The Large Tool Set

This one may seem a bit trivial, but I’ve seen many people try to use SketchUp not knowing about the large tool set. With many more tools at your fingertips, working will become much faster. To access it, all you need to do is view>toolbars…>large tool set.

SketchUp - See the difference! So many more tools at your fingertips. Image credit: Kevin J. Pfeiffer

See the difference! So many more tools at your fingertips. Image credit: Kevin J. Pfeiffer

5. Custom Shortcuts/Know Your Hotkeys

The number one thing that I have found to speed my work up has been hotkeys. Knowing how to quickly access what I want lets me worry more about my work and less about getting to the tools to accomplish that work. Here is a link to a cheat sheet Trimble has made for its users. But what if you have special key combos that you want yourself? Creating your own shortcuts is easy. Get to the page by window>preferences>shortcuts. There you’ll find the list of every shortcut in SketchUp! You can add, edit, and change all the hotkeys you like to better tailor the program for you.

SketchUp - The screen where you edit your shortcuts. Image credit: Kevin J. Pfeiffer

The screen where you edit your shortcuts. Image credit: Kevin J. Pfeiffer

6. Plugins

One of the main perks of using SketchUp is the large community behind it. Not only all the folks flooding the 3D warehouse with everything and anything, but companies and independents making plugins available to further enhance the capabilities of SketchUp. Some of my noted extensions and plugins are Soap Skin & Bubble (create curved lines and set a surface on top of them), SketchUp STL (support 3D model files to make 3D prints), 3D Tree Maker (Make 3D, fully functional tree), and SU Podium (Rendering plugin to make your models look amazing). Browse the extension warehouse to see more.

Links to all of the plugins mentioned:

7. Controlling Side Count for Polygons And Circles

Knowing how many sides a polygon and circle have can be very important while putting together models. Here’s a quick tutorial on how to know/control the sides of your shapes.

WATCH: Highly recommend watching, also checking out more videos from the channel

8. Knowing How To Select With Clicks

A big obstacle in SketchUp is selecting the correct face, edge, or object. Luckily you can easily manage which parts you want selected by simply counting the amount of clicks on a shape. 1 Click selects the face, 2 the face and the edges, 3 the whole object. This process becomes very simple once you get the hang of it!

SketchUp - 1 Click selects the face, 2 the face and the edges, 3 the whole object. Image credit: Kevin J. Pfeiffer

1 Click selects the face, 2 the face and the edges, 3 the whole object. Image credit: Kevin J. Pfeiffer

9. Understanding The Measurements Tool

You will commonly be entering in dimensions, angles, and other data into SketchUp. This is another similarity that SketchUp has to AutoCAD in that you are not required to select the textbox to input data. Just type away and SketchUp will recognize it. Often SketchUp is a program used for making quick models, but utilizing the measurements tool, you are capable of making very specific 3D models.

SketchUp - The location of the measurements tool. Image credit: Kevin J. Pfeiffer

The location of the measurements tool. Image credit: Kevin J. Pfeiffer

10. Rulers

As mentioned before the usual issue with modeling in SketchUp is visualizing a 3D world on a 2D screen. Things may seem to correctly match up from one view, but when you orbit, your lines are completely off. One of the best tools to utilize to work around this confusion is the ruler tool. It marks lines on the X, Y, and Z so you can easily build your models and ensure they’re not placed on the wrong plane.

SketchUp - See the faint gray lines? Those are the ruler lines. Use those lines to snap to and build on. Image credit: Kevin J. Pfeiffer

See the faint gray lines? Those are the ruler lines. Use those lines to snap to and build on. Image credit: Kevin J. Pfeiffer

This list is not a comprehensive one at all. But, they’re a place to start. In the end, the use for all of these tips is to speed up your workflow. It’s important to find which work-arounds feel most comfortable for you. The faster and more efficient you are with any program, the more refined your work will become. Producing your best work as quick as possible is vastly important, so delve in and try out a few of these tips!

Recommended Reading:

Article written Kevin J. Pfeiffer

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Kevin Pfeiffer, writer

Kevin J. Pfeiffer is eager to discover more and tackle the subject of landscape architecture from unique and varied perspectives, making for creative and intriguing observations.
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