A lot of us have experimented with SketchUp at some point or other, yet in the industry it has something of a reputation as a ‘toy’ program, and as a result is often seen as a fun and easy program to use, but one that cant really do anything meaningful.
Well, SketchUp has changed quite a bit in recent years, and it might be time to look again at this deceptively simple 3D modelling package.
In this article we are going to dive deeply into SketchUp; why you should consider it, what you can do with it and where to learn how. We will also share a list of our favorite SketchUp books, resources and productivity plug-ins so that can really push the software to it limits.
Why use SketchUp?
Trimble, a large construction & engineering technology company, purchased SketchUp from Google back in 2012. Since then, they have fervently set about revamping and retooling this little modelling package into a pretty serious BIM contender.
SketchUp remains easy to learn and intuitive to use. It was originally intended to be the closest thing to drawing by hand, albeit in digital format – and that charm and simplicity are still evident even in its most recent incarnations.
In addition to 3D modelling, however, it is now also possible to produce detailed and accurate, scaled 2D drawings using SketchUp’s sister package: Layout. Plug-ins and extensions further extend SketchUp’s capabilities to include, scheduling, quantity take-offs, energy analysis and photo-realistic rendering meaning that this ‘silly’ little program is now capable of some pretty serious stuff.
SketchUp is also pretty affordable, compared to the big-BIM packages, at a price that belies a surprisingly powerful and versatile piece of software. It is also comforting to know that your subscription fees are well spent, as Trimble invest pretty heavily in updates and improvements to both SketchUp and Layout – not something that can always be said of the bigger players in the BIM software market.
What SketchUp is not.
So it sounds like SketchUp is the perfect solution then? Not exactly.
People always say to us ‘SketchUp is fun and everything but you cant do ‘x’ with it’. You cant do construction documents, you cant do details, you can run schedules. I’ve heard it all. Well our answer to them is that you can do all of these things – but not right out of the box.
The appeal of the larger software packages like Revit and ArchiCAD is that the documentation side of things is baked into how the software works. This is both a blessing and a curse in our experience – you can quickly generate drawings from your model, but you are pretty stuck with the drawings looking and working the way the software wants them to.
With SketchUp, it takes a lot more time to set everything up the way that you want it, but this does mean you can have things pretty much all your own way. If you simply want to plug-and-play and you don’t really care too much about how the drawings themselves look, then perhaps SketchUp is not for you.
Getting started and learning the basics
OK, so you have decided to give SketchUp a go – where do you start?
Well, first you will need to download the software. Like many software packages these days, Trimble and SketchUp operate an annual subscription model and you have the option of either buying direct from SketchUp (www.sketchup.com) or a local re-seller if you are outside of the US.
There is a free version of SketchUp which has limited functionality, a web-only version called ‘SketchUp Shop’ and the more professional package that includes Layout, aptly named ‘SketchUp Pro’. You can also access a 30-day free trial which is more than enough time to explore all of the functionality that SketchUp has to offer.
Once you have everything downloaded and set-up then the next step is to get to grips with the various toolsets, dialogues and palettes on offer. The most obvious and best place to start learning is with SketchUp themselves, by working through their excellent online ‘Fundamentals’ lessons: https://learn.sketchup.com/
SketchUp, as you would expect, also provide detailed written guides to getting started with their software (https://help.sketchup.com/en/sketchup/getting-started-sketchup) as well as an extensive YouTube channel covering everything from the beginners set-up to more advanced modelling and drawing techniques: https://www.youtube.com/user/SketchUpVideo
Lastly, there is a very active and helpful forum also run by SketchUp: https://forums.sketchup.com/. In here you will find answers to even the most bizarre of SketchUp issues. If you are struggling with something relating to SketchUp then you can pretty much guarantee somebody else will have solved it previously in the forum.
SketchUp tutorials and resources
Outside of SketchUp’s official channels, there are literally thousands of YouTube videos on everything you might ever need to learn, though the quality of instruction does vary quite considerably.
If you would rather avoid spending hours cruising around YouTube, and prefer a more structured learning experience, then here are our recommendations for the best SketchUp tutorials and resources currently available:
1. SketchUp Resellers
Many companies that sell SketchUp licenses around the world, also often offer in-person live training sessions. These can vary in cost and duration but if you are serious about learning SketchUp quickly then this can be a great option.
2. SketchUp & Layout for Architects (SKALA) – www.skala.studio/courses
This is by far the most comprehensive set of online courses and templates available, in terms of a specific focus on the needs of an architect. There are a range of prices to suit every budget and the courses cover pretty much everything you will ever need to know about SketchUp and Layout.
3. Master SketchUp – https://mastersketchup.com/sketchup-tutorials/
Another great website and accompanying YouTube channel on everything SketchUp and Layout. Matt Donely is a fountain of knowledge when it comes to SketchUp and has also written a number of books on the subject (see below)
4. SketchUp School – https://www.sketchupschool.com/
The SketchUp School is a membership site with a large library of video courses on SketchUp and Layout, including quite a few on producing photo-realistic renders. Not as comprehensive as the previous options but a great place to start all the same.
5. The SketchUp Essentials – https://www.youtube.com/c/Thesketchupessentials/
An excellent and extensive YouTube channel run by Justin Geis. In addition to modelling tutorials, Justin also test-drives various plug-ins and extensions.
6. ‘SketchUp & Layout for Architecture’ Book – https://sketchupbook.com/
This is a great book written by the aforementioned Mat Donely in collaboration with a US architect by the name of Nick Sonder. The book offers a start-to-finish workflow for architectural projects and includes downloadable resources and templates.
7. ‘The SketchUp Workflow for Architecture’ Book –https://sketchupforprofessionals.com/tswfa/
Another excellent work-flow manual from architect Michael Brightman. The author takes a quite different approach from the previous example, though no less effective.
8. SketchUCation – https://sketchucation.com/
This is a pretty large website filled with tutorials, downloadable resources, extensions and an active community forum. Not specifically focused on Architecture but incredibly useful all the same.
9. SketchUp Texture Club – https://www.sketchuptextureclub.com/
This is the place to go for all of your SketchUp textures and materials. You can download up to 15 a month with a free account, which we find is usually more than enough.
10. SketchUp Artists – http://www.sketchupartists.org/
Lastly, another great website packed with tutorials, tips and tricks, this time with a focus on rendering, graphics and visualization techniques.
One of the great things about SketchUp is the amount of additional functionality you can obtain by installing plug-ins or extensions. There are a dizzying array of augmentations available, often for free or very little cost, allowing you to tailor the software specifically to your needs.
You can download extensions inside of SketchUp via the Extension Warehouse (https://extensions.sketchup.com/) though some are only available through SketchUCation (see above). Here is a list of our favorites:
1. Section Cut Face – https://sketchucation.com/pluginstore?pln=SectionCutFace
Create editable 2D linework from any section plane that remains dynamically linked to your model.
2. Fredo Scale – https://sketchucation.com/plugin/1169-fredoscale
Scale and stretch objects around a specific axis without distortion. It sounds simple but it is surprisingly useful.
3. FlexTools – https://flextools.cc/
Quickly create dynamic doors, windows, stairs and other components that can then be adjusted in a myriad of ways.
4. 1001Bit Tools – http://1oo1bit.com/
This plug-in contains a suite of tools to quickly create a variety of architectural elements such as roofs, wall and floor framing, staircases, balustrades and more.
5. Profile Builder 3 – https://profilebuilder4sketchup.com/
Create fully adjustable and editable, parametric assemblies and extrusions such as wall framing or stair handrails.
6. Seifera – https://www.sketchup.com/products/sefaira
Developed by SketchUp themselves, this is an energy analysis and building performance simulator. You will have to pay but it is incredibly useful.
7. Placemaker – https://www.suplacemaker.com/
Import high-resolution aerial photography, topographical data and, in some instances, entire 3D city models into your SketchUp model.
8. Toposhaper – https://sketchucation.com/pluginstore?pln=TopoShaper
Create terrains and surfaces from contours and datum points. Great for fleshing out site models and much smoother than the native terrain tools.
9. V-Ray Next – https://www.chaosgroup.com/vray/sketchup
There are quite a number of excellent, real-time rendering plug-ins for SketchUp, but VRay is the market leader in photo-realism & output quality.
10. Plusspec – https://plusspec.com/
With a focus on construction, quantities and estimation this is a powerful tool for SketchUp adding another level of BIM functionality
Like all software choices, there are pros and cons to every argument, and everyone’s needs and work-styles are different. However, if you are in the market for BIM or are considering a switch, then SketchUp simply has to be on your shortlist.
SketchUp modelling is quick and easy, while the software is affordable, adaptable and completely customizable. However, you cant produce perfect drawings right out of the box like you can with the larger, more expensive BIM programs.
The software might be easy to learn, but expect to spend time setting up your templates and scrapbooks to get everything looking the way you want it to.