A lot of us have experimented with SketchUp at some point or other, yet in the architectural industry it has had somewhat 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 how architects can use this deceptively simple 3D modelling package.
In this article we are going to dive deeply into SketchUp and discuss; why you should consider it, what you can do with it, and where to find the best free SketchUp tutorials for architects. 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.
Free SketchUp tutorials and resources for architects
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 free 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 free 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 free SketchUp tutorials, tips and tricks, this time with a focus on rendering, graphics and visualization techniques.
YouTube channels for learning SketchUp for architects?
There are many YouTube channels that offer tutorials for learning SketchUp, but some of the best include:
BrightMan Designs: This channel is run by an authorized Expert Trainer for SketchUp, who demonstrates the software’s workflow through his tutorials. He also shows how to use SketchUp in combination with other software such as LayOut, ConDoc Tools, and Lumion.
TheSketchUpEssentials: Justin, the creator behind the channel, uploads new tutorials on SketchUp every week, ranging from Essentials videos and Extensions to Model Tutorials, Quick Tips, and more. He covers topics like architecture modeling, landscape modeling, and 3D printing.
SketchUp School: This channel is dedicated to teaching professionals in the creative and engineering fields how to get started with SketchUp, SketchUp Free vs. SketchUp Pro, floor plans, rendering, LayOut, V-Ray, Lumion, Blender, and more.
MasterSketchUp: MasterSketchUp is run by an instructor with live teaching experience with students worldwide, and he has tutorials for architects, interior designers, woodworkers, and anybody who wants to master the software, from beginner to advanced.
TN3D Studio: Tony, the instructor behind the channel, teaches 3D modeling, architectural rendering, animation, and post-production, using SketchUp and other software like V-ray and Enscape 3D.
TutorialsUp: The channel has lessons covering plugins and modeling different elements, including furniture and parametric design, and goes beyond architecture and interiors, he has tutorials on calligraphy modeling, Christmas tree modeling and even explains how to model an ear for those who happen to take delight in anatomy.
SketchUp Expert: This channel has lots of short clips that explain different plugins and delves into 3D visualization, design production, 3D animation, scene visualization, augmented reality, and more.
Aaron Bishop Design: Lastley, Aaron is a graphic designer who posts tutorials on cool features in various programs, including SketchUp. He explains how to build different elements in house design in a step-by-step approach, allowing viewers to follow his workflow. He covers architectural design and modeling in SketchUp.
These are some of our favorite best YouTube channels for learning SketchUp, but there are many other channels and resources available as well. It’s important to find a tutorial style that works best for you and to be consistent in your learning.
It’s also important to remember that while watching videos or tutorials is a great way to get started, practice and experimentation are crucial to master any software.
Architecture SketchUp plug-ins
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
To sum up…
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.
FAQs about free SketchUp tutorials for architects
Do professional architects use SketchUp?
Yes, professional architects (and students) do use SketchUp. SketchUp is a widely used 3D modeling software in the architecture industry. It is popular among architects due to its ease of use and its ability to create detailed and accurate 3D models.
It also has a sister software, Layout, that allows architects to produce scaled 2D drawings, making SketchUp a versatile tool for architectural design. SketchUp also offers a variety of plugins and extensions that can be used for scheduling, quantity take-offs, energy analysis, and photo-realistic rendering.
Many architects use SketchUp in combination with other industry-standard software to create detailed, accurate, and visually appealing designs.
Can you teach yourself SketchUp?
Yes, it is possible to teach yourself SketchUp. SketchUp is known for its ease of use and intuitive interface, which makes it accessible for users of all skill levels. There are a variety of resources available (our favorites are listed above) for self-learners, including online tutorials, video courses, and books.
SketchUp also provides its own set of tutorials called “Fundamentals” which can be found on the SketchUp website. They cover the basics of the software and can be a great place to start.
Additionally, there are also many online communities and forums where users can share their knowledge, ask questions, and receive support. SketchUp also has an extensive library of plugins and extensions, which can help users to expand the capabilities of the software, and help you to learn by doing.
Self-teaching can be a great way to learn the software at your own pace, but it may take longer to master the program than if you were to take a class or work with a mentor. It’s important to have patience and persistence when learning any new software, SketchUp is no exception.
What is the fastest way to learn SketchUp?
The fastest way to learn SketchUp will depend on your learning style and the amount of time you have to dedicate to studying the software. However, here are a few tips that can help you to learn it quickly:
- Start with the basics: It’s important to understand the fundamental concepts of SketchUp before diving into more advanced features. SketchUp provides its own set of tutorials called “Fundamentals” which can be found on their website. They cover the basics of the software and can be a great place to start.
- Watch video tutorials: Video tutorials are a great way to learn quickly. They allow you to see the software in action and can provide a more visual understanding of how to use the tools.
- Practice, practice, practice: The more you use SketchUp, the more comfortable you will become with the software. Create your own projects and experiment with different tools and features to build your skills.
- Learn from experts: Taking a class or working with an experienced mentor can be a fast way to learn. They can provide guidance, feedback, and answer any questions you may have.
- Utilize the community resources: SketchUp has a large community of users, with many of them sharing their knowledge and tips in forums, websites, and social media. You can find a lot of tips and tricks that can help you to improve your skills.
It is important to note that learning any software takes time and effort, even if you follow all the aforementioned tips, SketchUp is no exception. With patience and persistence, you will be able to master the software in no time.
What are the negatives of SketchUp?
SketchUp is a widely used 3D modeling software with many positive features, but like any software, it also has some negatives. Here are a few drawbacks:
- Limited documentation tools: SketchUp is known for its 3D modeling capabilities, but it lacks built-in tools for creating detailed construction documents like other architectural software such as Revit or ArchiCAD.
- Limited rendering capabilities: SketchUp’s built-in rendering engine, while useful for basic visualization, may not be powerful enough for more advanced rendering projects. Users may need to use additional rendering software or plugins for more realistic and detailed renderings.
- Limited parametric modeling: It does not have the same level of parametric modeling capabilities as other BIM software. It is more of a direct modeling software, which means that changes made to the model are not automatically propagated to other parts of the model.
- Lacks advanced collaboration tools: SketchUp is not as advanced as other BIM software when it comes to collaboration and team-working. It lacks the ability to track changes, assign tasks, and manage access to the model.
- Complex assemblies can be hard to manage: As the model becomes more complex, with many components and groups, it can become difficult to manage and organize, especially when working with a large team.
It’s important to note that these negatives can be mitigated by using third-party plugins and extensions, or by combining SketchUp with other software. SketchUp is a versatile tool and can be used in combination with other software to overcome its limitations.
It’s worth considering your project’s specific requirements and how it will fit in the overall workflow before making a decision.
How can I learn SketchUp for free?
SketchUp is a popular 3D modeling software that can be used for a variety of applications such as architecture, interior design, product design, and more. Learning SketchUp can be a valuable skill, but the software can be expensive to purchase. Fortunately, there are free resources available for those who want to learn SketchUp without breaking the bank.
One of the best ways to learn SketchUp for free is to use the official SketchUp Learning Center. This online resource offers a range of tutorials, videos, and other materials to help users get started with SketchUp.
The Learning Center is organized into different sections based on skill level, so you can choose the materials that are most appropriate for your needs. Whether you’re a complete beginner or an experienced 3D modeler, the SketchUp Learning Center has something for you.
Another great resource for learning SketchUp is YouTube. There are many SketchUp tutorials available on YouTube, and most of them are free to access. A quick search for “SketchUp tutorial” will yield thousands of results, so it’s important to be selective and choose tutorials that are well-regarded by other users.
Some popular YouTube channels for SketchUp tutorials include SketchUp School, The SketchUp Essentials, and SketchUp Hub.
In addition to the official Learning Center and YouTube tutorials, there are also many SketchUp forums and communities online where users can ask questions, share tips and tricks, and connect with other SketchUp enthusiasts. Some popular SketchUp communities include the SketchUp Reddit page, the SketchUcation forum, and the SketchUp Community forum.
These communities are a great place to get help when you’re stuck on a particular issue or just want to connect with other SketchUp users.
Finally, there are also many free SketchUp plugins and extensions available online that can help you extend the functionality of the software and make your modeling work easier and more efficient.
Some popular SketchUp plugins include the SketchUp STL Importer/Exporter, which allows you to import and export STL files, and the SketchUp Make Faces plugin, which can help you create faces from edges that aren’t properly connected. Many of these plugins are available for free download from the SketchUp Extension Warehouse.
Is SketchUp free good for architecture?
SketchUp Free, the web-based version of SketchUp, is a powerful tool that can be used for architecture, but it has some limitations compared to the paid versions of the software.
SketchUp Free offers many of the same basic features as the paid versions, including the ability to create and modify 3D models, import and export files, and add textures and materials. However, it has some limitations that may be problematic for professional architects or designers.
For example, SketchUp Free does not allow users to install custom plugins or extensions, which can be essential for some architecture workflows.
Another limitation of SketchUp Free is that it only allows users to store their files in the cloud, with limited storage space. This can be an issue for architects who need to work on large and complex projects that require significant storage space.
Additionally, SketchUp Free does not offer the same level of technical support as the paid versions, so users may have to rely on online resources or forums for help.
Despite these limitations, SketchUp Free can still be a useful tool for those who are just starting out in architecture or for those who need to create basic 3D models for design projects.
The user interface is intuitive and easy to learn, and the software is accessible from any device with an internet connection, making it a convenient choice for on-the-go work or collaboration.
However, for more advanced architectural work, it may be necessary to upgrade to one of the paid versions of SketchUp.