Getting Started with SketchUp

New to SketchUp? Need to polish-up your knowledge on the basics? This Beginner’s Guide to SketchUp provides comprehensive information you need to get on the path to SketchUp enlightenment.

Why Sketchup is awesome

SketchUp is the easiest way to draw in 3D. If you can dream it, you can draw it in SketchUp. It’s simple enough that anyone from kindergarteners to great grandparents can be drawing in 3D just minutes after installing the program. However, it’s sophisticated enough that millions of professionals around the world - from architects, to engineers, to construction industry professionals - use it every day to visualize complex projects. In the words of the folks at SketchUp: “Great tools are ones you look forward to using. They do one thing (or maybe two) really, really well. They let you do what you want without having to figure out how. They help with hard or boring tasks so that you can focus on being creative, or productive, or both.” That’s SketchUp, in a nutshell.

Who uses SketchUp?

Everyone. Well, not exactly everyone, but definitely a lot of people: Over 30M architecture, construction, engineering, interior design, contractor, landscape architecture, kitchen & bath design, urban planning, game design, film & stage, woodworking, do-it-your-selfers, hobbyists, artists, students, and educators from around the world use SketchUp to draw in 3D. Like we said - not exactly everyone.

Basically, anyone that needs to communicate an idea visually is a potential SketchUp user. Again, in the words of the SketchUp team: “For SketchUp users, drawing is thinking. They draw to explore ideas, to figure things out, to show other people what they mean. They draw because they love it, and because nothing great was ever built that didn't start with a great drawing.”

A Little SketchUp History

SketchUp was developed by @Last Software in 1999 and the first version launched in August 2000. At the time, co-founders Brad Schell and Joe Esch described it as an application "that would allow design professionals to draw the way they want by emulating the feel and freedom of working with pen and paper in a simple and elegant interface, that would be fun to use and easy to learn, and that would be used by designers to play with their designs in a way that is not possible with traditional design software. It also has user friendly buttons to make it easier to use.”

Google acquired @Last in March of 2006 and the software was renamed to Google SketchUp. The primary motive for the acquisition was for Google to incorporate the SketchUp technology into Google Earth, allowing for buildings and other structures to be represented in 3D in the Google Earth application. For Google SketchUp users, the application was infused with tools for importing geographic locations from Google Earth (and later, Google Maps) and also tools for exporting geo-located models of buildings and other structures. Soon after Google acquired SketchUp, they introduced the Google 3D Warehouse, an online repository where users could freely upload and download Google SketchUp models. At that point, a Google SketchUp user could upload a geo-located model to the Google 3D Warehouse and, if approved by Google, it would be published to the 3D Buildings layer in Google Earth and therefore viewable by millions of Google Earth viewers around the world.

At Google, the SketchUp team began offering Google SketchUp (the free version) and Google SketchUp Pro (the paid version similar to what had formerly been just “SketchUp”). The free version had many of the same features as the professional version and was aimed at getting as many geo-modelers to use the program as possible. Google SketchUp Pro was primarily used by professional designers as they required advanced features such as CAD file import/export.

Trimble acquired SketchUp from Google in June of 2012. In May of 2013 they announced SketchUp Pro 2013, the first version of the program under Trimble and the upgrade to what had been formerly known as Google SketchUp Pro 8. They also announced SketchUp Make 2013, the free version of the program and upgrade to what had been formerly known as Google SketchUp 8. Under Trimble, the SketchUp team has show interest in supporting the ability for 3rd party developers to extend the application through extensions (aka, ruby scripts or plugins). In line with this strategy, they launched the Extension Warehouse - an online repository where users could freely upload and download/install SketchUp extensions.

A brief history of SketchUp’s family of products:

  • 2000 SketchUp v. 1
  • 2002 SketchUp v. 2
  • 2003 SketchUp v. 3
  • 2004 SketchUp v. 4
  • 2004 SketchUp v. 5
  • 2006 Google 3D Warehouse
  • 2007 SketchUp v. 6
  • 2007 LayOut (beta)
  • 2008 SketchUp v. 7
  • 2008 LayOut v. 2
  • 2010 SketchUp v. 8
  • 2010 LayOut v. 3
  • 2013 SketchUp v. 2013
  • 2013 LayOut v. 2013
  • 2013 Extension Warehouse

Is SketchUp Free?

There is a free version of SketchUp called SketchUp Make. There is also a paid version of SketchUp called SketchUp Pro.

What’s the difference between SketchUp Make and SketchUp Pro?

SketchUp Make is a very capable and powerful tool for drawing in 3D. So why would you want to upgrade to SketchUp Pro? The following are a list of features/reasons that you would want to upgrade from SketchUp Make to SketchUp Pro:

  • If you use SketchUp for commercial purposes, the End User License Agreement for SketchUp states that you need to purchase SketchUp Pro
  • SketchUp Pro is bundled with LayOut, an application for creating 2D presentations of your SketchUp drawings
  • SketchUp Pro allows you to import and export from/to 2D and 3D CAD applications
  • You can only author Dynamic Components using SketchUp Pro

How and where to download SketchUp

To download and install SketchUp, follow these steps (HIGHLIGHT MAC AND PC):

  1. Go to www.sketchup.com
  2. Click on the red “Download SketchUp” button on the homepag
  3. On the next page, select whether you plan to use SketchUp for Work, Personal or Educational us
  4. Depending on your selection, fill-in the remaining information including whether you are on a PC or a Ma
  5. Be sure to check the box next to the license agreement (after you read it, of course!
  6. Then click on the red Download button

After the download is complete, you’ll need to run the installer file and you’ll have SketchUp ready to go. The only thing left to do is return to our website to start watching SketchUp tutorials!

Learning the basics for SketchUp

You know what you want to draw in 3D. And you’ve downloaded and installed SketchUp. Maybe you’ve even opened SketchUp and begun playing with the tools. You’re still a ways off from translating your ideas into a 3D SketchUp model. Congratulations!… we’ve all been there before.

Luckily, SketchUp is relatively easy and pain free to learn. And fortunately for you, we’re here to help.

Learning the Fundamentals

Like anything, SketchUp is much easier to use if you master the fundamentals first. If you’re a subscriber to our online SketchUp tutorial videos, you should start by watching SketchUp Level 1 & SketchUp for Everyone. They’ll teach you everything you need to know.

If you’re not a subscriber, the following are the cliff’s notes for what you need to know:

The Basic Drawing Tools

These are the tools that will help you draw 2-dimensional lines and shapes that will be the foundation of all of your 3D models. The easiest way to learn them is open SketchUp and launch the Instructor feature located in the top menu bar under Window > Instructor. A small window will appear with information about the tool you currently have selected. It’s a great feature for helping you learn basic functions in SketchUp Remember: Repetition is key to learning how to use these tools well… so practice, practice, practice

Try our SketchUp Level 1 tutorial for free to learn more about these tools.

The Navigation Tools

SketchUp is a 3D program, so you’ll need to get comfortable moving around in 3D space. There are two main skills to learn here:

  1. Each Navigation Tool: Click on each tool with the Instructor open and practice along with the example. Note: Make sure you’ve drawn something before navigating around your model.
  2. Navigating with your mouse: We recommend you use a 3-button, scroll wheel mouse with SketchUp. It allows you to orbit (press down on the center mouse wheel like a button), pan (press down on center mouse button AND hold the Shift key on your keyboard) and zoom (roll the center mouse wheel forward and backward).

Try our SketchUp Level 1 tutorial for free to learn more about these tools.

The Editing Tools

Move, extrude, rotate, edit and place 3D objects (and a whole lot more) with the editing tools. They all require you to first draw something in SketchUp or import an existing drawing first. Each tool is designed to help you more efficiently develop complex 3D models while remaining simple to use. As with the other tools, we suggest opening the Instructor and practicing the basic skills with each before moving on.

Try our SketchUp Level 1 tutorial for free to learn more about these tools.

Using Groups and Components

Whenever you create anything in SketchUp - a box, walls, a room, a house… anything - you’ll want to make it a Group or Component (right click on the object and select Make Group or Make Component). This allows you to keep each object in your model protected from merging with other objects (like a chair getting stuck to a floor or wall). Of course, there’s a lot more to why and when to use these features, but at least get into the habit of organizing your model into distinct parts and pieces.

Try our SketchUp Level 2 tutorial for free to learn more about these tools.

Of course, there are a number of other tools and features. However, these are the most basic things to practice first before moving-on.

Beyond the basics

Once you’ve learned these core concepts, you’re on your way to creating 3D models in SketchUp. However, your new challenge will be moving from creating Monopoly houses to more sophisticated spaces and objects. The best way to continue to expand your abilities will be to try your hand at more and more difficult drawings.

For our subscribers, we recommend you move-on to SketchUp Level 2 to learn how to build a basic house and/or Measure & Draw your Space to learn how to build a basic room. If you’re not a subscriber, try searching our YouTube channel for free tutorials that will give you inspirational examples to try. Either way, your progression depends on you stepping outside of your comfort zone and testing your new skills in a way that allows you to continue to practice.

Where to learn more about SketchUp

Shameless plug: Our School SketchUp tutorials website, of course! Seriously, we have over 50+ hours of video tutorials that will teach you the basics all of the way through to advanced topics. For inspiration, we also have a YouTube channel with another 10+ hours of free video tutorials on a smorgasbord of topics that will help expand your imagination about what’s possible in SketchUp.

What is the SketchUp 3D Warehouse?

SketchUp’s 3D Warehouse is the largest repository of free 3D content in the world. Anyone can use SketchUp’s 3D Warehouse to store their models and share them with the world. Similarly, anyone can download models from the 3D Warehouse into their own SketchUp projects to help fill-in the missing pieces. After all, why model everything from scratch when you have hundreds of thousands of objects—from sofas to starships—available to download for free?

Subscribers should watch the SketchUp for Everyone tutorial series to learn how to upload and download from the SketchUp 3D Warehouse.

Rubyscripts, plugins, Extensions, and the Extension Warehouse

SketchUp allows 3rd party programmers to extend SketchUp’s functionality through add-on Extensions (a.k.a., plugins or ruby scripts). This is beneficial to SketchUp users as programmers create Extensions that solve common problems, and often give away those Extensions for free. Even the paid Extensions can be worth the expense given the amount of time they save you by automating difficult 3D modeling tasks.

Users can browse through, download and install extensions from the SketchUp Extension Warehouse website, or from the Extension Warehouse tool inside of SketchUp.

SketchUp resources worth knowing about

The SketchUp community is very active and enthusiastic - a big win for you, the new SketchUp user! Here’s our list of favorite resources that every SketchUp user should know about: