Do Architects Use Sketchup?

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When SketchUp was developed by a couple of architecture students attending the University of Colorado in 2003, they had a vision of developing a piece of design software that was as easy to use as taking a Sharpie to a roll of trace paper. SketchUp was born and was almost immediately given a stigma from the design community for being too simplistic, and incapable of properly communicating design ideas up to the standard architectural visualization had established long before.

It was a cub among lions, with the likes of 3DS Max, VRAY, Rhino, and Maya standing tall and powerful atop the mountain of visualization software. SketchUp had to claw and fight its way towards that unreachable peak, and did so admirably, as more and more professionals started turning to it because it was a tool that made their lives easier.

Now, more than a decade after its initial release, you’d be hard-pressed to find an architecture office that doesn’t have SketchUp installed on every one of its machines. It has become an industry staple and something that architects around the world have grown to love.

Sketchup (formerly Google Sketchup) is 3D modelling software that’s easy to use and has an extensive database of user-created models available for download. You can use it to sketch (or import) models to assist with all kinds of projects—furniture building, video game creation, 3D printing, interior design, and whatever else you can think of.

With so many digital design software available, it can often be difficult to choose one to get started with. Each has its tools and methods that you need to get to grips with. Even so, there is one software that tends to stand out as a great choice for beginners. SketchUp has long served as an introduction to 3D modelling for student architects.

Simplicity is at the heart of SketchUp. Many students point to how easy it is to learn as a major selling point. You can have basic models created in a matter of minutes. This also helps to make the digital design software fun to use. You can jump straight in without having to learn about an array of complex tools. Check out our range of Melbourne home builders for your dream house.

Simplicity aside, SketchUp still has a lot to offer the professional architect too. The user-friendly interface may make the software easy to get to grips with. However, some exploration shows that it has just as much depth as any other digital design software. Many professionals use it to create concepts and organize workflows.

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What Is Sketchup?

SketchUp is an intuitive 3D modelling application that lets you create and edit 2D and 3D models with a patented “Push and Pull” method. The Push and Pull tool allows designers to extrude any flat surface into 3D shapes. All you have to do is click an object and then start pulling it until you like what you see.

SketchUp is a program used for a wide range of 3D modelling projects like architectural, interior design, landscape architecture, and video game design, to name a few of its uses.

The program includes drawing layout functionality, surface rendering, and supports third-party plugins from the Extension Warehouse. The app has a wide range of applications, including in the worlds of architecture, interior design, landscaping, and video game design. Sketchup has also found success with people who want to create, share, or download 3D models for use with 3D printers.

Sketchup was created in 1999 by @Last software. In 2006, Google acquired SketchUp after @Last software created a plugin for Google Earth that caught the eye of the tech giant. In 2012, Trimble Navigation (now Trimble Inc.) acquired Sketchup from Google and expanded the app by launching a new website that hosts plugins and extensions.

What Are the Different Versions of Sketchup?

SketchUp comes in three different versions to suit different needs:

  • SketchUp Make: SketchUp Make is a freeware version that you can download after signing up for a free account. Make is free-to-use for home, personal and educational use and it begins with a free 30-day trial of SketchUp Pro. Although Make is no longer updated following the November 2017 release, you can still download the installer to use on your computer.
  • SketchUp Pro: SketchUp Pro ($695) is the premium version of the software. It contains added functionality like the ability to import and export different file formats, access to a 2D documentation software, layout tools, and a Style Builder that lets you create custom edge styles for models.
  • SketchUp Free: The successor to Make, SketchUp Free was released in November 2017 as a web-based application. To use it, you must sign up for a free Timble ID with a valid email address. SketchUp Free lacks a lot of the features Pro has, but if you’re just building and viewing 3D models for personal use (or looking for something that can print to your 3D printer), this is a great place to start.

Hit Up the Sketchup 3D Warehouse

Now that you’ve got SketchUp installed, it’s time to get started by searching through the 3D warehouse, where you can view and download pretty much anything ever created on the platform.

3D Warehouse is a database of user-created models available for anyone to access. Just head on over to their website and start searching through the seemingly endless warehouse of models. I wasn’t joking when I said you could find pretty much anything on here. They have everything from simple buildings to an entire medieval city!

Here are a few interesting things you can find using the warehouse:

  • Game pieces
  • Couches
  • Water heaters
  • Dice for board games
  • An iPhone
  • New York City

That’s just an eclectic selection, but you can find models to help with whatever project you’ve got going. MJS Construction Group has the best range of home builders Melbourne services to help you create your dream house.

Let’s Take A Look At Exactly Why That Is.

It’s Fast and Easy

This is probably the biggest reason architects love SketchUp. For design firms, time is money, and being able to get things done correctly without burning out your entire staff with late nights and Chinese take-out is essential to the long-term health of the office.

SketchUp can start with very broad strokes, but also get incredibly detailed. Some firms geek out their SketchUp models down to the screw before ever taking it into the construction document production phase of a project. This allows for an insane amount of flexibility and ensures anyone in the firm can pick up the design and move it forward.


Even if you’ve never used it before, learning the ins and outs of SketchUp is as easy as apple pie. Conversely, it might take a young designer months before feeling comfortable enough to use a program like Rhino to build a design model.

Clients Love It

What’s good for the client is good for the architect. Anyone can download SketchUp and use it for free, and the user-friendly interface makes it easy for even the most uneducated clients to use. One of the best ways to communicate the merits of design is to give your clients the ability to zoom, pan, and orbit their way around the building model to get a sense and scale of the thing.

This amazes clients and makes them feel powerful enough to understand the unbuilt work in a way they probably couldn’t with 2D construction plans and elevations.

Furthermore, SketchUp can be utilized in design meetings to show the client how the design might change by quickly shifting things around in real-time. This transforms design meetings into being helpful, rather than 4-hour affairs that end with confusion, contentment, and sometimes anger. Sometimes being patient with people who don’t do architecture for a living can be a challenge. Eliminate the knowledge gap and use SketchUp.

It’s More Powerful Than Ever

In recent years, SketchUp has effectively shed the stigma of being a lousy visualization tool. With plugins for most mainstream rendering engines like VRAY and Maxwell, your SketchUp model can quickly transform into a high-powered rendering machine that produces images and animations that rival most other commonly used modellers.

This is huge for architects, who now have the capability to keep their visualization production work in-house. While this isn’t always the best business allocation of company time, being able to handle all presentation and marketing materials by the people behind the design will always make that work better. SketchUp is the cheap, easy, relatively painless alternative to outsourcing that work – which can be expensive and difficult to convey the most important aspects of the design.

And with Google’s vast library of components and user-created models available, it has never been easier to quickly populate a scene and send it out the door for the consumption of clients and builders.‍

SketchUp has a bit of a rocky road to success, but now it in many ways shines because of those challenges. It continues to adhere to the vision that was laid out by its creators over a decade ago. But now, with the support of a vast community of architects and designers, it has never been more of an essential piece of architectural software. It is now a full-grown lion, capable of doing just about anything and everything under the sun.

Sketchup vs. 3ds MAX for architects

3ds Max reached its peak mostly because of the variety of tools used for modelling, the flexibility on its workflow, but also in the field of animation. Although there are two huge problems for beginners:

  • Its price: Face it. Beginning as a CG Artist doesn’t exactly mean you have about 5.000 dollars to spend into the licence of only one software, when it is almost 100% sure you will also need some other software to compliment your workflow.
  • 3ds Max Interface: The first time you face 3ds Max, you don’t know where to start to make things work. Unless you take a course at an academy where they teach you the proper way of modelling, lighting, texturing and rendering, you will find yourself at the very same place I was the first time I opened 3ds Max. For me, video tutorials were my teachers.

With Sketchup, both of these problems are non-existent. Previous versions of Sketchup (Google Sketchup) were for free, and its friendly workspace invites users to try and test as many shapes as you can make in a short while.

Perhaps today, Sketchup is both the gate and bridge for those beginners in the industry for familiarizing not only with the method of work but also with the criteria, terms managed by professional artists as well as a way of exercising your creativity to bring your dreams into the 3D realm.

Taking a step away from what could be the reasons for working with Sketchup, my aim here is to teach you how to work with Sketchup for architectural visualization. Starting from the very core of the architectural project itself, to making your renders look photorealistic enough to convince people there are pictures of what could be that place if your building was built there.

For starting with your project, those who are familiar with the methods and criteria for architectural projects at University may start playing with common 3D shapes like spheres, prisms, etc. Splitting, extruding, intersecting shapes or whatever comes to your mind as a way of trying to make a “form” you feel comfortable with. It is a very plastic way of creating architecture, and more likely the approach of a sculptor for creating art. Those who believe in “function” as the primary force that gives you the hints for the shape may say I am insane, but in the end, the workflow of creating your 3D building has many points in common with the first method.

Sketchup is the very same. Unless you have previously created a 2D drawing of your idea or an architectural plan of your building, then you are going to start working this way to create your 3D model. If your situation is the second case I mentioned, then it is just working your way out with the Pencil Tool, recreating the paths you already had drawn, and extruding for creating your 3D geometry.

Sketchup can be customized to increase your efficiency with many plugins. Rendering, given the fact Sketchup doesn’t have its rendering engine, is only achieved via plugins; but also many other tools can enhance your performance while creating 3D Models.

SketchUp Tips for Architects

Use Photoshop for Plant Models

SketchUp has an expansive 3D Warehouse. It contains many pre-made models that you can insert into your drawings. However, it falls when it comes to planting life. For some reason, the warehouse contains very few convincing images of trees and plants. Those it does have to tend to be fairly unrealistic and have large file sizes.

Importing such large files into SketchUp will slow the software down. You’ll also find the pre-made vegetation is at odds with the quality of the rest of your model. You could create some models yourself, but that takes time. Instead, use Photoshop to help you along.

Create a few decent drawings of vegetation in Photoshop and save each as a PNG file. You can then export the PNG into the model and have a much more realistic looking tree or plant that takes less file space than one form the 3D warehouse. Better yet, this is a big timesaver. It’s easy to spend up to 15 minutes searching for plant models in the 3D warehouse. Making your own through Photoshop can halve that time.

Using Measurement Tools

One of the big problems with digital design software is trying to visualize your 3D model on a 2D screen. You have to get around a lot of limitations imposed on you due to the computer screen. This goes for SketchUp, as it does for most modelling software.

One of the biggest issues is aligning your models on the right plane. It would help if you considered the x, y, and z axes in everything that you do. A change to the model on one axe will cause changes on the others. The same goes for moving the model around. This leads to the problem of lines failing to match up when you switch views. What may look great across the x-axis could be a complete mess when you check it on the other axes. Check out our range of dual occupancy builder for your dream house.

SketchUp offers a few tools to help you get around this issue. The most valuable of these is the Tape Measure and Protractor tools. This marks out the three main axes so you can see them at all times. The key benefit is the ability to figure out how your changes will affect the model in the entire 3D space.

Use Good Rendering Software

SketchUp can help you do many things. You can create great models and bring entire teams together to work on a single project. One of the few areas where it falls a little is rendering. The software isn’t built to help you achieve photorealism in your renders. That doesn’t mean you should stop using it.

All you need to do is find a software that will help you make great renders. You can integrate a variety of software into SketchUp for this purpose. Maya and 3DS Max both have solid rendering capabilities. However, the best software for the job is V-Ray. Used by professionals in an array of industries, V-Ray can create amazingly realistic renders of your models. Combining it with SketchUp is often all you will need for professional results.

There are options if you don’t want to invest in rendering software yet. SketchUp also integrates with several free rendering packages. These include Indigo Renderer and Kerkythea Render Engine. They won’t offer the same results as V-Ray, but they can help with basic renders.

Understand Your Measurement Tools

When working in SketchUp, you will find yourself using a lot of measurement tools. You need to change lots of data to create your models. This data includes angles and the dimensions of your model. This is something that SketchUp shares with a lot of digital design software. For example, the AutoCAD software uses similar measurement tools to help you get the job one.

The key similarity between the two is that you won’t need to select a text box when entering your measurements. In most cases, SketchUp will recognize what you’re trying to do and will handle the selection for you.

This makes building models both fast and precise. Correct use of your measurement tools will ensure you create professional-grade models. Learn how measurements affect your models and apply what you learn to your work.

Creating Section Animations

The animation is a key weapon in the architect’s arsenal. With a few animations, you can show what your models will look like when you bring them to life. For example, you can use animations to show how people will interact in a crowded building model. Or, your animations will show how a specific part of your model operates. You can even use them to move from floor to floor of a building model.

Despite the importance of animations, a lot of digital design software doesn’t offer users many tools for animating. This is not the case with SketchUp. You can animate all sorts of things using the software. Best of all, the process is very easy to pick up and learn.

All you need to do is add scenes into the software’s animation tool. Change the view you would like so you create a sequence of scenes. From there, you can create transitions between each scene to smooth things out. You can build a fly-through of your building in no time at all. This allows you to present your model more professionally during big meetings.

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Using Clicks for Selections

Making selections is key to success in any digital design software. You will make one whenever you want to edit a face or edge. SketchUp offers a unique take on the selection process, and it all comes down to how many clicks of a mouse you do.

It works like this. A single click will select a single face of an object. This will be the fact that you have placed the mouse’s cursor over. You will use the single click when changing the colour or texture of a face. A double click selects both the face of the object and the edges that surround it. This allows you to mess around with the entire face while accounting for its edges. Adding a third click into the mix allows you to select the entire object.

It’s not a tricky system at all. Still, it can take some adjusting to if you have used other types of digital design software. After a little practice, you will find that you master the selection process and can build your models quickly.

Using Textures

SketchUp has a reputation for being at its best when creating simple models. We even mentioned in a previous tip how you would need to use a separate rendering software if you’re going for the more realistic look. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t achieve realistic textures for your models using SketchUp. It just takes a little work.

The key is importing. You can import an array of different textures into the SketchUp software. Better yet, the software allows you to modify these textures. Using its editing tools, you can create the exact texture you need to add the right finishes to your models.

So where can you get these textures? There are plenty of resources online. One of the best is the Mayang Free Texture Library. There you will find textures for almost any kind of model. From metal cladding to different types of the stone wall, there is a texture for every purpose. Best of all, they are free to download. A bit of time spent on searching for and editing textures will allow you to do so much more when using SketchUp.

Check out the Extension Warehouse

As it’s one of the most popular digital design software, it should come as no surprise that SketchUp has a big community behind it. Developers constantly work to create plugins to improve the basic functionality of the software. Large companies create the most commonly used plugins, but many independent developers contribute to the community as well.

The point is that you can do much more with SketchUp than you may have thought. For example, some plugins help you to create and edit curved lines. Others will help you create 3D prints or provide tools for building specific models quickly.

You can turn SketchUp into a more professional digital design software using the right plugins. Just head on over to the extension library. There you will find plugins for almost anything that you might need. There are over 500 to choose from. Each also comes with reviews from the community so you can find out how it works and if it will offer what you need. 

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Learn the Hotkeys

Hotkeys will help you to speed up the SketchUp Workflow. It would be best if you learned what they are. Plenty of websites have lists of hotkeys for you to use, and it helps to learn as many as possible through repeated use. They will become second nature in time, and you will find your work speeds up as a result.

That’s not all, though. The makers of the SketchUp digital design software know that many users want to create their hotkeys. You can do that by heading to Window and selecting Preferences. From there, click on Shortcuts. Here you can edit existing hotkeys and create brand new ones.

SketchUp is a very powerful tool for architects and designers, as it gives you a realistic view of the actual project you are creating. It turns the pencil drawing into a flexible 3D model which you can orbit in every angle and get a clear conception of the exterior and interior of the building that with simple tips you can easily improve your SketchUp skills.

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