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SketchUp Basics

I’ve always found navigating through the three actual dimensions difficult. Numerous bruises and scrapes finally forced me to quit trying to walk and chew gum at the same time. My early attempts at navigating three virtual dimensions in Google SketchUp offered similar challenges (with fewer injuries). Once I got my bearings though, I found Sketchup to be a wonderful, user friendly tool. However, learning some basics helped make that transition much smoother. Hopefully, the tips here will help you enjoy a similar experience.

First a little background.

What is SketchUp?

SketchUp is 3D modeling software, with which you can create and edit nearly anything in 3D. For example, with a model of your house, you can walk around the outside, down the halls, and into the rooms. Of course, you can do that in real life already, so why bother creating a virtual model? Suppose you’re considering a remodel. With SketchUp, you can quickly add walls, windows, and doors, or add and move furniture and fixtures. Then you can take a look from any angle. Just about any changes you can make in real life can be accomplished here first, before you lift a finger (or before you smack that finger with a hammer). Frequently, construction ideas sound much better than they look. With SketchUp, you can take the guesswork out of the equation.

Or, you can just have fun.

Before SketchUp, 3D modeling software was usually found only in the hands of highly educated and skilled technicians, who probably worked for someone with deep pockets. 3D modeling was complicated and expensive . Then, in 1999, developers designed SketchUp, intuitive 3D software that could be used by the more technically challenged among us. It was still pretty expensive (around $500.00) until Google acquired it in 2006 and began to offer it for free. It’s still available for free and the following directions will show you how to get it.


Before you get to the fun, you first need to download and install SketchUp. The download can be found here. On the right side of your screen, you’ll need to click on this:


The download is fairly large and may take some time. Pour yourself a cup of coffee and get ready to create your first model. Each browser (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, etc,) handles downloads differently and your next step will depend on which you use. When the installation is complete, a shortcut will be sent to your desktop (see below). Double click on this and you’re almost ready for the fun I promised.



This is the Welcome screen. When you see this, you’ll need to choose a template. It doesn’t really matter which you choose. You can change the template later. I chose the first, Simple Template – Feet and Inches. If there’s a checkmark in the box at the lower left, the Welcome screen will appear each time you open SketchUp. If it’s unchecked, the next time you open SketchUp, you’ll be taken directly to a project window. Click on Start using SketchUp at the lower left and Voila, you’re ready to go.


Your screen may appear slightly different, but don’t worry. You can adjust it to suit your needs. Each time you begin, a person will be standing near the center. As you can see, this one is surrounded by a blue box. I don’t want her in the picture, so her image has been selected by clicking it (the blue box indicates a selected item). Now I’ll hit the delete key and I’ve got a blank slate on which to begin.

Let’s start slow. Select the rectangle tool (pictured below). I generally start at the Origin (where all the axes intersect). Hold the left mouse button and drag in the direction of the arrows. You can make this as large or small as you want. Let go and you should have a rectangle.



Now, grab the Push Pull tool (pictured below). Do the same thing here. Hold the mouse button, drag upward and let go. You now have a 3D object.


Now draw another rectangle on top of the object. In the picture below, I started at the corner, but you can start anywhere you want, including the sides or bottom.


Here, I’ve enlarged one of the little ever-present pop ups that at first seem annoying. However, they serve a useful purpose. This one lets me know that my rectangle is actually perfectly square. Keep an eye on these, and you’ll be glad you did. They’re actually very helpful.


Once again, grab your Push Pull tool, click, and drag upward on the rectangle you’ve just drawn. Of course, you don’t have to pull up. It’s called Push Pull for a reason. Now that you’ve done that, take the Push Pull tool to any surface (face) that you can see. Click, drag, and watch what happens.

Now, try some other tools. If you hover over each in the toolbar, a little pop up will let you know what they’re called. With these you can either edit the object you’ve already drawn, or create another one.

SketchUp offers so many tools, it’s hard to know which to include here. I’ve chosen to highlight the ones I think will be most beneficial to beginning users.


The drawing tools. By default, the drawing tools in the top toolbar include-from left to right-Line, Rectangle, Circle, and Arc.


The navigation tools. The navigation tools include-from left to right- Orbit, Pan, Zoom, and Zoom Extents. These are all very useful, but when you’re first starting out, the Zoom Extents tool comes in particularly handy. If you get lost (you’ve moved either too far away, or zoomed in too close), click on this and watch what happens.

If you don’t have a three button mouse with a scroll wheel, you might consider getting one. It’s an almost indispensable tool for SketchUp users, particularly when using navigation tools. If you’re already using one, here are some helpful hints.

-Click and hold the scroll wheel and move the mouse to Orbit. This changes the angle of your view.

-Roll the scroll wheel to zoom in and out.

-Hold the Shift key while holding the scroll wheel and drag the mouse to Pan.

I couldn’t finish this without mentioning the 3D Warehouse. There, you can find thousands of SketchUp models available to be downloaded. You can either type in a search for something you’d like to see, or browse the collections. Some spectacular work is on display there. Once you’ve downloaded a model, you can edit it, just as you would one you created yourself. When you’ve found a model you like, look for the Download Model button (shown below) and select which version you want. I usually select the most recent, generally found at the top of the list.


I hope you have as much fun with SketchUp as I do.