Young Architect Guide: 10 Tips and Tricks for Success in SketchUp

Realize SketchUp’s full potential with this handy cheat sheet.

Paul Keskeys Paul Keskeys

Architizer's new image-heavy daily newsletter, The Plug, is easy on the eyes, giving readers a quick jolt of inspiration to supercharge their days. Plug in to the latest design discussions by subscribing. 


SketchUp is a simple piece of modeling software with hidden complexities, and holds a host of tricks up its sleeve that can help you create anything from a single door handle to an entire city in great detail. Compiling a list of tips for the program feels like an almost impossible task given the range of in-built tools and add-ons now available, but here are 10 to get you on your way to realizing SketchUp’s full potential.

We’ve tried to include a wide variety, from basic pointers on groups and components to more advanced modeling techniques — dive in, and if you have more tips that aren’t mentioned here, be sure to share them over on Facebook!

1. Get your model in order using groups and components

If you are just starting out, it is vital you get accustomed to using groups and components from the outset. These allow you to isolate and edit different parts of your model without interfering with surrounding objects. Components work as duplicable modules — if you modify one, all the other copies of this element will automatically change, too, saving you valuable time. Check out a quick guide here.

2. Utilize the SketchUp warehouse

Beyond the obvious fun to be had by importing all manner of iconic structures from the warehouse (from Utzon’s Sydney Opera House to the Death Star), SketchUp’s ever-growing warehouse includes a whole host of objects that help give your model a great sense of scale. People, furniture, plants, and trees are particularly useful — check out the library here.

3. Add context by importing satellite imagery and topography

Following Google’s purchase of SketchUp back in 2006, the integration between this program and the tech giant’s other resources has improved dramatically. One neat trick is the ability to create contextual site models by importing not only satellite imagery from Google Maps or Earth, but also existing buildings and topography — check out the in-depth tutorial over here.

4. Create spheres, spindles, and more with the follow-me tool

Trying to recreate the futuristic spheres of the Oriental Pearl Tower or perhaps the globular observation deck in Kenzo Tange’s Fuji TV Headquarters? Simply draw two intersecting circles, then spin one around its central axis using the follow-me tool to create a perfect sphere. The same technique can be used to create ornate spindles for balustrades; YouTuber Albert Lackovic shows you how.

5. Create tensile structures with the Soap Skin and Bubble plugin

My all-time favorite plugin is the Soap Skin and Bubble tool, which allows you to create a stretched membrane between lines of any form and orientation — and then allows you to “blow up” the surface like a balloon! It’s perfect for creating tensile structures like BIG and Heatherwick’s new Googleplex or ETFE pillows like those covering Grimshaw’s Eden Project bio-domes.

6. Explore material textures

Despite SketchUp’s basic, diagrammatic aesthetics, it handles photographic textures surprisingly well. Try importing a texture to the materials palette, then modify it with the editing tools to create precisely the finish you want. A great resource for surface textures is the Mayang Free Texture Library, where you can find everything from rusted metal cladding to dry stone walls.

7. Create section animations

The animation tool in SketchUp is remarkably straightforward to pick up; just add scenes and then tweak the transitions between them to create a simple fly-through. For even more explanative animations, though, try transitioning from one horizontal section to another so you can show clients each floor of the building in turn — check out a full tutorial here.

8. Add realistic light and shadow with free rendering software

There are a host of programs that allow you to transform your SketchUp model with photorealistic effects — 3DS Max, Maya, and V-Ray are prime examples — but most of them cost a pretty penny. To experiment for free, try Kerkythea Render Engine or Indigo Renderer, which afford decent ray-tracing results for no upfront cost.

9. Pimp your SketchUp toolbar with a plethora of plugins

The basic tools in SketchUp can take you a long way, but plugins are essential for two reasons: some help you build structures that would give you all manner of headaches otherwise (see article number five), and others help you speed up your workflow beyond belief — special ‘hide’ tools and ‘selection’ tools are great examples. Check out the brilliantly named for a full library of add-ons.

SketchUp City via the Skycraper Page

10. Learn more with SketchUcation

SketchUp is much like a classic 1980s computer game: easy to learn, difficult to master. These tips just scratch the surface of the program’s potential, but you can learn much more over on the SketchUcation forums where beginners and experts alike post questions and answers on all manner of SketchUp-related conundrums.

Architizer's new image-heavy daily newsletter, The Plug, is easy on the eyes, giving readers a quick jolt of inspiration to supercharge their days. Plug in to the latest design discussions by subscribing. 


Paul Keskeys Author: Paul Keskeys
Paul Keskeys is Editor in Chief at Architizer. An architect-trained editor, writer and content creator, Paul graduated from UCL and the University of Edinburgh, gaining an MArch in Architectural Design with distinction. Paul has spoken about the art of architecture and storytelling at many national industry events, including AIANY, NeoCon, KBIS, the Future NOW Symposium, the Young Architect Conference and NYCxDesign. As well as hundreds of editorial publications on Architizer, Paul has also had features published in Architectural Digest, PIN—UP Magazine, Archinect, Aesthetica Magazine and PUBLIC Journal.
Read more articles by Paul

On Starchitecture and Star Destroyers: Your Weekend Must-Reads

Our regular news roundup: Madness in L.A., a Mall by Leeser, Robin Hood, RIBA, and the Stars Align.. .

A Bridge to the Future: WEISS / MANFREDI’s Cornell Tech Incubator Unveiled

A sliver of land wedged neatly in the middle of the East River, Roosevelt Island has a fascinating a rchitectural history dating back to the 18th century: the 1796 Blackwell House remains intact as the sixth oldest house in New York City. Home to a penitentiary and hospital prior to its rebirth in the last half-century…