1A: SketchUp 101

Since we will be telling stories that take place in versions of Carleton College that no longer exist, one of our primary collaborative efforts will be attempting to recreate elements of the college as it once was using 3D visualization and simulation techniques.  We will be discussing the theoretical implications of such a project throughout the term, but since the skills required to model in 3D are complex, we will begin practicing in week one.

SketchupLogoThe 3D software with the gentlest learning curve is SketchUp.  Formerly owned by Google, it puts an emphasis on ease of use and compatibility with other popular platforms like Google Earth.  This is the software that many of the 3D buildings you might have seen in Google Earth were created with. Despite the user-friendly goals, SketchUp is a powerful program used by industry professionals and will let you start making impressively detailed models very quickly, which can be exported in a variety of formats.

We will eventually be modeling buildings as accurately as possible, but it is useful to start with more free-form projects to get a feel for the various drawing, transformation and navigation tools SketchUp has to offer, so that’s what we will focus on here.


In class, we modeled a simple dog house to get a feel for the software.  (If you’d like to review that project at your own pace, you can watch a tutorial video of it here.)

Your assignment is to use the techniques we employed to make a model of the house you grew up in.  Don’t worry about photo-realistic accuracy, just try to get the basic features, colors and textures in place, so that someone who knows the house (your parents, say) could recognize it.  If you grew up in a ranch house, then your building should be long and contain only one row of windows, whereas if you grew up in a bungalow or a cape cod you’ll have a taller building with a half or full second row. You get the idea. And don’t worry about the inside!  We’re just focusing on the external features for now.

When you are happy with your model, export it as a 2D graphic and save it to the Google Drive shared folder.

During the next class we’ll set up blog access, and you’ll use this image to write your first post along with some thoughts on your process.  As you model, think about how easy/hard it was, what elements particularly bogged you down, what compromises you had to make, etc.  Also think about a technique or tool that you wish you had figured out sooner, so that you can provide a tip for other novice SketchUp users and share your knowledge.


There are millions of SketchUp tutorials available online (just google SketchUp + what-you-want-to-do and you’ll be overwhelmed with options), but here’s a targeted list of resources to get you started.

  • If you haven’t already, download and print out a Quick Reference Card, so that you can start using keyboard shortcuts to switch between tools and get good fast.
  • Watch the Getting Started with SketchUp tutorial videos.  The first two are particularly useful for exteriors, but the third and fourth will give you more advanced techniques and tool tips, if you’d like to explore further.
  • SketchUp has also put out a couple series of videos that let you watch pros at work and give you great advice.

Lynda.com is a paid service, so not open to everyone, but you can access its tutorials by logging in with your Carleton ID.  If you want a more structured course, their SketchUp Essential Training is a great place to start.


Feel free to leave a comment if you’re having trouble, or if you discover something really great, and feel free to respond if you know the answer to a question.

Happy modeling!


  1. I think SketchUp is generally pretty intuitive once you get the hang of it, but I sometimes find that it draws in directions I don’t want it to unless I’m really careful. 3D perspective can be hard!

  2. I enjoyed the experience of utilizing sketchup to create a simple 3D model. Even though it seemed a bit too simplistic, it was very helpful for me, as a novice, to have a general understanding of these forms of tools and to prepare for the more challenging softwares that we will encounter later on.

    • I entirely agree. Not to mention, it was a useful exercise just to get used to thinking about modeling in a third dimension, and what processes you needed to go through to create the layers required in a 3D model.

  3. I think SketchUp is useful in that it allows any users to design a 3D model without any particular or complex skills. However, it can get a little tedious because the angle I view the model affect the drawing.

    • I also have found the angle/perspective of the model slightly frustrating at a times, although I think it’s worth it to have the perspective available because it allows one to get a better sense of what a model would look like in real life.
      It was also a lot easier than doing architectural perspective drawing by hand!

    • I found the angle to be hard as well! In the Sims build mode, you can quickly flip it to a top-down view which makes it a little easier to see how things would look, but I’m not sure if SketchUp has a mode like that or not.

  4. I found SketchUp pretty easy to use, and quite addictive, other than round objects. However, I discovered that I had no idea what my house actually looked like, especially from above. What does the roof look like? What color is the house, actually? Is there a window there, or isn’t there? I had to start over entirely twice because I couldn’t figure out the basic shape of my house until I found it on google maps!

    • I had the same experience! I would think that I would know it better than my first draft showed by now.

    • Same here! I had a really hard time deciding on the size of the very first rectangular base of my house. It was also very difficult to keep the steps, windows, and walls of the house in proportion to man in the corner of Sketch Up.

  5. I found SketchUp pretty intuitive, which made it user friendly, and a good introduction to Hacking the Humanities. I particularly liked the different textures available to paint my house with; they made it more lifelike than expected. On the other hand, I also spent too long (my fault) on figuring out how to perfectly align my back porch stairs. While at times it was frustrating to get each piece of my house exactly how I wanted it, the happiness I experienced seeing my finished product and reflecting on the many skills I learned in that short period of time compensated for my negative feelings for it.

  6. SketchUp was a lot easier to use than other 3D modeling software that I have tried to use. I was surprised that the textures accurately reflected actual materials. I had a difficult time with different sections of the roof, but I figured it out in the end. Overall, my experience with SketchUp was good and enjoyed learning how to use it.

  7. I think SketchUp is pretty intuitive in regards to the tools and how they are meant to be used. The tools are also somewhat similar to the Sims 3 & 4 architecture tools, which made them much easier to use since I’ve played around with the games a lot. I had a lot of trouble with getting roofs to fit properly, since I had a few different levels of roofs. It was pretty frustrating to not be able to quite drag things the way I wanted them, but I think that makes sense since it’s primarily architects who use the program for real-life modeling and need their projects to obey the laws of physics.

  8. I personally enjoyed using SketchUp. While frustrating at times, I liked how user friendly it is. For people who are beginning to venture into 3-D modeling, I think SketchUp is an excellent way to start learning.

    • I completely echo this. At first, I was sort of intimidated by the endless amount of tools that we had to utilize. After watching one or two youtube videos, I found SketchUp to be really user friendly and easy to navigate. Although it’ll take a while to build intricate things, it’s definitely an excellent tool for beginners.

  9. I found SketchUp pretty intuitive, although there were some aspects of it that did bother me. I wish there was an easier way to make lines parallel to other lines, or to add length to an existing line so that there isn’t an angle. I did enjoy using it a lot, though–I found it hard to stop adding detail to my house. However, I did realize that I am not very sure about what my house looks like, including where certain roofs intersect, the shape and relationship between some rooms, and basically the entire upper level.

    • I was also frustrated by some of those details, especially finding ways to make lines parallel. That made the placement of windows difficult, because I wanted to have adjacent windows aligned properly, and had to spend a lot of time adjusting them. Maybe there is a tool to more quickly lock things in relation to each other, but I wasn’t able to figure it out. I think though that the more I use SketchUp the more strategies and tools I’ll discover, making each project easier.

      • “I wish there was an easier way to make lines parallel to other lines”
        There is! Hover over any line while drawing to make your current one snap to parallel http://help.sketchup.com/en/article/70141

        “or to add length to an existing line so that there isn’t an angle”
        Not sure exactly what you mean here, but you should be able to extend an existing line by clicking and dragging an endpoint with the move tool.

    • To create parallel lines you could try opt+M– this creates a copy of the object, which you can move along a plane.

  10. The SketchUp assignment was tricky but lots of fun. I made lots of mistakes when it came to typing in measurements for the rectangles so it always took a few tries to get it right. My question is, is there a way to go back and change the size of shapes I’ve already made?

  11. Having experience using Photoshop and InDesign in High-School, SketchUp works in a similar way. There seems to be an endless amount of tools to utilize to create, tweak, and fix any aspect of the content that you are working with. Getting familiar with the tools comes easier when handling them more often, so I’m eager to work more on this software.

  12. Overall my experience with SketchUp was fun, funny, and slightly frustrating. It was interesting watching my house being somewhat replicated in this virtual world of building. What frustrated me the most was the inability to see all sides of the building; this led to a missing side of the house, the grass leaning towards the sky, and several other crazy instances. If I had understood the architecture of my home in more depth, I think my experience would have gone a lot smoother.

  13. Sketchup is certainly an exciting tool. Perhaps what I struggled with the most was simply moving, copying, and pasting things. I had difficulty selecting the right item (and nothing more), getting it to move along the right plane, and getting it to lock into the desired position. I got better at this in time.

  14. Sketchup is not my first experience working with 3D, but certainly the most fun one. I like how intuitive and simple all the tools are. What I appreciated most was the existence of many models (windows,trees, doors etc) that you can easily import into your project. The only thing that bothered me was switching between tools, which can be quite time consuming. Or maybe I am just not used to hot keys yet.

  15. I actually used Sketch Up once in middle school for a science experiment. I remember being intrigued by the program’s push/pull tool and the freedom to create anything I wanted. This time around, it was still very exciting. I really enjoyed creating the house that I grew up in, although I wish found out how to create perfectly even and symmetrical lines for windows and doors sooner as that would’ve saved me lots of time.

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