10 Sketchup Tips Every Modeler Should Know

Are you a Sketchup noob, looking to jump right in and start creating amazing 3D models? Before you skim over the help menu or spend hours watching video tutorials, learn these few tips and you’ll be modeling in no time.

Sketchup: No Instructions Needed

Most people know that Sketchup has the reputation of being the easiest way to learn 3D modeling. So easy, in fact, that a lot of people (including myself) jump right in without reading any sort of manual or help file and try to start modeling. We just choose a tool by looking at the icon and guessing at what it actually does.

Hmmm, this rectangle looking thing must create a rectangle… Clicking on the screen, you quickly discover how to draw something. Woo hoo! You then click on the button with the red arrow on it (push/pull) and extrude your first 3D shape in Sketchup…

To be able to jump right into a program like this and actually be successful at creating something is an incredible accomplishment for the developers who create and maintain Sketchup. But I’ve discovered that there are a lot of people out there who start out with Sketchup, but never take the next step and learn a few tricks that keep them on the right track. They quickly become frustrated when things don’t act the way we expect them to in Sketchup. We learn bad habits, or we spend so much time doing things that are actually really simple once you know a few tips.

I was one of those people. For the longest time, I didn’t know about groups or components. I just drew everything “out in the wild” and everything stuck to each other. It was a mess. If I ever needed to make any changes, the whole model would get screwed up. But eventually, I learned a couple things that I wish someone had told me when I had first started with Sketchup.

In this post, I wanted to give you my list of the things that EVERY Sketchup modeler should know and use. If you practice all of these tricks, you will prevent a lot of frustration and anguish.

1. Use a 3-Button Mouse To Navigate

3 button MouseDon’t even think about clicking on the orbit or zoom button on the toolbar. You need to use a 3 button mouse to navigate in Sketchup. Although, John Bacus blew my mind at MakerFaire 2012 where I witnessed him navigating flawlessly in Sketchup using his MacBook trackpad.

The middle scroll wheel on your mouse is actually a button too! If you click it and hold it down, Sketchup will temporarily activate the orbit tool. This will this save you a ton of time by not having to go back and forth activating the orbit tool by clicking the toolbar. The best part is that the middle mouse button only temporarily activates the orbit tool. This means you could be in the middle of drawing a rectangle, hold the middle mouse button to orbit around for a better perspective, then finish the rectangle once you’re done orbiting. This works while using ANY tool.

2. Use Groups and Components

Do you want your model to be organized? Do you want the ability to hide different “parts” of your model so you can work on other things that may be hidden behind something? Do you want to retain the ability to make changes to parts of your model without screwing up the rest of it? If you answered yes to all of these, you should be using groups and components. If not, you should still be using groups and components! I can’t stress this enough. This is my Number 1 recommendation to anyone using Sketchup. Start using groups and components as soon as possible.

Groups isolate parts of your geometry, and protect them from one another. It allows you to manipulate and move a collection of geometry, rather than having to select each piece individually. You can also create groups within groups. Using the Outliner Window, you get an organized hierarchy of your model geometry, allowing you to stay organized while you’re modeling.

To create a group, select multiple entities, right click, and select “Make Group.” To make a component, select “Make Component” instead. Components allow you to create identical copies of something. If you make changes to one instance of a component, all the other instances of that component change as well.

3. Making Multiple Copies

Most people are used to the idea of using copy/paste, or CTRL + C and CTRL + V for the same effect. Although you can do that in Sketchup, that’s not the best way to move or copy something.

Copy in Sketchup
First, select the object you wish to copy. (Make sure it’s in a group, see # 2).Then, with the Move Tool, click once to start the move. Then, tap the CTRL button on your keyboard. This tells Sketchup you want to make a copy. Move it a specified distance from the original by typing that distance on your keyboard and pressing enter.

For multiple copies, equally spaced apart, tell Sketchup how many copies you want. Press 10* ENTER to make ten copies spaced apart the same distance as the original copy. Or press /10 to create 10 copies in between the original copy.

4. Lock Axis With Arrow keys

When you’re trying to draw a line or move something, it’s sometimes hard to get it to move in the direction you want. But just by tapping one of the arrow keys on your keyboard while you’re moving, you’ll lock the object to an axis. Up arrow is the blue axis, left arrow is the green axis, and right arrow is the red axis.

TIP: You can also you the SHIFT key while aligned to an axis to lock it to that axis. Locking the axis also allows you to reference other points in your model to align your object to.

5. Use multiple steps for complex moves

If you’re trying to move an object “down and to the right, and a little bit towards the back”, it’s sometimes hard to get Sketchup to understand where exactly you’re trying to move it to. One trick that really helps is to just think of the move one axis at a time.

First, get the height positioned properly. Lock the object to the blue axis, and reference another point or define a set distance. Next, align the green axis and move the object, then finally the red axis. Doing it in three separate steps allows you to precisely position an object within your model without having to align multiple axes at the same time.

6. Select multiple entities

Selecting in Sketchup
With the Select Tool, if you click on a face, it will become selected. If you want to select a face and it’s connected edges, just double click it. To select all connected entities of that object, triple click it. Whenever you are creating a new group, you’ll want to triple click to select all connected geometry. Remember that if you are trying to select something that’s within a group, you need to double click the group to open it first.

TIP: You can also select multiple entities by dragging a selection box around the parts you want to select.

7. Create Guides with the Tape Measure Tool

Sketchup guides
Quickly after creating a few basic models in Sketchup, you’ll want to start creating things that have specific dimensions. One way to reference specific points in space is to create guides. To create a guide, clicking on an edge (not a point) with the Tape Measure tool. Drag your mouse out along the axis you’d like to create the guide. Remember you can lock an axis using the arrow keys… Type in the distance you’d like the guide to be from the original edge.

Sketchup will now reference that guide when you hover close to it. You can create multiple guides adjacent to each other to reference their intersection.

8. Don’t click the Value Control Box (VCB)

Sketchup VCB
There’s a box on the bottom right corner of the Sketchup window that shows you dimensions as you are working with different tools. Many people have a tendency to think that this is some sort of command prompt that you can click in to type a dimension. It’s not. It just shows the output of different dimensions as you work with them in Sketchup.

I know it’s confusing because sometimes I’ll even tell people “Type in your dimension in the VCB”, which technically isn’t accurate. So here’s what it does; If you draw a rectangle, you’ll see the size of the rectangle show up in the VCB, actively changing as you stretch the rectangle. It’s telling you how big the rectangle is as you make it. Once you complete the rectangle, you can define your own dimensions, you don’t even need to click anything, just type it in. ex. 4',58" ENTER.

The VCB will show you the values as you type them in, you don’t need to click it. So just think of the VCB as showing you the dimensions of whatever is actively being done. If you’re creating entities, it will tell you their size. If you’re typing in dimensions, it will tell you those dimensions.

Tip: If you made a mistake the first time you typed in dimensions, no biggie. Just type in another set of dimensions and Sketchup will resize it. But once you’ve moved on to another tool, you’ll have to resort to the manipulation tools for any further tweaking. :)

9. Reference other points in your model

You can reference other parts of your model in order to align two objects. Let’s say you have a chair and a table in your model. You want the bottom of the table and the chair to be aligned on the same plane. So you would select the chair first, then grab the move tool. Reference the bottom of the chair to start the move, then lock to the blue axis (Hit the up arrow to lock the blue axis), then move the mouse over to the bottom of the table to finish. This aligns both objects on the blue axis in relationship to each point you referenced to start and end the move.

10. Use Keyboard Shortcuts

Sketchup shortcut guide
As a beginner, you may be intimidated at the thought of having to memorize anything. But the thing is, you switch tools so frequently in Sketchup that it’s so easy to remember them once you start using them. It’s just a matter of getting started. Using keyboard shortcuts saves a tremendous amount of time in Sketchup. Your modeling will begin to feel so much more natural, you won’t even have to think about it.

Sign up for my newsletter to get my free Keyboard Shortcuts guide. Start out with just learning the Select tool (Spacebar), Rectangle Tool (R), and the Push/Pull Tool (P). Then pay attention to the tools you use most, and look up the shortcut. Print out my shortcut guide for quick reference.

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About Matt Donley

Sketchup user since 2007, I launched MasterSketchup as a way to help other people learn this fun program. My goal is to create easy to follow tutorials that help make 3D modeling more accessible to anyone interested in learning. You'll find many of my videos and tutorials featured on the official Sketchup Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ pages.

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55 Responses to 10 Sketchup Tips Every Modeler Should Know

  1. riek says:

    I use a wacom-tablet and have always a wacom-pen in my hand,
    at first only when i used sketchup,
    now all the time
    a pen is better, more accurate
    and never causes pain in the wrist !!!

    fine X-mas
    rik

    • Matt Donley says:

      Rik, I’ve got a Bamboo tablet, but I can never get used to using it as a mouse. Nick Sonder does the same thing as you, so maybe I should give it a second try.

    • Steve Taillon says:

      I have recently purchased a pc/tablet and downloaded sketchup on it. I am having a very
      difficult time drawing with digital pen . Do you have any suggestions to make the
      transistion easier ? My biggest problem is trying to use commands such as shft,cntrl,enter
      while drawing as while in pen mode I do not have these commands on tablet keyboard??

  2. Craig says:

    No mention of the 3D mouse? I can’t imagine working in Sketchup without it.

    • Matt Donley says:

      Craig, I have yet to buy a 3D mouse. I wonder, does it completely replace a regular mouse in Sketchup? Or do you still need a regular mouse to select menus and stuff like that? I’d love to try one out though, I haven’t been able to justify the cost at this point. Which one do you use?

      • Bruce Welty says:

        3D mouse is a sort of misnomer. First you still need a regular mouse. The advantage with the 3D mouse is that you control zoom pan rotate and several other functions with you “other” hand. You will fall in love with twisting the model with one hand while prepping commands with the other. In a few minutes you will find yourself orbiting and snapping to a face view while the real mouse is poised over the menu command you want to select. No more panning with the mouse then trying to retrieve the lost command you intended to use. Oh another suggestion THROW THE REGULAR mouse away and get a really good Trackball. Now both hands stay in the same relative position all the time. Ever get really tired of mouse sliding, picking up, backtracking, mouse sli…. you get the idea.

  3. Jeff Branch says:

    “it’s sometimes hard to get Sketchup to understand where exactly you’re trying to move it to.”

    You got that right. :) I realized after many frustrating attempts to move an object in the way you describe to simply move along an axis as you suggest. Good blog post.

    Jeff

    • Matt Donley says:

      Jeff, I think that trick comes in handy, especially for guys like us who do cabinets/woodworking. It’s definitely easier to move and orient objects in multiple steps rather than trying to get it right all in one move. It also gives you the ability to define specific distances for moves along each axis, which saves you from having to create extra guides sometimes. I’ll bet you used that method of moving while designing your “Tornado Bed”. By the way, I love how you take the time to apply accurate textures for the woodgrain. Even to go as far as making the end grain texture. Those little details really make a big difference, something I frequently find myself skipping over in my designs…

      • Jeff Branch says:

        The technique I used for a long time for moving components along two axis was to pick a corner using the move tool, then switch to the pan tool and zoom in on the component’s destination point. Switch back to the move tool and place the component in it’s new location. I still use this method when I get frustrated. :) Concerning the end grain, I still need to do more to make it more accurate, but don’t think most people notice it.

        Jeff

        • Matt Donley says:

          For some reason, I find that I rarely use the pan tool. I tend to just zoom out, then zoom in at the other spot. I should probably start using it. lol.

          • Dan says:

            Following your middle mouse button to orbit suggestion, holding shift while using the same method is pan. not sure if this is widely known but I find it extremely useful!

          • Matt Donley says:

            Dan, This is a great tip. I’ve only just recently started to use it. I always used to just zoom out, then back in. But it’s a lot easier to just pan over sometimes.

  4. Muhammad Asad says:

    very useful..thanks

  5. Clair says:

    I use a 3D mouse, called space mouse, when I design in Inventor but it dosen’t work well in Sketchup. I find it faster and easier to just use the three button mouse as you describe. I have never tried a pen but have given it some thought. Nice blog.

    • Matt Donley says:

      Really? I’ve been wanting to get a 3D mouse for a while now, I’m surprised you don’t like it. I think it must be nicer for general navigation of your model, but maybe not navigating while creating your model?

      • Steve Taillon says:

        Before you buy a 3d mouse check out 3Dconexion . I have been using
        the optical 3D navagator for some time now and couldnt imagin drawing
        without it . You navagate with left hand and draw with right . It is a very
        fast way to draw .

  6. Ted says:

    Matt, Great web site. I just got into Scetchup 8 about 5 weeks ago and just love it. I use Coreldraw to do most of my design work for scrollsawing and desining signs, but like the idea of doing stuff in 3D.

    I have down loaded several Plugins that I am still learning to use, some are super great at getting hard things done.
    I used a Wacom tablet with a 3D mouse for 10 years with Coreldraw it worked just great, how ever the mouse finaly gave up and I can’t get a replacment, so I got a gaming mouse by Logitech called the G9X Laser mouse. Great product, it has 7 bottons that you can programe key clicks into. The scroll wheel is hard to push down for the rotat tool, but I just programed the side scroll button to do this job.
    So now I push the wheel left to rotat, push it right to Pan , and I have the forward button on the side to take me back to the pick tool. The other big thing with this mouse is you can ajust the DPI from 400 to 5200 from two buttons on top of the mouse, you can do this on the fly, use the fast speed to move around and then click a few times to slow down when in close on the model. It may be something to look into.

    One other product I have been useing for years, is a tool called X-Keys, the one I have has 54 keys that you can programe all the short cuts to the tools in Scetchup into, here is a link to the site that sells them, check it out I love the product and it is a real time saver. If you want more info let me know. Sorry for the long post.
    Take Care Stay Safe
    Ted
    PS here is the link to X-Keys http://www.xkeys.com/utilization/sketchup.php

    • Matt Donley says:

      Ted,

      Thanks for the info! That X-key thing looks awesome!!!! The ultimate keyboard shortcut tool, complete with pictures of the tools on the keys. I have thought about getting a gaming mouse, but I use Sketchup on a few different computers so I didn’t want to get used to a different setup on one computer. But I really like your idea of setting the “wheel tilt ” to orbit and pan. I’ve noticed if I’m working for a long time on a model, my finger starts to ache from clicking the middle scroll wheel so much. It’s definitely not designed to be a button that is pushed all the time.

      • John Stump says:

        Matt,
        Great info! I love your blog. Regarding scrollwheel orbit: If you press left mouse button and scroll wheel ( chord ) you can toggle pan/orbit. Another scroll wheel function is double clicking to center view to a selected point. Matt, I may have learned this from you. I recently started using a Razor Orachi bluetooth mouse. There is a side button that will function as scroll click. You can rest your scrolling finger and use your thumb. Also allows you to simultaneously orbit and zoom.

        • Matt Donley says:

          John,

          I didn’t know about the double clicking to center view so I don’t think you learned it from me. I prefer to use the Shift key while orbiting to switch between pan/orbit, because I use my index finger on the scroll wheel. Thanks for the tips!

    • Bruce Welty says:

      Ted what 3D controller were you using? For the length of time you are speaking of it sounds like an old SpaceBall.
      https://www.google.com/search?q=3dconnexion&aq=0&oq=3d+connexion&aqs=chrome.1.57j0j5j0.12884&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8#fp=beeaa7391654b995&q=3dconnexion&tbm=shop at 87 bucks the base unit is OK
      http://www.spacecontrol.de/ this new entry winds my drool factor to WARP. $$ cools it down.

  7. Mike Welsh says:

    I have used Sketchup for a few years now and love it. It helps showing non-construction types how things will work in the real world.
    When inporting something from the 3D warehouse I find it not easy to set the item where I want it in the drawing. Is there any trick to setting these items into a drawing, they seem to have a mind of their own. Please advise.

    • Matt Donley says:

      I find I have the same problem. I think it’s because when you import a model, you are attached to that model’s origin point in order to determine it’s position, not necessarily a point that was placed logically for position. What I do is just place it “anywhere”, then with the move tool, I’ll grab one of the corners of the model and place it more exactly where I want it.

  8. e. combs says:

    Hi, I have just started watching videos on sketchup and really haven’t tried it yet or downloaded the program. I was wondering if there is a way to put values to measurements, example 12′ 3 1/4″ x 20′ along a wall that you draw so that when you print it to take to the job site the dimensions are on the print.

    • Matt Donley says:

      Yes, the free version of Sketchup allows you to place dimensions on the model so they will print out on paper. But once you get comfortable with Sketchup, the best way to prepare a “paper drawing” is with the Pro version which comes with Layout. It has a lot more flexibility with creating paper drawings.

  9. Dave says:

    I am using the free version of Sketchup to draw a “picture frame” cabinet door. I had no trouble making stock and then joining to pieces at a right angle, integrating the surfaces and trimming off the excess. The problem comes in when I make a copy of what I did, rotate it and try to join it to the original to create the other two sides of the frame.
    I cannot get the second set to “lock” in to the first precisely which creates problems integrating surfaces for a smooth transition at the miter.
    Any suggestions?

  10. Jon Hollinger says:

    I’ve used SketchUp Pro since v3.1 and am still learning so much about the program itself, let alone the myriad of plugins that are available. As an AutoCAD user from the ’90s I had a terrible time re-learning my craft. Mainly, that “Groups” and “Components” do far more that ACAD “Blocks” which just collect entities together. One part of ACADs “Mirror” command allowed you to select whether to retain the original or not. Making a copy to set aside and do a mirror in SU was a pain. Then, I discovered that in the Edit pull-down are “Copy” and two commands below is a “Paste In Place” tab. So now I just Select my object, Copy/Paste In Place, then use the Scale command to mirror it to -1.00 in the VCB display. Be sure to use a simple select (don’t use a window or crossing or you’ll get both copies) since you want only one mirrored.
    By the way, I did not know that you could use the “Scale” operation on non group or components until I saw your “8 Tips For Scaling In SketchUp”. I just never thought to try that before.

  11. iraj says:

    3. Making Multiple Copies
    thanks.
    is very useful.

  12. stephan maich says:

    great list, though i would have started with the keyboard shortcuts – and the fact that you can custom bind them to anything (in my case, i changed as many key bindings to photoshop parallels as i could) you want.

    and for mirroring, simply group a geometry, click or shortcut to “scale”, grab one of the center face transform points and push it thru the group until the VCB box reads “scale: -1″ (or maybe it’s 1, i forget)

    ta da!

  13. Joseph says:

    Great site, great resource. I’ve been using Sketchup for about a year now in parallel with beginning my woodworking hobby but have only really become productive with it recently. So powerful once a few basic concepts (GROUPS AND COMPONENTS!) are understood. It’s interesting to read through your posts and see mention of many of the same learning curve issues that I’ve gone through.

    A couple more tips related to selecting entities: as you stated, single click = face, double click = face + edges, triple click = everything. If you are just after the edges, double click the face then shift click the face again to deselect it and still have the edges. Much faster than selecting each edge individually and edges can be hard to hit without accidently getting an adjacent item.

    Something else I just recently discovered related to selection boxes, if you drag the box from left to right (starting top or bottom doesn’t matter) then only the items completely enclosed in the box will be selected. If you drag the box from right to left then any element in contact with the box will be selected; subtle but powerful difference. You can do a simple test: draw a rectangle, drag a selection box around one edge from left to right, just that edges is selected. Draw the box from right to left and the edge, two perpendicular edges and face are selected. Before I learned about this difference I could not figure out why sometimes I could select just what I was after and sometimes not.

    • Matt Donley says:

      Thanks for the additional tips Joseph. I like your selection tricks. It took me a while before I realized you could click and drag in 2 different directions and it would make a difference in how it selected. Very powerful once you know about it.

  14. Hugh says:

    Hi Matt,
    I have tried to use Sketchup for at least three years but about halfway through every project I would discover things that were just not right. It was not until I watched your first video that I realized the value of (and started using) Groups and Components. Now things usually work.
    Except for my last project. I need to make 105 holes, 1/2″ dia in a 4 x 8 sheet of plywood. I want to draw a circle, push it through and make it a group/component. My plywood sheet is already a group/component (I have tried it both ways) but nothing seems to work. I can’t seem to make a circle into a group and multi-copy it, nor make a hole and multi-copy.

    Can you help? I guess I just don’t know the differences between groups and components.

    Sorry for the long comment but I wanted to give you the most info possible.

    Hugh

  15. Mud says:

    I’ve searched and searched online for how to move an object a set distance from another object to no avail.
    I’m trying to build a set of stairs and I have an existing deck and a concrete pad in place for the foot of the stairs to rest on.
    I can not for the life of me figure out how to place the pad in relation to the deck.

    • Matt Donley says:

      You can use the tape measure tool to place guides in relationship to any edge in your model. You can then use those guides to snap to when drawing or manipulating parts of your model.

  16. duncan mcdonald says:

    could i get some advice on using a photo as fill please.
    i made a 3d model of a small castle. 4 walls,4 round towers with extruded upperworks and castellations. i them coloured everything in with a stonework shade from the material library.
    a week later i discover i could use my own photo of a real castles stonework as my fill. this worked fine on the walls but not on the round towers.
    so i made a cylinder and the stonework photo worked fine on that.i then tried to use the ordinary fills from the material library on the towers and they wouldnt work. can u tell me please where i have gone wrong

  17. Anindya B says:

    Hi Matt,
    I have this recurrent problem on SU8, could u help?

    I have a Intel CoreTM i3, 32-bit OS running on Windows 7.
    About 3 months back, i loaded the soapskinbubble plugin for a job. Now i notice that while modelling, unlike before, I am not able to Geo-locate a site on a Google terrain. After selecting a region when i give the ‘grab’ command, the map stays put and does not transfer itself on the SU plane.

    Tried reinstalling SU8, but after installation & during the 1st run, it gives a pop-up warning that ‘OPEN GL REGISTRY HAS BEEN SET TO DEFAULT, POSSIBLY BECAUSE IT HAS BEEN TAMPERED WITH’. What to do?

  18. Sompol Chaengsri says:

    I plan to use 3D CONNEX, what do you think that is the best for SketchUp using? I’ve just began SketchUp for a few months but most of your video are collected as training video for me. I try to draw the car from EliseiDesign, but can’t do or the other web from NiltonDC to do the plane modeling. Can you prepare the video like that but using normal speed video?

    Thanks a lot for your kind.

    Sompol C.

  19. thierry poulet says:

    11
    select geometry
    move and press alt key to make a copy
    press “/”and a number to divide the space by number of copy.
    Enjoy.

  20. Mark says:

    I am not sure what I am doing wrong, but I cannot activate the orbit tool using the scroll wheel. It was always the right click, but then it disappeared!
    I am using a mac and operating 2014 make.
    Any suggestions?

  21. Ronald Stepp says:

    Okay, maybe I am dense, but Tip 3 has me strumped. When you say type 10* ENTER.. ummm does that mean type 1, then 0, then * and then ENTER? When I do, nothing seems to happen..

    Or is 10* some kind of short hand? I think maybe the tip needs a tip.. heh..

    Cheers!

    • Matt Donley says:

      Hi Ronald, You’ve got it right. Type 1 then 0 then * then ENTER. But you only do that AFTER creating a copy of an object using the the Move tool and pressing CTRL.

  22. tom says:

    I’m just an old dog dying to learn a few new tricks and I have to say, your about the easiest SKetchup Master Guru I’ve come across…

    SO here’s my problem Obi Wan..

    I have a component, just a simple 3D rectangle.

    In one scene I need it to rotate on a specific axis but then I need it to rotate on a different axis in the next scene. I’m using Proper Animation.

    Is there a solution with out spending money? lol?

    Thanks Tom

  23. Corne Taljaard says:

    Hi Matt
    Thanks for the tips. Very useful. Started using SketchUp a month ago and just jumped in. Imported the house plan (I’m renovating), drew wall, windows, used the 3D warehouse, etc. Had fun and figured out how to do things as I went along. The problem is that I completely ignored layers. Is there an easy way to to start organizing my trillion layers? Without starting from scratch?

    • Matt Donley says:

      Are the trillion layers from the imported house plan? If so, it may be easier to just delete them all and have everything on the default layer. From there, create your own new layers that you find most logical and add objects to them.

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