Using Guides in Sketchup (No, not THOSE kinds of guides)

Matt Donley News, Sketchup Tutorials 8 Comments

SketchUp_tape_measureWith the Tape Measure tool, you can create an infinite guide line in SketchUp that allows you to use the power of the Inference System to snap to. I use guides all the time in my model to help me model accurately. But I also find myself creating “custom guide geometry” in order to help me place objects that are difficult to inference. In this post, I’ll show you how to create your own guide geometry.

If you don’t know about the Tape Measure tool, you should. It’s a great way to create a special type of line called a guide line that you can snap to in your model. I use them all the time when modeling. I’ll add a few in order to position an object, then delete them right after I’m done using them. Other times I’ll just leave guides in the model till I get overwhelmed with dashed lines everywhere,at which point I’ll go to the Edit menu and select “Delete guides” to get rid of them all.

But recently I’ve realized a need for a custom guide to help me position handles on some cabinet models I was working on. The way I used to place handles is I would position the handle at the corner of the door. From there, I’d move it to the left 2″, then move it up 3″. I was doing this for every handle, then realized there’s must be a better way!

Custom Guide Geometry

The Tape Measure tool produces a special SketchUp object called guide lines and guide points. What I’m talking about when I say “custom guide geometry” is creating regular SketchUp entities, but USING them as if they were guides. They aren’t meant to be shown in the final render or export of the model, they are only used to help assist in placing and aligning objects.

Custom guide geometry are lines or shapes that you group with another object in order to aid in the placement of that object.

In the case of the cabinet door handles, I simply created a set of rectangles that intersected at the point I wanted to offset from the corner of the door. So now instead of positioning the handle by snapping from a point on the handle, then offsetting left and then down, I was positioning it by snapping the guide geometry to the corner of the door. Done!
Custom guide geometry

I assigned the guide geometry to a special Layer called “guides” that I can hide whenever I’m not positioning something. The key to creating guide geometry is how you organize the group/component. I used a component for this handle because I knew I’d need a bunch of them throughout my model. Inside the “Handle” component, you have the guide geometry in a group (assign this to the “Guide” layer), and the handle geometry in a group.

By combining the guide geometry and the object geometry into a group/component, you can move the entire collection as an assembly. But you can assign the guide geometry to a different layer in order to hide it when you don’t need it.

To create your own guides, you’ll need to be creative. Use a combination of lines or rectangles in order to create points that you might commonly use to offset placement of an object. I like to color the guides brightly so I can easily identify them. Also take advantage of mid point inferences. On the cabinet door handle, I included a line connecting each square, that way I could snap to the mid point of the drawer front.


Here are some examples of where you can create custom guide geometry to help you place an object.

  • Pipes/cylinders – Place an “x” at the centerpoint of the pipe to make it easier to reference.
  • Electrical outlets – Create a special component for each height outlet you need to place. Reference the floor with your guide, position the outlet at the correct height from the floor.
  • Toilets/Bath Tubs/Fixtures/furniture – Pretty much any oddly shaped object can take advantage of using guide geometry. Create the geometry to have the correct offset from the wall for a standard installation.
  • Windows/Doors – Reference the floor with guide geometry to locate window heights. You could also create a component that only had guide geometry in it that represented heights of different components in your model (outlets, switches, windows, doors, etc.) Place one of those components on each wall for easy referencing when placing objects at the correct height.

What other ideas do you have for creating custom guide geometry? Leave a comment below.

About the Author

Matt Donley

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Matt has been creating SketchUp tutorials since 2012. After writing the book SketchUp to LayOut, he conducted the "Intro to LayOut" seminar at the official SketchUp conference in Colorado. Matt writes about how to use SketchUp for design, construction and 3D printing.

Comments 8

  1. Matt Jackson

    Great nuts and bolts tutorial! I’ve used random guides before but your ideas here take the concept to a new, practical level. I really like the idea of how you structure the component layers to quickly hide guides when they’ve served their temporary purpose. Adding bright color is another key feature I’m going to adapt from your tutorial.

    Your term “custom guide geometry” is more appropriate than what I called “handles”; various lines or points that I use to “index” groups or components to specific locations in a model. The example that comes to mind is for applying trim pieces on window model. After using Follow Me to generate a piece of casing with a 1/4″ reveal I’ll add a 45 degree line from an inside corner of the casing to an inside corner of the door jamb. This makes it easy to assure a consistent reveal all around the jamb. A small thing but it eliminates the similar over then down steps you work around.

    Keep the good stuff coming!


  2. Andrew

    As usual, another tutorial that even I can understand. Good idea here, with the ‘component’ angle, especially with the side lines for ‘centering’. When I need to mirror an element, I create a simple plain and select that with the element and when I flip it around, I match the two halves using my ‘guide’ plain(s)… but your idea is perfect for multiple items. Thanks-

  3. Pau Sternberg

    I agree that this was a useful description of a simple process that works well. Matt describes a “Sketchup way” of doing what we regularly do in AutoDesk products to properly locate blocks. Thanks for the examples.

  4. Bruce Welty

    To further improve your speed and carpal tunnel, get a 3D motion controller. Using the mouse for those functions is counter productive.

  5. Jeff Branch

    Good tutorial. I have used a line in a similar way that you did to help me easily and accurately locate a drawer pull on a cabinet or locate a countersunk screw hole. But, I have not used custom guide geometry. Pretty cool idea.

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