Sketchup Tutorial – Create a Custom Bracket for 3D Printing

After coming back from the Maker Faire in NY, one thing that really surprised me was how popular 3D printing is becoming. These days, you can purchase a 3D printer for under a thousand dollars and actually print out a real object from your digital model. I’ve been learning a little bit about 3D printing at the AS220 labs, but I have yet to purchase my own 3D printer. Regardless, I wanted to show you how easy it is to use Sketchup to create a simple bracket that you can print out on a 3D printer.

Rapid Desktop Prototyping

While at the Maker Faire, I had the honor of meeting many of the Trimble team members who develop Sketchup. They had a few 3D printers set up at their tent so they could show people how you could model something in Sketchup, then print it out instantly on the 3D printer. At one point they were presented with an engineering challenge.

The man in charge of connecting everybody with Wifi at the faire had a problem. He was looking to mount a piece of hardware to a round pole and looked to the Sketchup guys to come up with a solution. They were able to model something quickly in Sketchup, and print it out for him so he could mount the gear to the pole. The first prototype actually snapped during a stress test, so they just made some modifications to the design and printed out another one. How cool is that?

Creating a simple bracket in Sketchup is easy. In this tutorial, we’ll model a base plate with two arms. Now, unfortunately, I don’t have a 3D printer so I won’t be printing this out. I know, that’s lame. But you can use the same concepts in the design of this bracket to make any custom bracket for your needs.

Sketchup Tutorial – Custom Bracket

  1. Draw the Base

    Starting with the Rectangle Tool (R), Click once to start the rectangle, then move the mouse out and click again to finish the rectangle. To specify a precise dimension, type in 2",2" then press ENTER.

    Remember, you can also type in your dimensions right after your first click when you start the rectangle. It’s your choice. I like to do it after because sometimes I’ll accidentally move my mouse as I’m typing in a number and it will clear whatever I just typed in.

  2. Extrude the Base

    Using the Push/Pull Tool (P), extrude the rectangle into a 3D object. Click once on the surface of the rectangle to start, then pull up. Click again to finish. Type in 1/4" then ENTER to specify the height at 1/4″.

  3. Measure the holes

    The tape measure toolTape Measure Tool (T) comes in handy for placing temporary guides to help you place geometry. I use them all the time. Let’s place guides to mark the centers for four holes 3/8″ in from the sides of the plate.

    Select the tape measure tool, and make sure you see a small + sign over the cursor. If you don’t see it, tap CTRL to toggle the add guide feature. Next, hover over an edge that is parallel to the direction you want your guide. Make sure you see a red dot over the edge so you know Sketchup is referencing that edge.

    Click once to start, then drag the mouse in the direction of where you want the guide. If you zoom in enough, you might be able to automatically snap to the increment you need. In this case, we want 3/8". Click again to place the guide. If you weren’t able to snap to the distance you wanted, just type in the distance manually and press enter. Add guides to all four sides.

  4. Create your circles

    When drawing circles, remember that Sketchup circles are actually a bunch of connected segmented lines. You can specify the number of segments that make up the circle. When you first select the circle toolCircle Tool (C), you’ll notice the VCB (Value Control Box) in the bottom right corner of your screen says Sides 24. Just type in a new number and press ENTER. Remember that you can’t click the VCB, just start typing!
    Sketchup Circle Tool
    You always want to use the least number of segments necessary for your project in order to reduce the file size of your model. In this case, since it is a small model and we are going to print this out, we want a higher number of segments so the holes look more rounded. So we can push it up to 30 segments. Most of the time, I’d reduce the number of segments to 10.

    Once you’ve defined your segments, use the guides you just created to reference the center of the circle. Click once to define the center of your circle, then pull out to 1/8″ and click to define the radius. Create four 1/4″ circles in this manner using the guides for reference. When you’re all done, go to EDIT --> DELETE GUIDES to erase the guides.

  5. Make the holes


    Using the Push/Pull Tool  (P), Click on the face inside one of the circles. Then reference one of the bottom corners of the base to push the circle down and erase it. You will be left with a hole.

    Now, just double click the other three circle faces and they will push down the same amount as the first one. You’ll be left with 4 holes.

  6. Group the Base

    It is important to organize your model into groups so you can isolate parts from of another. To turn this base plate into a group, triple click it, right click, then select MAKE GROUP. We’ll now be able to draw on top of this plate without having anything “stick” to it.

  7. Create the arm

    Sketchup Arm
    Using the rectangle tool, create a rectangle next to the base by referencing two corners for the length, then typing in the 1/4" thickness. Your first click should be directly on a corner, then you hover over an opposite corner to reference it. Notice how when you drag the mouse away from the base, a dotted line indicates that you are tracking off of that corner. Click again to finish the rectangle, then specify 1/4" for the thickness.

    Push/Pull up 2 1/4" to extrude the rectangle into 3D. Since we want to use this arm on both sides of the bracket, we want to turn it into a component. Triple click it, right click, and select MAKE COMPONENT. Assign the component a name then press ENTER.

  8. Copy the Arm Component

    Sketchup Copy
    Before we finish modeling the arm, let’s make a copy of it and position it on the other side of the base. Select the arm with the Select Tool (SPACEBAR), then use the Move Tool to make a copy. Click on one of the bottom outside corners of the arm with the move tool. Drag your mouse to the other side of the plate but tap CTRL to indicate you’re making a copy. Snap the copy to the other side of the plate and click to finish.

  9. Mirror the Component


    Next, you’ll want to mirror that copy so any changes made to the arm will be mirrored and symmetrical to the other one.

    With the Scale tool Scale Tool (S), scale about opposite point by clicking the middle green handle. Hold down the CTRL key to scale from the center, and scale it to the value of -1.00.

  10. Customize the Arm

    Open up one of the arms by double clicking it. Use your other drawing and modification tools to customize the arm to your needs. Use the Tape measure tool to place guides to help you place geometry. Notice how all the changes being made to one arm are being reflected on the other arm automatically.

Printing in 3D

Once you have your model created, you can print it out on your own 3D printer. Or, you can send it over to a 3D printing company and they’ll print it out for you.

I hope you can see how using a few basic tools, you can create nearly anything in Sketchup. With the quick process of 3D printing, it’s exciting to think about how easy it can be to create things digitally, then bring them to life. Use these same principles on your other Sketchup projects, not just creating brackets!

If you’ve used Sketchup to create a 3D printed model, I’d love to see it. Send me an email and attach your Sketchup model and pictures of the 3D printed object, and I just might feature your project on the site. Thanks!

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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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One Response to Sketchup Tutorial – Create a Custom Bracket for 3D Printing

  1. Jason says:

    Thanks. This was really helpful.

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