Create, Edit & Share with Google SketchUp

In every industry, there are many third-party tools that can help in all aspects of drawing quality.  AutoCAD Architecture is certainly no exception.  Google SketchUp is an excellent tool with a lot of great capabilities we’ll explore in this article.

What Is Google SketchUp?

SketchUp is an excellent tool used by architects and civil engineers for creating, editing and sharing 3D models.  SketchUp drawings can be exported to AutoCAD Architecture very easily.  There are two versions of SketchUp:  SketchUp Pro and a free downloadable version that is very limited in its use.  The free download includes integrated tools for use in uploading to Google Earth.  The remainder of this article will discuss SketchUp Pro.

SketchUp is part of the same product family as Google Earth.  With this tool, you can import a scaled aerial photograph from Google Earth to SketchUp with the click of a button.  This can include topographical information as well. 
SketchUp Pro comes with Layout, which is a 2D companion to SketchUp Pro.  With Layout you can create professional design documents, dimensioned drawings, and presentation documents from the 3D models you created in SketchUp Pro.  When the model is updated in SketchUp Pro, the changes are automatically updated in Layout.

The First Time

When using SketchUp for the first time, you may notice a small difference in the navigation system.  By going to the Help menu and selecting Help Center, SketchUp Reference Guide, and then Quick Reference Card, you can print a PDF showing some helpful shortcuts.  There is a link for SketchUp as well as a link for Layout.  Here are a few tips to help you get started.  When using your mouse, the left button is for tool operations and the right button is for the context menu.  The middle button (wheel) has several functions:  click and drag to orbit, shift click and drag to pan, double click to re-center your view, and scroll to zoom.  The spacebar operates the Select Tool.  You can use ctrl spacebar to add to a selection set, shift spacebar to toggle in and out of a selection set, ctrl A to select all and shift ctrl to subtract from a selection set.  Please print and read the Quick Reference Card before proceeding to use SketchUp.

Compatible File Formats

One of the many great features of Google SketchUp is that it uses a wide variety of file formats, including DWG, DXF, OBJ, FBX, XSI, and WRL. If you don’t want to take the time to import a file into ACA, you can also create a screenshot of the file and save it in BMP, JPG, PNG, PDF, EPS, and TIF formats for presentation purposes. 

Importing an AutoCAD Architecture File into SketchUp

Now that we’ve looked a few basic features of SketchUp, let’s try importing a file from AutoCAD Architecture into SketchUp.  Begin by opening SketchUp and select the File menu.  Next select Import.  Under the Preview area, you will see an Options button.  Select Options and then select the options you need in the dialog box that opens.  Click OK (see Figure 1).  Now you will need to select the file you wish to import and click open.  If you do not see the file you are looking for, be sure to click on the drop down next to File Type to ensure that you are searching for the correct file type.  You have now successfully imported a drawing into Google SketchUp!  It is important to note that the SketchUp file will have the same 0,0 origin as your AutoCAD Architecture drawing.

Figure 1:  Import dialog box

Creating Walls

Now that you have a drawing imported into Google SketchUp, consider this: what if the walls are in 2D and you want to make them 3D in SketchUp?  Here’s how you do that.

Begin by right-clicking and selecting Make Group.  Then select the Line tool and select any corner of the perimeter to start the line.  Now, enter the wall height in the Measurements box and press enter.  Next select the Rectangle tool.  Begin your rectangle by selecting the endpoint of the line you just drew and end the rectangle at a point on the wall.  Continue until all exterior walls are erected.  I have found that it’s easier to complete the exterior first. 

Now that all exterior walls have been erected and closed, you have created a Face.  The Face is used to build the roof once you are ready to do so.  Next, select the Face and select the Offset tool and enter the thickness for the exterior walls you have just created.  Now select the Face and use the Push/Pull tool.  Push the Face down to create the interior Face of the walls.  This will develop the interior face of the exterior walls so you can continue to create the interior walls at this point using the steps above.

Adding Doors and Windows

At this point, you have walls created.  Now you will need to decide on header heights, door and window sizes, and styles before continuing. Once you are ready, be sure you are in X-ray mode.  Now insert the door component you selected and place it by referencing a point on an opening in your imported AutoCAD Architecture file.  Continue placing all door components using X-ray mode.  Next place all windows using the same method stated above for door placement.  For example, if you were placing a window component above an overhead door, you would reference a point on the window and a point on the door. 

Viewing a Model in 3D

A camera is used by SketchUp to represent your point of view of the model.  Basically, the program treats you as though you are a camera looking at your model as you work.  SketchUp uses several tools for viewing your model in 3D space.  These are tools that you are familiar with in AutoCAD Architecture—Pan, Orbit, Zoom and Zoom Extents.  Each of these tools can be found on the Camera toolbar.

Dynamic Components

Dynamic Components can be defined as components that have parametrics.  For example, a cabinet component has doors that open and close.  A component is only considered dynamic when it has parametric data.  Dynamic components will display with a special badge when parametric data is present.  Attaching attributes to a component is what makes the component dynamic.  Attributes are items such as the component's name, description, location, size and number of copies.  Some attributes are predefined attributes, which means they are automatically available for every dynamic component.  There are also custom attributes that are unique attributes defined by the developer of the dynamic component.

Every attribute of a component has a value that can be a textual string, a number, or the result of a formula.  Each attribute and its associated value are called an attribute name/value pair.  Formulas can consist of predefined functions, mathematical operators, or the values of other attributes.  Functions are shortcuts that perform an operation such as calculating the square root of a number.

It is important to note that all SketchUp users can use dynamic components. However, only SketchUp Pro users can develop dynamic components.

To make a component dynamic, right-click on the component, select Dynamic Components and then select Component Attributes (see Figure 2).  Select Add Attributes and a dialog box will display with attributes that can be added to your component (see Figure 3).  Once you have added the desired attributes, the new dynamic component can be saved to a component file for additional use later.

Figure 2: Dynamic components

Figure 3: Component attributes

Exporting a SketchUp File into AutoCAD Architecture

Exporting a Google SketchUp file into AutoCAD Architecture is easy.  Once you are ready to export, select the File menu and select Export.  Next select 2D Graphic or 3D Model, depending on the file you are exporting.  Select the export file type from the drop-down.  Since we are exporting to AutoCAD Architecture, you would select AutoCAD DWG.  By selecting the Options button at the bottom, you can choose the AutoCAD version to which you are exporting as well as the drawing scale and size.  Select OK and then select Export.  The export is now complete!  It is important to note that you can alternate between ACA and SketchUp multiple times.  Your drawing does not have to be complete before importing it into SketchUp or from SketchUp into ACA.

Figure 4: Export dialog box

3D Warehouse

A great feature of SketchUp is the 3D Warehouse, which allows you to search for 3D models made by other users as well as contribute 3D models of your own.  It contains 3D models of buildings, cars, bridges, interior furnishings, and much more.  A new feature allowing you to search for similarly shaped models instead of relying on a text search has been added.  This really saves time when you’re in a hurry to find a specific item.  The 3D Warehouse offers a wealth of information and can help you design quickly when facing a tough deadline.  Best of all, this feature is free! 

Figure 5: 3D Warehouse

Layout Tool

SketchUp contains a vast library of colors, textures, shadows, lighting, and others. You are limited only by your imagination when completing renderings in SketchUp.  Rendering tools and materials libraries in ACA, combined with the tools in SketchUp, can produce awesome presentation renderings!  To use the library, select the File menu and select Send To Layout.  This will open Layout.  The Layout feature is included with SketchUp Pro and is used for creating and sharing presentations made from SketchUp.  You can add title blocks, save templates, add graphics, and create multi-page documents.  Layout gives you more control over color, style, and weight of the lines and faces in your SketchUp model.

Figure 6: Layout

Figure 7: Layout rendering


Google SketchUp has many capabilities for great quality presentation drawings.  We’ve barely scraped the tip of the iceberg, but now it’s your turn.  Download the free version, give it a try and see how you like it. There is nothing better than going to a meeting with awesome drawings that took only minutes to complete!  Need more SketchUp training?    SketchUp’s Getting Started application includes self-paced tutorials that will introduce you to many tools, techniques, and procedures.

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