7 Important Things Before Using Sketchup – Today I’m gonna over the most important things you need to know to avoid struggling when you’re first getting started with SketchUp. I’m sure you already know what a powerful tool SketchUp can be for creating everything from conceptual 3D models to beautiful renderings, to detailed construction documents. The trouble is if you don’t take the time to learn the key fundamentals I’m about to cover you’re bound to get frustrated and waste a ton of time stumbling over problems that you could have easily avoided.
7 Important Things Before Using Sketchup
And in this article, I’ll walk you through seven critical concepts that will get you started down the right path when you’re first learning SketchUp.
Ready to jump in? Let’s get started
1. Using SketchUp – start in 2D.
When you first open SketchUp you’re likely to choose a template that starts you off in an isometric or 3D view. In fact, most tutorials you’ll find online, start you off in this very same template. But here’s the problem, starting in 3D is like forcing you to jump into the deep end before you know how to swim. You’ll be more likely to get frustrated and quit.
And even if you stick with it you’ll just end up with a bunch of bad habits that slow you down over the long run.
I recommend a different approach. Pick a template that starts you off in a top-down or 2D view. This starts you off in calmer waters allowing you to focus on learning the fundamentals and developing good habits that will pay off later. For SketchUp pro, if you’re a Windows user, you’ll start by going to your top menu and selecting window.
If you’re using SketchUp pro on a Mac, you’ll select SketchUp, from there open the preferences window and select template.
Depending on what version of SketchUp you’re using the template will be named differently. It might say plan view or construction documentation. Just make sure that the thumbnail has a white background like this one here and that you choose feet and inches or meters, depending on which you use for your projects. If you’re a Windows user, you’ll click the button at the bottom right to finish. Mac users, you just close the window.
Now your current files template won’t change. But when you start a new file you’ll start in the new template. If you’re using the free web based version of SketchUp you won’t have access to the template you need, but you can get close enough by switching to a top view from the scenes menu.
Then what? You’re ready for the next tip.
2. Using SketchUp – use the right mouse.
But before getting into this tip I should mention that we’ve created some notes for you to help you remember everything we cover in this video. You’ll find a link to the notes in the cards and in the description. Okay, back to the next tip. When you’re new to SketchUp, you might be tempted to see if you can get away with using only your track pad.
That would be a mistake. That’s because there’s a few critical things you can only do with a three button scroll wheel mouse. Now, before we get into what those things are there’s something you should know. Not all mouse are created equal. You want a mouse that has both left and right buttons, plus a center scroll wheel that can be rolled and clicked on.
And it doesn’t have to be fancy. Often the simplest three buttons scroll wheel mouse works best.
Seriously guys, if you think you can get by using one of these, just don’t. And I know these are pretty, but you’re really gonna want that third button and a scroll wheel. Like this one, one, two, three, and the scroll wheel.
As for how to use the mouse the right way and SketchUp, we’ll get into that with our next tip.
3. Using SketchUp – draw the right way.
When you draw on SketchUp all the geometry you create consists of three things. End points, edges and faces. And most of the SketchUp tools are there to help you create, delete or edit the position of those end points, edges and faces.
Easy enough, right? Let’s go ahead and put it all together and learn all of the drawing tools in one go. Remember to have your three buttons scroll wheel mouse and be in your 2D template, then pick one of the drawing tools. Before you do anything else pay attention to this next part. There’s a right way and a wrong way to use the mouse.
The mistake most people make is that they’ll click and hold down on the left mouse button and drag the mouse and then let go of the button. The tools don’t function properly this way. Instead here’s what you should do. Click and let go of your left mouse button to start a tool operation, then move the mouse, then click and let go of your left mouse button again to end the tool operation.
With nearly every tool in SketchUp, this is the right way to use the mouse.
So now that you know how to use the mouse you can quickly learn how all the drawing tools work. Just pick a drawing tool and practice using the mouse the correct way. Clicking, letting go, clicking again, letting go and just try out every drawing tool this way. Some need two clicks, some need three. Don’t worry if you don’t understand what the tools are doing at first, just free draw over and over again with each tool and pay attention to the geometry the tools help you create.
Some are for edges, others create edges and faces. Even curves are really just a series of edges. You should practice drawing in this way until you’ve ingrained using your mouse the right way. And you feel pretty confident about what each tool helps you create. Once you’ve got the hang of the tools you’re ready for the next tip.
4. Using SketchUp – understand stickiness.
In SketchUp edges and end point stick to other edges and end points. This is a good thing. You could overlap shapes and edit them to create new ones. Try it.
Practice overlapping geometry, then use the eraser tool to delete edges you don’t need or get rid of faces by right clicking on the face and picking the option for erase. In this way stickiness is helpful for modeling quickly in SketchUp. But down the road, stickiness can also create the absolute most painful problems you’ll ever encounter in SketchUp.
Luckily, I’ve got you covered with the next tip.
5. Using SketchUp – group almost everything.
For things that shouldn’t get stuck you can protect them from other geometry, by first turning them into a group group. Group geometry can’t stick to anything else. This is by far the biggest problem self-taught users run into. They model away without groups and then end up with an uneditable mess.
So group early and group often.
Your future self will thank you. There’s so many people that made this moment possible but the first person I need to thank is myself. Now just because you’re able to avoid the stickiness trap, it doesn’t mean you’re out of the woods just yet because there’s an even more frustrating set of problems you’re about to face but you can avoid them with the next tip.
6. Using SketchUp – master the move tool.
If there was a referee watching people using SketchUp and they whistled them for every infraction the foul call most often would be misusing the move tool.
And we’re not just talking about beginners here, SketchUp users of all levels rack up move tool penalties all day, every day.
What kind of penalties? You’ll see people twist up their geometry when they had wanted to move a whole object and you’ll see them sync objects into other objects. And then you’ll see other issues where they’re trying to move things in precise ways whether it be centering something, creating an array of copies or just fixing one of the other errors, it gets bad news bears pretty fast. So what’s the problem with the move tool and how can you avoid it?
Let’s go back to the fundamentals I discussed earlier. Remember, SketchUp is all about creating, editing and deleting and points, edges and faces. Now the move tool is only concerned with the editing part specifically editing the position of those end points, edges and faces. So if you use your mouse correctly you can click and let go on an end point, an edge or a face then move the mouse to edit the position of that piece of geometry and then click to complete the operation.
This is great for moving pieces of geometry to get the shapes you need.
Now, the biggest mistake you can and will make at this point is using the mouse incorrectly. Remember don’t click and drag. Even if you get the move tool to work this way this bad habit will bite you down the road when you face more complicated situations. Of course you can move multiple edges and faces together at the same time you just need to pre-select them with the select tool. And then the same rules apply with the move tool for editing the position of the selected geometry.
And if you wanna move a whole object, you can either pre-select all the geometry before using the move tool, or if you’ve made it into a group, then you can just use the move tool to move the whole group together. Again, practice these things in a simple 2D drawing first until they become second nature. Now moving the right stuff is only half the battle, but what about moving it exactly where you wanna it to go? For example, what if you wanna move one group so that it’s touching another, but not overlapping it. It goes back to the fundamentals again.
When you click with your mouse to begin the move, SketchUp sees that you’re clicking on a very specific coordinate.
So when you click the second time and the move SketchUp sees that you’ve clicked on a second specific coordinate and it says, ah, okay, gotcha. You wanna put exactly where you clicked on point A on to exactly where you clicked at point B. If you click somewhere random to start with, it’ll be impossible to move things exactly where you want. But for our example, a great idea would be to click on the edge of the first group then click on that edge of the second group, that way you know those edges are touching perfectly.
This works for matching up corners or even mid points for centering. Of course the move tool gets much harder to use in 3D space. But if you put in the time and practice to understand these core concepts in a 2D template first, you’ll avoid struggling trying to move things later. Speaking of 3D space, let’s talk about the best way to go from 2D to 3D.
7. Using SketchUp – navigate like a pro.
So far we’ve discussed starting in a 2D template but really we’ve been in 3D space all along. We’ve just been in a top-down view and have been drawing and editing on one flat plane. And while there’s still more you should learn and practice in 2D first, if you’re like most of my students you won’t be able to help it navigate in the world of 3D. By navigate, I mean using SketchUp’s navigation tools to zoom, pan and orbit around in 3D space. But here’s the problem you’re about to face.
When you’re new to SketchUp, navigating around the model can feel awkward and disorienting. And since our brains don’t like when things feel difficult without even being aware of it, you’ll immediately start compensating to avoid the discomfort. Which means that you’ll create bad habits that slow you down. Not only as a beginner but even as you become more proficient in SketchUp. Most of your time in SketchUp is actually spent navigating to a better view to accomplish the next thing you’re trying to do.
So being able to navigate well is one of the most important things you can invest time into learning and practicing. So what’s the right way to navigate and how do you avoid picking up bad habits? There’s actually an incredibly simple trick that will make navigating around your SketchUp model a breeze. But for that trick to make sense we first need to cover the basics. While in your 2D template you can zoom, pan and orbit your virtual camera in 3D space to get different views of your model.
And while there are tools on your tool bar for zoom, pan and orbit, you should never pick them.
That’s because you can access those tools directly from your three buttons scroll wheel mouse. So you can roll your mouse wheel forward and backward to zoom in and out of your model. Not that it matters where you point the cursor. So you will zoom towards or away from the point that your cursor is hovering over.
Now, if you press down on your center mouse wheel like a button, you will see that your cursor turns into the orbit tool. With the mouse wheel button held down, move your mouse around and you’re orbiting your camera around your model. Again, it matters where your cursor is on the screen as you will orbit around that point.
And if you need to pan your camera over to get a better view of the model, while pressing the center mouse wheel to orbit also press and hold the shift key on your keyboard. Your cursor will turn into a hand, which is the pan tool, move your mouse to pan your view.
Then let go of the mouse wheel and shift key when you’re done. Okay, so what’s the trick to more efficiently navigating around your model? I can explain it to you best by giving you a challenge.
Try this. Draw rectangle.
Now try to orbit 360 degrees around the rectangle. Go ahead, pause this video and go try it out. If you’re like most people that are new to SketchUp, you’ll start off okay, but then you’ll run out of room as your cursor gets to the edge of the screen before you’ve even gotten 20% around the rectangle. And you might even get disoriented while orbiting as your brain tries to figure out another way to get around the rectangle. Now let’s try it again.
Only this time here’s the trick. Make small or incremental orbits. So for our challenge, start with your cursor in the middle of the screen and orbit directly up. Just a small amount. Then let go move your mouse back to the center of the screen and repeat and repeat again and again, and repeat as many times as it takes to get 360 degrees around the rectangle.
It feels a little clunky at first but once you have it down, you can gradually begin to speed up the process. And before you know it, you’ll be just like the experts who are constantly making hundreds of tiny zooms, tiny orbits and tiny pans to zero in on what they need to see better. Being able to get where you need to go in the model makes using SketchUp so much easier. And that’s it. Congratulations.
You’ve made it through all seven concepts. From here, it’s definitely possible to learn everything on your own.
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