7 things before You Rendering SketchUp Models in Photoshop – Are you ready to render your SketchUp models in Photoshop? You’ve probably seen some amazing examples of the styles and effects you can get when you take an image of a SketchUp model and enhance it using Photoshop’s powerful tools. But wait, when it comes to working with SketchUp and Photoshop together, there are a few critical mistakes that I see both new and experienced users make that cause them to struggle and can result in subpar renderings.
And in this article, I’ll help you avoid those mistakes by covering the key things you need to get right in SketchUp first to set yourself up for success when rendering with Photoshop.
You already know that Photoshop can be a great tool for transforming your average SketchUp image into anything from stylized concept art, to slick, more realistic renderings. Over the years, thousands of professionals the skills they need to take their SketchUp renderings to the next level. And we constantly see users who jump into a program like Photoshop, only to get completely discouraged after spending a ton of time and not getting the results they were hoping for.
Now if you’re a self-taught SketchUp user, there’s no shortage of tutorials you can find to show you how to recreate a specific effect, for a specific kind of a project, using Photoshop.
And don’t get me wrong, the settings you use in Photoshop do matter. But, what’s equally, and sometimes even more important is something that’s often skipped. And that’s the SketchUp side of the equation! Getting things right in SketchUp before you move to Photoshop can play a huge factor in achieving the results you’re looking for with your renderings.
Plus, there are a number of things you can do in SketchUp that will save you a ton of time and frustration later in Photoshop.
That’s why we’ve compiled a list of the seven key things you need to get right in SketchUp first before you get to Photoshop.
7 things before You Rendering SketchUp Models in Photoshop
Okay, so what are the seven key things you need to get right in SketchUp first before you get to Photoshop? Let’s start with :
1. Split Your SketchUp Image into Photoshop Layers.
Renderings done in Photoshop will always consist of anywhere from a few, to hundreds of layers stacked one on top of the other to create a final image. You can think of each Photoshop layer as a transparent sheet.
You can have an image that takes up the whole sheet such that you can’t see through to the next sheet, or you can have a partial image that allows you to see through to something below. You can even have layers that use blending effects to change the appearance of the layers below them.
We’ll talk more about Photoshop layers in a moment, but for now, the key is to start planning ahead in SketchUp for the types of layers you’ll need in Photoshop. Let’s walk through a quick example so I can show you what I mean. If you export a 2D image of your SketchUp model, and open it in Photoshop, you’ll see the whole image is on one layer.
Now, what if you just wanna adjust the intensity of the shadows, without affecting the rest of the image? In Photoshop, the key to making adjustments like this comes from isolating things onto separate layers so you have more control over them.
In this case, we’d love to have one layer that has the image without the shadows, and then a second layer on top that has only the shadows, that way we could make adjustments to the shadows layer without affecting the base image. By now you may be thinking, “Okay, but how do I bring a SketchUp image into Photoshop, in layers?” It starts by creating scenes in SketchUp that will each become their own layer in Photoshop. Now you’re probably used to creating scenes to save different camera views of your SketchUp model.
But when it comes to prepping for Photoshop, you actually wanna create scenes in SketchUp that have the same camera view, and only change other visual settings you plan to isolate later.
So in SketchUp, you create one scene with everything you wanna see, but with the shadows turned off. And then to create a second scene with only the shadows, you turn the shadows back on, and use hidden line mode for the faces. Turn the edges off. Next, you select one of the scenes and export an image. And then do the same for the other scene.
Once you’ve exported images from your scenes, you need to composite them in Photoshop.
That’s just another way of saying that you need to bring them in as layers, and stack them in the right order and use the right blending mode for each to put your SketchUp image back together. To do that, you drag the exported images into a new Photoshop file, and hit Enter to place one on top of the other as layers. Then put the shadows layer on top and set the blending mode to Multiply. All of the white parts of that layer go away, and the black parts blend down to the layer below.
Now you have pretty much the same image from the beginning of our example.
Only this time, we can easily adjust only the shadow intensity without affecting the rest of the image. Once you get the hang of this idea, you can set up different scenes in SketchUp to isolate lines, profile lines, monochrome faces, colored faces, textured faces, shadows, and more. Plus, if you use a rendering extension such as V-Ray for SketchUp, you can use this same technique to save render elements that isolate things like reflections and lighting. And then you can bring any combination of exported scenes or render elements into Photoshop and composite them together to create a new look.
In general, to get this to work, you will wanna experiment with one of four blending modes: Multiply, Screen, Overlay or Soft Light. Now while it’s too much to try to cover all of the possible combinations of scenes, render elements and blending modes here today, I’ve added some helpful tips to the notes. Once you’ve got your layers and blending modes all set, you can try filters, adjustments and any of the other tools in Photoshop to create a custom look. Now this works great when you’re dealing with an entire SketchUp image.
But often you’ll wanna take your SketchUp model and incorporate it with other imagery in Photoshop. That’s where the next tip comes in.
2. Export Transparency and Alpha Channels.
When you need to export an image of your model with a transparent background, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, you need to turn off the Sky and Ground colors in the background. You also need to set your background color to white.
Then, when you Export, be sure to pick PNG and in the Options, pick transparent background. Now, when you take your image into Photoshop, you’ll be able to see through to the layer beneath it.
While we’re on the topic of transparency, if you’re a more seasoned Photoshop user, you’ll know that there are times where you’ll need to create a layer mask to isolate your SketchUp model. While you could use Photoshop’s tools to manually set this up, there’s another, easier way to create one in SketchUp. Just go to your Styles menu and set your background to black.
Then set your faces to monochrome and set both front and back faces to white. Make sure the edges are off. You’ll also need to turn the shadows off. Make sure to click the Use sun for shading option.
Slide the light slider and the dark slider to 100, and you’re left with a black and white image that looks like an alpha mask.
You can save this as its own scene. Export this scene as a PNG, no need for a transparent background, and then use it in Photoshop to quickly set up a layer mask when you need it. Okay, now you know how to set up alpha masks. Let’s move on to the next tip.
3. Create Selection Helper Scenes.
In Photoshop, you often need to select individual elements within an image so you can make adjustments to only those areas. Of course, there are a number of tools and techniques for selecting things precisely in Photoshop. But they can be time consuming and difficult to use, and will produce mediocre results if you haven’t mastered them. The good news is that there are two types of scenes you can create in SketchUp that will help you make easier selections in Photoshop.
The first is a flat color scene.
For this one, set your faces to shaded and turn off your edges. You’ll also need to turn the shadows off, but make sure to check the Use sun for Shading option and slide the light slider to 0 and the dark slider to 100. These settings combine to turn the colors and materials in your model into flat colors. When you export this scene, and bring it into Photoshop as its own layer, you can use Photoshop’s tools to easily select one of the flat colors, then you can use that selection to confine the adjustments you make on another Photoshop layer.
Along similar lines, you can also create a color by tag scene in SketchUp.
In this case, you need to think ahead about what types of SketchUp tags to create. Then in the Tags dialog select Color by Tag. You can edit the layer colors to whatever you like. And of course, export and use the same way as the flat color scene, only now you can isolate your selections in a different way. As you can see, these two helper scenes will make your selection life much easier when you get to Photoshop, your future self will definitely thank you.
Okay, you’ve learned what you need to know about creating scenes in SketchUp that become layers in Photoshop, for compositing, masking or making easy selections.
Next up, we have two tips for reference scenes you can create, starting with
4. Use SketchUp’s Horizon.
SketchUp figures out your perspective for you. But when it comes time to blend the perspective of your SketchUp model with a background or other imagery in Photoshop, you’re on your own. And hands down, one of the biggest mistakes I see when people render their SketchUp models in Photoshop is mismatched perspective.
An obvious example is the horizon. If you replace the background in Photoshop, but misplace the horizon relative to your SketchUp model, everything just feels off.
Now while you can address this issue by using Photoshop’s perspective tools, together with the perspective you can observe from your SketchUp model, there is something you can do in SketchUp first to make your life easier. Save a scene with your horizon in it. To do that, in SketchUp, you just need to hide your model and turn on the sky and ground.
Then save a scene and export it. In Photoshop, you can import this image of the horizon onto a new layer. Then drag a Photoshop guide down to match the horizon, and hide the SketchUp horizon layer. And now you can use that guide to help you figure out all sorts of things, like where your background image’s horizon should be or how to set up your vanishing points using Photoshop’s perspective tools. It’s a great trick for helping you line things up.
Now in addition to the horizon scene, there’s another type of reference scene we’ll cover next with
5. Isolate SketchUp Tags for Reference.
The benefit of adding things in your SketchUp model is that, so long as you place them in the right spot and they’re at the proper scale, they should all look proportionally correct in your final image.
But there can be an upside to omitting some things in SketchUp and adding them in Photoshop later. In some cases, you may be able to find a better representation of a person or thing as a Photoshop cutout. In other cases, adding something in 3D in SketchUp could make your model too complex, such as a high polygon tree, and it would be better to add it in Photoshop later.
No matter the reason, if you plan to add stuff later in Photoshop, here’s a strategy to consider in SketchUp. Add representations of those people or things in SketchUp. They don’t have to look exactly like what you plan in Photoshop, but they should be placed in the right spot and properly scaled. Then assign those people or things their own SketchUp tags. In your Tags dialog turn off the visibility for all of the tags, leaving only the tag for the reference people or things visible.
Then save a scene and export that scene with a transparent background. In Photoshop, you can treat this scene as a reference layer, using the placement and scale of the objects to guide you as you add your own versions in Photoshop. And then, of course, you can hide the reference layer when you’re done. Alright, once you’ve used the tips mentioned so far, you’re at the stage where the quality of your rendering will depend on the skills you have in Photoshop. However, once you’re nearly done working your magic, there is another effect that’s easier if you plan ahead in SketchUp.
6. Turn SketchUp Fog Into a Depth of Field Effect.
Did you know that you can add Fog to your SketchUp model? Fog is great for adding, well, fog. But did you know that it can also be used as a depth of field mask in Photoshop? What do I mean by that?
Well, in Photoshop you can have layer masks where the white parts of the layer are visible and the black parts are not. But you can also have shades of gray in a layer mask, where things are partially visible.
Normally we’re talking about the visibility of the layer. But if we apply an adjustment or filter to the layer mask, then we’re talking about the visibility or strength of that adjustment or filter. Take lens blur for example.
In a real world photo, you can focus on one part of your subject and elements in the foreground and background will become blurred, depending on their distance from the lens. In Photoshop, you can get a similar look with a lens blur filter. But it’s difficult to make it look realistic. That’s where SketchUp Fog comes in. In SketchUp, edit your style settings so that your faces are set to display hidden line, and your edges are turned off.
Then turn on your fog, and make sure Use Background Color is unchecked, and click the color icon and set the color to black. Next, play around with the sliders until you find that your foreground elements are pure white, your background is pure black and then there are shades of gray falling across the depth of your 3D model.
Once you’re happy with the result, save a scene and export it. You can now use this exported scene as a layer mask that you can apply an effect to. This works great for a lens blur effect as the fog scene layer mask helps Photoshop accurately bring elements of your model into focus while blurring the rest.
Pretty cool, right? Okay, we’ve covered a bunch of different tips and tricks in SketchUp to make your life a whole lot easier in Photoshop. But there are so many settings to keep track of.
And it’s time consuming and tedious to set up and export each different type of scene out of SketchUp that you need to use later in Photoshop. So that’s where this last tip comes in.
7. Streamline Your SketchUp to Photoshop Workflow.
If you’re only looking to render one or two SketchUp images in Photoshop, then your best bet is to manually walk through the steps for the tips I’ve already mentioned and really understand how each dial you turn in SketchUp gives you new levels of control in Photoshop. But once you’ve got the hang of it, and if you plan to render more images over time, then there’s a lot you can do to speed up the process, and also to guard against making errors like getting the settings wrong for a scene, or forgetting to create one of the scenes altogether. Here are a couple tips that will help make this all a breeze.
First, until this whole process is second nature, it’s helpful to have a cheat sheet reminding you of all the scenes and settings and how to use them in Photoshop.
I’ve put one together based on the tips we’ve gone over in this article and included it in the notes. Second, I recommend you try a SketchUp extension called CompoScene. It automates creating many of the scenes we’ve discussed, including all of the style, shadow and fog settings. Plus, it automates the exporting of those scenes as images. And while automating the image export step for each scene may not seem like huge a thing, if you’re doing this a lot, these kinds of time-savers can add up fast!
And that’s it! Congratulations! You’ve made it through the entire list! Did you learn something new in this article?
Do me a quick favor and tell us which tip you liked the most in the comments below right now.
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