Intro: SketchUp and 3D Basics

In the spirit of learning by making and diving in head first, we are starting with some relatively easy 3D modeling. This course’s collective projects in the past have revolved around Carleton’s built environment and building histories, and fabricating an interactive reproduction of it in 3D.  We are modeling objects this year and will be discussing the theoretical implications of such a project throughout the term, but since the skills required to model in 3D are complex, we will begin practicing in week one.


The 3D software with the gentlest learning curve is SketchUp.  Formerly owned by Google (but since sold to Trimble), it puts an emphasis on ease of use and compatibility and the free version is now browser based so you can use any machine to get started.  This is the software that many of the early 3D buildings in Google Earth were created with. Despite the user-friendly goals, SketchUp is a powerful program used by architectural and design professionals and will let you start making impressively detailed models very quickly, which can then be exported in a variety of formats.

Getting Started with SketchUp

  • Go to and register for the web only version of SketchUp for Free.
  • Then go directly to the webversion of SketchUp at and Take the Tour to get oriented to the interface

We will start by modeling a simple dog house to get a feel for the software.  If you’ve never used SketchUp before, I would encourage you to follow the tutorial videos 2-4 of the list here to get a sense of what all the tools do.

NB: This video series was made using a previous version of SketchUp so the window may look a little different, but the basic tools and icons are all the same in the browser based version.


Your assignment is to use the techniques you just learned to make a model of the house you grew up in.  Don’t worry about photo-realistic accuracy, just try to get the basic features, colors and textures in place, so that someone who knows the house (your parents, say) could recognize it.  If you grew up in a ranch house, then your building should be long and contain only one row of windows, whereas if you grew up in a bungalow or a cape cod you’ll have a taller building with a half or full second row. You get the idea. And don’t worry about the inside!  We’re just focusing on the external features for now.

When you are happy with your model, SAVE IT to your Trimble account and DON’T FORGET YOUR PASSWORD

During the next class we’ll set up blog access, and you’ll use these images to write your first post along with some thoughts on your process.  

As you model, think about…

  • how easy/hard it was,
  • what elements particularly bogged you down,
  • what compromises you had to make,
  • what technique or tool that you wish you had figured out sooner so that you can provide a tip for other novice SketchUp users and share your knowledge.

SketchUp Export

  • Go to and log in to your account
  • On the home screen, open the saved file so that you can find some views to export
  • Use the Orbit tool or the Views presets in the right side toolbar to find some good angles of your beautiful model
Views can quickly give you front, back, top, bottom and angle perspectives
  • Export several views as PNG images.
    Note the other free option is to download as STL, which is the format used for 3D printing — we’ll come back to this later.
  • Finally, go to our Google Drive Shared Folder, create a folder for yourself, if you haven’t already, and save your images there.


There are millions of SketchUp tutorials available online (just google SketchUp + what-you-want-to-do and you’ll be overwhelmed with options), but here’s a targeted list of resources to get you started.

  • If you haven’t already, download and print out a Quick Reference Card, so that you can start using keyboard shortcuts to switch between tools and get good fast.
  • Watch the Getting Started with SketchUp tutorial videos.  The first two are particularly useful for exteriors, but the third and fourth will give you more advanced techniques and tool tips, if you’d like to explore further.
  • SketchUp has also put out a couple series of videos that let you watch pros at work and give you great advice.

LinkedInLearning (formerly is a paid service, so not open to everyone, but you can access its tutorials by logging in with your Carleton ID.  If you want a more structured course, their SketchUp Essential Training is a great place to start.

Feel free to leave a comment if you’re having trouble, or if you discover something really great, and feel free to respond if you know the answer to a question.

Happy modeling!


  1. I found it very difficult/time consuming to create small details in SketchUp. On the other hand the library of premade components was very useful – it was nice not having to make a door or bushes on my own.

  2. I think SketchUp is a great place to start when learning how to model and use online programs, but there were some frustrating elements. I couldn’t figure out how to make my roof have multiple points.

  3. I personally struggled the most with making the roof of my house since it is pretty irregular in shape. I also had a hard time making changes to things I already built, since a lot of the parts of the house automatically bonded to each other (e.g. adjusting the size of one wall, also dragged other adjacent walls along with it). I think the most fun part was putting different materials / surfaces on the structures I built.

  4. Does anyone know how to copy and paste windows or doors onto another side of the building?

  5. I found SketchUp useful to start modeling, but there were some issues with moving the shapes around as when I select one part of the building, it would try to shift a huge part of my model.

  6. The sticky geometry made it really hard to change shapes that you’d made in the past once you added other features on top of it.

  7. Something hard about my house project was that I only have the front photo of my house, so I sometimes have to dive into my memory to figure out the back side, which might cause some inaccuracy.

  8. The process of creating a recognizable house from a blank box through adding different dimensions and details was so interesting. However, working with a trackpad was difficult until I figured out the keyboard shortcuts I needed.

  9. I found creating bigger objects and basic structure easy but the small details and overlap pieces like those for windows were harder and often create hollow areas or erased the structure of the house. Therefore, I ended up making decisions to simplify certain aspects of my house in the 3D model. Overall, I think SketchUp is a great tool to do basic 3D model if have the time to learn all its little quirks.

  10. I think the web version of SketchUp is super convenient to use since I don’t need to install anything. But it is not that stable. It crashes once when I am adding texture to the roof. Luckily it has autosave.

  11. Building my house on SketchUp was very fun first assignment. I definitely ran into some challenges when adding the hill that my house is on, in addition to adding the section of my house that is connected diagonally to the main section. Overall, there were many challenges, but I slowly was able to learn some tricks to make it easier.

  12. My parents are separated and thus have different living spaces. Suffice to say I felt lucky that my dad lives in a (easy-to-model, cookie-cutter) condo complex. Thanks dad!

  13. I think SketchUp was really useful to start 3D modeling. It was easy to access, and the features are intuitive. However, I wish there were more features that I could use in the free version.

  14. I learned how to use different tools on sketch up that helped me with completing the first lab. I faced a few challenges that were frustrating. For example, I used the move tool to make some changes to the roof and I didn’t realize the changes that were made to the house structure. I realized the lines were not straight at the end so I had to go back and edit again. Overall, I learned a lot from this assignment.

    • Ali, I had a similar issue when creating my roof and editing other portions of my house. The finished product is a bit odd because I couldn’t figure out how to make one change not affect other things.

  15. I had fun doing this assignment and I liked my final product. I did have to read the following quote more than a couple of times “Don’t worry about photo-realistic accuracy”. I kept trying to make everything perfect which was represented trouble as I am no expert on Sketchup yet.
    The hardest thing for me to do was to try to form the triangle roof that covers half of my house because Sketchup would just not let me move that line along the z-axis. I had to sacrifice a bit of accuracy to make it work, but it is still very close to the real one.

    • I also had trouble with wanting to fill in all the details. Especially when I was trying to find the appropriate colors and designs for different objects, I found that there were differences with what I was imagining.

  16. I really like the inferencing point function. It allowed me to push and pull surfaces to the position I want accurately. The array function also makes it easy to copy the components I created and quickly scale up my work.

  17. As a first time user of Sketch Up, the experience was really good; I managed to make a decent design of my childhood house pretty quickly. However, I was having some issues with symmetry; In particular my windows were not all of the same size. Maybe this could be solved by a copy paste method. I also intend to be more accurate next time by making use of construction lines.

  18. As someone who has had experience with other 3D CAD programs, I found SketchUp very frustrating to use. I particularly found it difficult to keep the view on a particular plane which made editing the faces of my house difficult. On the other hand, it seems to be very accessible!

  19. I’m so excited to try SketchUp tonight because it looks like everyone had so much fun with that.

  20. I had trouble making sure that the details I added to my house remained consistent. I experienced this difficulty while copying and pasting windows especially. I wish I’d spent a bit more time trying to improve these details on my house because I think it made the outcome look kind of messy.

  21. I would rate my first experience with SketchUp a 7/10. I had a hard time making the initial shape of my house because my cursor kept glitching. Eventually I found out even though the axises looked fine, I was actually extremely zoomed out and it was causing issues. Small details like windows were fun to create using the push pull, rectangle, and on-edge, tool. Overall, it was an interesting experience and I’m looking forward to learning more about SketchUp.

  22. SketchUp is pretty cool. I think I used it in 9th grade when it was owned by Google.

  23. I struggled creating a split roof. My home has a cross section which makes up the upper floor and could not replicate it in SketchUp.

  24. My house’s roof has multiple parts and was difficult to model. I took great pride in getting the little details right on my house. I’m proud of my work. If I had more time, I would have added bushes, trees, flowers, and so on.

  25. When trying out SketchUp for the first time, I found it hard to turn a mental image of my childhood house into the virtual model with an appropriate scale. It was difficult creating the spacial relationship between different objects.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.