intro to 3D modeling with SketchUp

or: how to make some stuff for that fancy 3D printer you just bought

getting started

  1. Let's start by downloading and installing SketchUp. That's a good place to start.
  2. Once you've got it open, it will ask you to choose a template. This sets the default view and units. If you scroll down, there's one made for 3D printing. Choose whatever units you're working with, but you should probably learn how to think in millimeters eventually, like engineers and scientists and everyone else in the world besides the United States.
  3. You might also want to turn on the large tool set. Go to View -> Tool Palettes -> Large Tool Set.
  4. let's practice moving around a bit.
  5. let's draw something

  6. Grab the rectangle tool (unsuprisingly, it looks like a rectangle). Click and drag anywhere. Look! You made a rectangle.
  7. PRO-ish TIP: If you want to make a rectangle that has exact dimensions, you can draw your rectangle, then, before you click anything else, just start typing in the dimensions - like "50mm, 40mm." Push enter and you should see the rectangle resize itself to the dimensions you specified.
  8. But we can't print out just a plane. It has width and length, but no height - it's not 3D! To give it three dimensions, grab the Push-Pull tool (it looks like a flat box with an arrow coming out the top) and click and drag the top of your rectangle. WHOA THAT'S SO COOL.
  9. Now try grabbing the Line tool (it looks like a pencil). Draw a line across one side of the shape you just made - be sure to go from edge to edge. You just divided it up into two planes.
  10. Now you can use the Push-Pull to extrude or completely delete part of the shape. Like this:
  11. get all fancy

  12. There's all kinds of other sweet tools, as you can see. Be sure to try at least these two:
  13. getting it ready to print

  14. To make sure everything is ready to print, there's a couple extensions that we use frequently. SketchUp extensions are little plugins for SketchUp written in Ruby that add extra functionality. Some of them are free, some aren't, but we'll only recommend free extensions here. Install extensions by going to Window -> Extension Warehouse. You'll have to sign in with a Google account to download and install extensions. The one you absolutely need is the SketchUp STL extension. This lets you import and export SketchUp models as STereo Lithography files (.stl), which is the preferred format for 3D printers.
  15. The first step is to check to make sure your model is "watertight," "manifold," or, in SketchUp terms, "solid." This just means that the shape doesn't have any holes or gaps which would make it impossible to print. The easiest way to check this is to select the model, right-click it and click Make Group, and then right-click again and click Entity Info. This opens up a little window with information about your model. If it says "Solid Group" up at the top, you're set!

    If it just says "Group," you may have a problem.
  16. There are two tools we use with decent results: Solid Inspector and CleanUp3. Both of them inspect your model and look for gaps and other problems. CleanUp can do some automatic cleaning, so we'll often run that first and then use Solid Inspector to identify any lingering problems.
  17. Once it's all cleaned - and we're knowingly skipping over lots of work at this point (check out things like this if you'd like to get more in depth) - you need to export out the STL file. Go to File -> Export STL. Choose "Binary" for your file format and then hit export. Happy printing!