Design & Build 3D Virtual Buildings & Objects With Google SketchUp

Ryan Dube 10-08-2010

I would be the first to admit that I am in no way, shape or form artistically inclined. However, I do have a fascination with 3D. I love the ability to create a picture in all three dimensions that you can visually “enter,” move around and explore. Saikat covered a very cool app earlier called 3DVIA Easily Learn 3D Modeling With 3DVIA Shape Read More which lets you create 3 dimensional scenes. Aibek covered 4 of the best free 3D modeling apps 4 Great Applications for the Graphic Designer on a Budget Read More out there today – including GIMP and Blender.


With such amazing 3D modeling apps already available, I was surprised to see that Google now has its own 3D modeling offering called Google SketchUp. Google SketchUp is the backbone modeling program for Google Building Maker, which allows graphic designers to submit building designs to Google to be added to the official Google Earth imagery.

Exploring Google SketchUp

After reading through all of the impressive 3D modeling tools available in Google SketchUp, I decided to give the app a shot. When you first install and launch Google SketchUp, there are a few different free templates you can use to start from so that you don’t have to create your 3D environment from scratch.

google sketchup

I like the environment with an earth and sky, similar to the Google Earth The Best of Google Earth and Maps: 5 Gems You Should See From timelines that show the earth aging, to chronicling silly and weird things captured by Google's cameras, this is the best of Google Earth and Google Maps. Read More 3D layout. The first thing you’ll notice upon launching the design environment is that the coordinate lines really help with keeping everything in perspective. In this template, you also start with a standard 3D character, which also helps to keep things to scale.

sketchup models


The first thing I noticed is the “Get Models” button in the menu bar. This directly integrates Google SketchUp with Google 3D Warehouse where designers have stored thousands of 3D models for free. You use any of these 3D objects in your own drawing.

sketchup models

After importing a car and setting it off to the side of my virtual world, I set myself to the task of drawing my first building. After struggling to do it the old-fashioned way – drawing rectangles and lines – I realized that there’s an awesome “Push/Pull” tool on the top menu bar. With this tool, you simply place a rectangle or circle anywhere, and then use the tool to “pull” the 2D drawing into the third dimension.

sketchup models


Once I transformed the flat 2D rectangle into a 3D cube, then I set to work putting on a rounded roof to create a large garage for the car. Another popular, useful tool in SketchUp is the “Arc” tool on the menu bar – which lets you draw a flat line, or object with flat lines, and then “arc” that line into a curved object with a flat edge. Right click on any surface to add texture. You can choose from a library of common textures (like roofing or siding for buildings), use texture from your own photos, or draw your own textures.

sketchup tutorial

There are a lot of different methods you can use to virtually explore. You can place the camera at any point in space, change the perspective, zoom, pan or orbit (rotate in 3 dimensions) the entire viewpoint. One of my favorites is the “Walk” feature under the Camera menu item that actually lets you virtually “walk” through the virtual world What Are Virtual Worlds & What Are Their Uses? [MakeUseOf Explains] Virtual worlds are, in essence, meeting places. They aren't video games, they aren't chat rooms, and they aren't social networks. They've been around for some time now, and chances are that you have stumbled upon... Read More that you’ve created.

sketchup tutorial


You can also resize or rotate any object (or sub-components) however you like. There’s also a full pallet of colors available to modify the color of entire objects or the smaller components of that object.

sketchup tutorial

Another very cool feature of Google Sketchup is the ability to create 3D movies by drawing “scenes” one frame at a time, and adding each of those scenes as you go.

Design & Build 3D Virtual Buildings & Objects With Google SketchUp sketchup9


Another potential use for SketchUp is as an interactive 3D scene. If you have a need for a 3D image that is interactive – where the viewer can click on and change colors or properties of select components of the scene – then you can program interaction into components of your drawing. For example, the character here is enabled for interaction so that the viewer  just has to click on the character to change the shirt color.

google sketchup

Of all of the features of Google SketchUp, I think the coolest is its integration with Google Earth. Under the Tools menu, you can select “place model” under Google Earth and export the 3D objects you’ve built into any location. Here, I’ve placed my character, his car and his new garage some place in the mountains of Western Canada!

google sketchup

By saving these locations into your local Google Earth install, you can enhance your favorite locations in Google Earth with your own 3D renderings. Insert your house as it actually appears, or place a few sports cars and a swimming pool on your property and forward the image to your friends as proof that you’ve struck it rich!

Google SketchUp is a lot of fun, and it’s powerful enough of a 3D rendering tool to use for work as well. Use it to sketch out interior or exterior design ideas, plan landscaping projects or to plan out the design for any of your next projects.

Have you ever used Google SketchUp? What do you think? Do you know of any other cool 3D drawing tools that we haven’t covered yet at MakeUseOf? Share your insight in the comments section below.

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  1. Black Friday Deals
    September 9, 2010 at 2:07 pm

    In whatever aspect, Google has been making the lives of everyone more exciting. Having this Google SketchUp is pretty amazing

  2. name
    August 25, 2010 at 3:29 pm

    hate the captcha,

  3. Nat Jay
    August 11, 2010 at 6:38 am

    SketchUp is a nifty 3D program for architectural & interior design work. Alongside the higher-end programs like 3ds max and Blender, I often turn to SketchUp for creating quick concepts and digital pieces with minimum fuss. It fits into the whole usability factor typical of Google products.

  4. Ryan Dube
    August 11, 2010 at 12:46 am

    LOL - you should really give it a try first. Don't base your opinion on my horrid drawing - i'm no graphic design artist by a long shot. Google Sketchup itself is actually pretty cool...lots of potential.

  5. thenonhacker
    August 10, 2010 at 8:48 pm

    looks like a Windows 3.1 app from the year 1992

    • Saikat Basu
      August 11, 2010 at 7:25 am

      Seriously give it a try. It is definitely one of the easiest 3D tools to learn. Creating layouts and floor plans, or even designing furniture is not too difficult. One is only limited by one's creativity.