Recognize What SketchUp Is Telling You

If you’re learning how to use SketchUp you have a lot on your plate. As it is with any new software you need to remember what happens when you click on this or that, but SketchUp is more complex because you also need to learn how to get around in an imaginary three-dimensional world. On top of all that, there are a bunch of ways  the program lets you know what is going on. Training your brain to look for and recognize these cues can be a struggle. In this previous post I wrote about the colored inferences that help you stay on axis and click on exact points. Today’s topic is about how to recognize what you click on by the way it is highlighted.

Vis_1For most commands in SketchUp the best practice is to select the object then get the tool you need. One click selects a single object in SketchUp and that object is highlighted to let you know you’re ready to work. Click on a line and the line turns blue, click on a face and the face is covered with little blue dots.

As models become complex loose edges and faces are combined into Groups (once in a while) and Components (almost always). Click here to read more about components. One click selects a component. In the photo at left the assembled drawer is a single component and it is ready to be moved, copied or rotated.

vis_2In the image at right, I have double-clicked to open the component for editing. This is obvious if you know what to look for; the component is surrounded by a dotted-line box and the rest of the model is dimmed. When a component is open, the geometry within the component is the only thing that can be changed.

A component can contain loose faces and edges, but it can also contain other components. In this example the drawer component contains five distinct component, a front, back, bottom and two sides. If you look at the image closely you can see that the drawer front is a component (the entire piece is bordered with blue lines) and it is within the drawer component (the entire drawer is bordered by the dotted line boundary).

vis_3In this third image, the drawer front component is now open for editing (surrounded by a dotted line box) and the front face has been selected (it’s covered in blue dots). All of this is still inside the original “drawer” component.

In classes, students tend to focus so intently on solving the task at hand that they don’t look for, or don’t recognize these cues. That leads to problems. My modus operandi is to make any object that would be a distinct piece of wood in real life a component as soon as it exists in three dimensions. If several pieces of wood are assembled into one thing, like a drawer or door, that assembly is also made a component.

The great advantage to SketchUp comes when it is time to make changes or multiples. Modeling one drawer may take a while, but the next drawer can be a copy of the first. If something changes, editing one instance of a component will change every other component in the model that has the same definition. When you right-click on a component, one of the options on the pop-up menu is “Make Unique”. That lets you make similar parts without altering the originals.

vis_4In addition to looking for cues from the program, it also pays to adjust your point of view by orbiting so that there is a clear distinction between the three colored axes. In the image at right we’re looking at the same drawer that is seen in the images above.

In this point of view, the blue and green axes are so close together that it is hard to distinguish one from the other. That isn’t a problem if we want to move on the red axis, but if we want to go in the green or blue direction we can’t really tell where we want to go.

When the point of view is confusing in SketchUp, it doesn’t just confuse you; the program can’t tell either when the axis lines are close together or overlapping. If things won’t go the direction you want them to, stop what you’re doing and take a good look at the screen. The chances are good that SketchUp will tell you what you need to know, and a bit of orbiting will show you which way to go.

— Bob Lang

There is a bunch of free SketchUp information on this website, click “SketchUp Tutorials” or “SketchUp Woodworking” under the SketchUp menu at the top of the page. If you’d like to have a comprehensive reference for doing almost anything in SketchUp, you should take a look at my interactive PDF SketchUp books.

Click here to check out “Building Blocks of SketchUp”

Click here to check out “Woodworker’s Guide to SketchUp”


What do you think?