Organize a SketchUp Model with Scenes & Layers

I think of a SketchUp model as a resource for building the real thing. Making the model is like a dress rehearsal, you go through all the steps of the process, and you can solve problems with the Undo command, something I wish I had in the shop. The completed model contains all the information you need about every part of the project. One of the ways to extract that information is through the use of Scenes and Layers, features of SketchUp that many people miss.

click on the image to see a larger version

click on the image to see a larger version

Scenes are saved points of view of the modeling space in SketchUp. From the Window menu, click on Scenes to display the Scene manager (the small window on the right of the image. The plus sign adds a scene, and the two arrows chasing each other updates the current scene. When you update a scene, you are saving the current point of view. In addition to that you can save a number of other properties with that scene.

In this example (from one of my recent classes) we have a cabinet, and there are five separate scenes in this model. You can generate any number of two-dimensional views of a single 3D model. In addition to the thumbnails in the Scenes window, there is also a tab at the top of the modeling space for each scene. When you click on the tab you instantly change to the selected scene.


This is an alternate view of the same model.

This is the same model, shown in another scene. Remember that scenes are only saved points of view; if you make changes to the model itself, those changes will be visible in every scene. If you want a traditional elevation, plan or section view, adjust the point of view by selecting a “Standard View” (one of the little house icons or from the Camera Menu).

To remove the perspective and make it look like a good old-fashioned drawing, go to the Camera Menu a second time and check “Parallel Projection” instead of “Perspective”. You can add dimensions with the Dimension tool by clicking between two points. The dimensions are now part of the model, so they will be visible in all scenes, unless you put them on a separate layer. Layer visibility is one of the the things you can save with each scene. There is a “Layers” window available from the Window menu, and you can add new layers to the model by clicking the plus sign. Adding scenes is incredibly fast compared to redrawing additional views, one of the great time sucks of traditional drafting or 2D CAD.


Exploded views can be quickly created in SketchUp.

You can make a layer “active” by selecting the radio button to the left of the layer name in the Layers window. Anything added to the model will live on the active layer. You can also select objects (like dimensions) and assign them to a different layer through the drop down list in the “Entity Info” window. That’s what is going on in the upper right corner of this screen shot.

This is also a great example of how SketchUp can quickly generate 2D information that beats the pants off of traditional mechanical drawings. To create this exploded view, I copied the entire model off in empty space. Then I used the move tool so that it is easy to see how the parts go together. I saved this as a distinct scene and added relevant dimensions. This is the kind of drawing I take to the shop, because this one image tells me more that several traditional drawings ever could.


A 3D cut list beats a traditional cut list every time.

Which brings us to the question I get asked more than any other about SketchUp. “Can I get SketchUp to generate a cut list of all the parts?” The simple answer is “Yes, SketchUp Pro will generate a spreadsheet report of all the components along with their sizes. There is also a popular plug-in called Cutlist that you can find with a simple Google search.”

After the simple answer, I ask my own question “Why would you want a traditional cut list when you can generate a 3D cut list in less time?” I made this image by dragging in parts from the components window, saving a scene and adding dimensions. It not only gives the information I need in the form of names and numbers, it’s a visual representation of the parts and their relationship to each other. Far more useful than what we expect to see, and one of the most valuable parts of using SketchUp.

–Bob Lang


Organize a SketchUp Model with Scenes & Layers — 4 Comments

  1. One of the best things about scenes is the ability to just update certain aspects of the scene, like the camera, style, or sections. I frequently create scenes that do not adjust the camera position – the scene just hides certain layers or components to give me an unobstructed view of what I want to see. This is very helpful while modeling, and absolute magic when displaying models in Layout. You can overlay (copy) viewports into layout and select a different scene on the overlaid copy to show different detail. For example, I show line drawings of roofs, and then overlay a scene with solar panels only showing all textures and shadows. It looks awesome in Layout, and really highlights the solar panels.

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