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Oct 4, 2013
Robby Blum

From creating simple 3D studies to fully modeled building concepts, Trimble Sketchup (SU) is capable of it all.  Out of the box, Sketchup comes with a relatively simple toolset in the world of 3D modeling.  Sketchup offers tools that other similar programs can do, but at a much quicker pace.  That’s where plugins come in to play; scripts can be loaded into Sketchup to expand the programs functionality and improve productivity.  The following plugins are my personal favorites which have significantly improved our workflow when working with Sketchup.  All of these plugins can be downloaded from the Sketchup Extension Warehouse if you are using Sketchup 2013 or via the links if you are on an older version.

Importing from AutoCAD

Almost all of our 2D design work is done in AutoCAD, which poses a problem when designs need to be pulled into Sketchup.  An imported drawing file will have every line and every layer, which makes your Sketchup file rather messy.  To prevent this from happening, I clean up the AutoCAD files before importing and convert any repeating elements into a block.  When a block is imported into Sketchup it is converted into the SU equivalent, a component. After the file is imported you will have a bunch of lines but no faces.  Typically you would have to go through and manually create each individual face in the drawing (ie. Walls, Floors, Doors, Casework, etc.)  This is time consuming and incredibly frustrating, but fortunately there is a solution!

Ithil Face Finder, a plugin by Sketchucation user Ithil, can be ran after importing a .dwg file and will automatically attempt to generate faces in your drawing. Despite the results occasionally requiring a little manual tweaking, this tool saves time and gets you into the 3D stage almost right away.

Going 3D

Creating simple shapes in Sketchup is easy, but designs often call for shapes of varying complexity.  The following plugins make some things that were previously bordering on impossible a reality by creating complicated faces and shapes in a snap.

Soap Skin & Bubble is an incredible plugin by Josef Leibinger that allows you to create incredibly complicated curves and shapes in a very simple manner.  Check out this video demonstrating the extension.

Shape Bender is a plugin by Chris Fulmer that allows for groups and components to be bent into a long a curve.  This plugin is incredibly useful when modeling 3D text that needs to conform to a curved wall or similar applications.  Have a fully modeled, flat wall that needs to be curved?  This is the plugin for you.

Windowizer by Rick Wilson, is a plugin that makes windows from a face.  Simply highlight the face, right click and choose Windowizer.  A pop up menu allows you to set your options,  and from those creates a perfectly made window.  Overall it probably takes less time than reading this paragraph.

JointPushPull by Fredo6, allows the push pull command to be used on curved faces.  This operation seems simple but doing it manually is time consuming and is prone to creating subtle errors which can cause major headaches down the road.

Curviloft, another plugin by Fredo6, brings the loft function familiar to users of other 3D CAD programs to Sketchup.  This plugin allows users to create some really complicated shapes from just a few lines.

Cleanup, is an plugin by thomthomAlthough you might not believe this after seeing my desk, I like to keep my Sketchup models extremely clean and organized.  Even if you do everything right there is still a very good chance that some of your model has unnecessary lines or curved faces that are not continuous.  This can easily be fixed with this plugin.

Presentation

With these plugins as tools, there is almost nothing that can’t be efficiently and cleanly modeled in Sketchup.  So now you have great model with all kinds of complicated shapes but how do you show it off to a client?  You can take the traditional route and render it in a program such as Kerkythea or Twilight Rendering System or you can join the bleeding edge of presentation with the Oculus Rift.  The Oculus Rift is a 3D virtual reality headset that made its record breaking debut on kickstarter at the end of 2012.

Intended for use in the gaming community, the potential for this device as a client presentation tool is astronomical.  The headset features head and positional tracking, meaning where your head is pointing translates exactly to what you are seeing on the screen.  This technology can allow designers to truly immerse clients in their new building by allowing them to virtually walk and look around.  Converting 3D models from Sketchup or BIM programs is as easy as importing the model into any supported gaming engine.  Expect a fully integrated solution around the official launch, as it is currently only available as a development kit.  The best part is the expected retail price of $300.  Stayed tuned for my write up of the product further exploring its use in the architectural field…