SketchUp Getting Started

Getting started with SketchUp is a simple matter of getting to know the workspace and basic functions, and the range of what the program can do, if you like to learn more enroll to our SketchUp training course. The user interface is very similar to other Windows based software. The main part of the UI is of course the model itself within its 3D space. We have three axes by default: red, green and blue axes which correspond to the x, y and z axes of other CAD programs. We also have a ground plane, sky and a human figure which allows us to easily see the human scale of a project.

At the top of the screen sits the Getting Started toolbar comprising of a set of commonly-used tools for drawing and editing shapes, as well as navigating the 3D model. It’s a good idea for the beginner to hold their cursor over each tool to view a tool tip which briefly tells what the tool is. When you first open SketchUp the Instructor panel is open. If you don’t see it, simply click on its icon on the bottom left of the screen. The Instructor explains the use of each tool and shows a small animation on its use.


To access other tools go to the View drop-down menu, choose Toolbars and Large Tool Set. This includes other valuable tools for the next level of proficiency. Some of the drop-down menus at the top of the interface are familiar from other programs – this is where we open, save and print the file. We also see the last few models worked on, for easy access.

On the bottom right of the interface we have the Measurements field into which we add precise dimensions for lengths of lines, radius of circles, scale factors, degrees of revolution, etc. It’s often commented that SketchUp is not accurate, but this is not really true – when precise measurements are added into the measurements field, the model will be as accurate as you’ve made it. We can also adjust the accuracy in the Window, Model Info, Units panel.

This comprises the basic SketchUp interface, but additional panels for items like Shadows, Styles and Materials can be added from the Window drop-down menu at the top of the screen.


The process of modeling in SketchUp follows the same pattern virtually every time: the model is created using the common drawing and modeling tools. We then add realistic materials and textures via the Materials libraries, or you can create your own materials for items like signage or artwork.

We may then wish to view the model with realistic sunlighting, for the purposes of showing accurate shadow mapping of surrounding buildings in an urban setting. This can be done by geo-locating the site in the Model Info panel. We can either use Google Earth to import site terrain, thus automatically setting up the lighting conditions. Or we can simply add the latitude and longitude manually.

Interior lighting can be done by downloading a third-party plug-in extension, or opening the model in a photo-realistic rendering engine, some of which are free.

We can also create section models easily and, if you have the Pro version of SketchUp ($600) you can output those elevations onto sheets for dimensioning and printing.

Fly-through animations can also be created on both the Pro and the free make versions of SketchUp.