9 things I do before rendering a model

In my workflow I find that even the best SketchUp models need some clean up before they are used for renderings. There are certain things I go over with every SketchUp model before sending it to software like Thea or 3dsMax. 

1. Save a copy and rename it so you don’t mess with the original file. Seems logical, but it’s easy to just open and start working without remembering how important this step can be if you later have to return to the original for some reason.

2. Turn things off: Have you ever opened a model and wanted to flip between saved scenes only to sit and wait for the model to fly from one scene to the next? It takes time. And it takes even more time if the shadows are active. Turn off shadows first, then animation (it’s the first tab in Model Info), then styles that have extended lines or profiles. I want a lean, mean, clean model that can keep up to me while i’m cleaning it up and checking it out.

3. Back-faces: The first thing I do to the model is check back faces. Why? Because faces that are reversed will often not render or will render as pure black. So, first click the Monochrome icon or go to the StyleMenu and find it there. This will show the front-facing faces as white and the back-facing faces as blue. If you see blue, you need to reverse those faces so they become white, front-facing faces. You can right click a face and select Reverse Face. But I like to use an awesome plugin by Tomaz called Front Face. You can download it from SketchUcaton.com. This tool will save so much time and headache.

 Monochrome helps you see back-faces

Monochrome helps you see back-faces

 Evil blue back-faces show up when you're in Monochrome mode

Evil blue back-faces show up when you're in Monochrome mode

4. Unhide everything and erase: Go to Edit>Unhide>Unhide All. Also go over to the layers and make sure they’re all visible. You could even to show Hidden Geometry under the View menu if you want. The point is, make sure everything in the file is visible. Then erase what you don’t need. You can select things and hit the delete key, use the eraser tool, and even choose to just erase entire layers. Once the file is cleaned up from things with which you don’t need to clog up your render engine, you can move onto the next step.

5.Consolidate Layers: You’ll already have turned on all the layers in the model. To make the file size smaller before rendering I move everything off the remaining layers and put them all onto the default layer. To do this select your layers (try selecting the first layer you want, holding shift then select the final layer you want and the layers between should also all become selected). If there’s anything on the layers to begin with, when you hit the delete key a few options will come up. I choose to move the content of the layers I’m deleting to the default layer. 

 Select Layers

Select Layers

 Delete layers options

Delete layers options

6. Purge! Purge! Purge!  Every layer, style, component, color, and layer you use is saved in the file. If the design is ready to render, it’s ready to be purged. Under Model Info, in the Statistics tab there is a purge unused. But i prefer to use the Purge All plugin by TIG from SketchUcation.com. It’s fast and you can choose what to purge, plus it delves a satisfying report of what was eliminated from your file. This step of purging is what actually reduces the size of your file. Even if you do nothing else, this is a step you should take once you're ready to reduce your file size- it's not uncommon to cut the file size in half!

 SketchUp's purge feature

SketchUp's purge feature

7. Consolidate Materials: Close behind Purge All is a powerful (and potentially dangerous) plugin called CleunUp3 by thomthom of SketchUcation.com that allows you to consolidate materials. Too often there are multiple versions of the same material in your model. Generally in a rendering engine you want to select a material, like window glass, and edit it once so all the geometry with that material changes universally. With dozens of versions of the same material, this can take a long time; consolidating eliminates that problem. Of course the other thing to look for is that all your window glass, for example, is actually the same material throughout the SketchUp model. The glass material you apply to a window component and the glass material in a component from the Warehouse might be different. And even though they look the same and you intend for them to be the same, they might very well be two separate materials. Take the time to edit the components so they all have the same glass material if that’s what you’ll be wanting once you get the model into your rendering software. 

8. Groups and Components: Inevitably there will be changes to the model or at least to materials. If it's a model I've received from a client I go over the model and look at how it’s been constructed. Ideally objects of different materials are in their own groups, and components for similar models have been used. That way if i have to make a quick material change i’m not wasting time making elaborate selections. Too often people don’t know or get lazy and simply model everything as connected geometry so that when you triple-click an object in order to select it, you end up selection the entire model or at least much more than you need. If you see that you have a model like this, beware how long edits may take you.

9. Save down: I like to save my models down to version 8 or 7. This is because some rendering or modeling software can’t read the latest version of SU and you’ll get an error when trying to import it. You may not need to worry about this step at all. But it’s worth noting.

This whole process takes time. It also saves time. If you do your own modeling you can make it part of your modeling process. If you’re getting the model from some one else, it’s worth going  over these steps to make the model as streamline as possible before running it through your rendering engine. 

3 SketchUp workflow tips

I’ve been blessed with work and so I’ve been busy lately. But I wanted to find time to share a few practical tips to improve your SketchUp workflow.

  1. Customize your Toolbars  
  2. Use Outliner
  3. Use Extensions

The first thing I do after opening a new SketchUp session on a new computer is to configure the toolbars. The default toolbars with which SketchUp opens has long been a lament of mine. Under the View menu you will find that you can customize the toolbars that start up with SU. My first toolbar suggestion is called the Large Tool Set. Thereafter I like to show the Standard Views, and Styles toolbars. I also will display the Model Info icon, Undo/Redo icons, and if you make sections often, the Section Tools are very useful to display. And finally, I like to check the option to use Small Size icons.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that keyboard shortcuts are just as important as toolbars. You can set your own keyboard shortcuts in SketchUp and I highly recommend doing so, or at least using the default shortcuts. If you never have to use SU on other peoples computers, feel free to customize your shortcuts to your hearts content.

"When your most used tools are there at your fingertips, you’ll work more efficiently."

The next tip for a more efficient workflow in SU is to use Outliner. Hidden under the Window menu, you’ll find this gem that few even know exist, and few ever use. It is a powerful dialog that not only visually outlines the structure of your file, but lets you control aspects of your model. Groups and Components can be re-ordered, re-named, opened and closed, hidden and unhidden and more- right from the Outliner. Get to know it and you’ll find your workflow improve, particularly when dealing with complex projects.


Finally on this list- for there are many more tips for another time- start using Extensions. More often referred to as plugins or rubies (being they are written using Ruby script), extensions are now easier to obtain and load than ever before thanks to Extension Warehouse. I actually use the SketchUcation Plugin Store/Manager and recommend it to everyone. Perhaps ironically the SketchUcation Plugin is an extension itself, but it cannot be obtained through the Extension Warehouse (go to SketchUcation.com). My point is, there are plugins that greatly extend the capabilities of SketchUp. Some extensions merely make convenient work of things that SU already can do, and some give SU powers it wouldn’t normally have. There are hundreds of plugins that will make your particular workflow faster and easier- I can almost guarantee it.


Look for more of my SU tips soon.

2 more tips for SketchUp users

Tip 1:

The snow is gently covering the part of Michigan where I live. No colors are visible. Similar to a SketchUp model with no textures- which is the way I usually prefer to build my models, texturing them at the end. 

Screenshot 2014-01-16 21.58.01.png

Regardless how you model, I hope groups and layers are part of your process. Last week I implored you to use layers efficiently. This week I share a tip that helps you quickly see what is on each layer. Simply click the fly-out on the Layers tab and choose Color by Layer. Make sure the model view is in one of the shaded modes. Suddenly your model will be colored whatever color is associated with each layer. You can edit the colors by clicking on them in the layer dialog box.

Design by Dover, Kohl & Partners: when you can't tell what is on what layer, try Color by Layer. I often model in this mode.

Tip 2:

Often in SketchUp you need to draw perpendicularly on a surface. Sometimes it’s difficult to orient your geometry on screen to be perfectly perpendicular- maybe because the geometry isn’t on one of the usual axis, like might be the case with a sloped roof for example. If you’re in this pickle, an easy way to orient yourself is to right-click on the geometry and select Align View. If you’re right-clicking on a group or component you won’t see this option; you must be on raw geometry. And of course it might help you to switch to Parallel Projection if you need to be truly 90 degrees to your surface.


Hope these tips have helped. "Like" if you like, and browse my work. 

2 tips for SketchUp

Tip 1:

When modeling a small detailed object, such as a light bulb filament or zipper pull, often you may find it challenging to get the geometry accurate, or you may simply find it difficult to navigate your object within the larger model. Here’s a tip to solve your problem. First model your object at a larger scale, say ten times the real scale. When you’re done, make a group of your object and scale it down ten times to the actual scale! Problem solved.

Tip 2:
Sometimes SketchUp models can become unwieldy and even difficult to manipulate on screen, especially if you’re working on a large site plan. There are many methods for dealing with this, such as avoiding complex visual styles, turning off shadows, and hiding groups and components on layers while you work. But if hiding certain objects would make completing your model impossible, what can you do? Here’s a tip to keep objects visible on screen and still navigate your model as spryly as you want. 
Suppose your site model requires that you see the precise location of hundreds of trees as you model. If you use even moderately detailed 3d trees, your SketchUp model could soon slow you down to a crawl. Model a simple, low-polygon “popsicle" tree component and use that as a placeholder for your trees. Use this low-poly model as a proxy, placing it wherever a tree is needed. Then, when all your modeling is done and the scenes are set, simply right click on one of the popsicle tree components and select “reload” to browse for the more detailed 3d tree that belongs in your final view. And if the detailed tree has already been placed on the site plan somewhere in your file, go to the Components dialogue and click the home icon to see the list of components present in the current file. With any "popsicle” tree Component selected, find in the list the detailed tree model, right-click over it and click “Replace Selected”. Just remember to make sure the component axis is the same for both proxy and detailed model. 
Obviously this tip works for all kinds of circumstances, so have fun keeping your models more efficient!  

popsicletree copy.jpg

Stay tuned for ways to improve your workflow with SketchUp. And leave some love if you liked this :)

How to have the best SketchUp models ever

If you want to know the keys to a good SketchUp model without reading a book about it, you’ve come to the right place. Admittedly I am occasionally more long-winded than a book, but it comes from experience that i wish to share, in order that your efforts with SketchUp are more effective and efficient. Even after using it for years, if you are missing one of the fundamental keys to SketchUp, it could be keeping you from a truly useful model. I realize others may work differently from me; this is just what I've found to be best for how I use SketchUp everyday. 

Let’s dive in. 


Screenshot 2014-01-06 01.27.38.png

Layers in SU are a way to organize your model. They can help control the visibility of geometry as you model, and for what you want showing at a given time in the final model. The benefits of using Layers are many, but my advise deals with this single fundamental of Layers in SU: "Draw everything on Layer 0. Always.” 

In my workflow all raw geometry, without exception, lives on Layer 0. (Raw geometry is just whatever you draw in SU that’s not yet contained in a group or component). But why, you ask, would I limit myself to Layer 0 when i have potentially a metric ton of layers? Because the layers were never intended for raw geometry. Let’s consider beans.

  Beans are like raw geometry

Beans are like raw geometry

If you were to purchase beans from a market you would likely find them on shelves in packages. Or contained in a bulk bin. I’ve never seen beans just sitting on shelves here and there, unless a package was ripped open and the beans were spilled. If that happens you know that as you grab something from the shelf you get showered with the loose beans that are helpless but to come along for the ride with whatever they were resting up against before you move it. Even when you get home with the beans, you don’t pour them onto your shelves- navy beans on this shelf, white beans on that shelf, etc. You put them into containers first. You put the containers on the shelves. It’s the container that you put on the shelves- they happen to contain beans, or rice, or flour, or any number of things you wouldn’t care to store directly on a shelf.  

This brings us back to SU and layers. If you haven’t guessed, the beans are raw geometry. If you are going to organize the geometry in your model using layers, you have to first put that geometry in a container such as a group or component. Then you put that group or component on its layer. 

So why not just draw things on separate layers like we did with Autocad? (Walls on the wall layer, windows on the window layer, text on the annotation layer, etc.) The answer can be found in the next key to a truly useful SU model.


Just like the loose beans are better off in a bag or jar, loose geometry is better off contained within Groups or Components. All too often I see models in which some part of the model (if not the entire model), is just drawn as one piece of connected geometry. There’s no way to control a model that’s been built this way. What if i want to select just the roof or only the railings, maybe single out the steps, or grab just windows? What if all your beans were mixed up and you needed to quickly get a cup of just lima beans? Separating things into containers is a good place to start.

How do you know what geometry should get grouped? Start with big stuff that you might want to move around or scale or hide, and group it. Geometry that you might need to select quickly or edit later is a good candidate for groups, as are often those parts of a model that need to be defined by a specific material. Take for example a double hung window: I would give the frame, and the top and bottom sashes their own groups because at some point i might want to edit the model to show the window as opened. Furthermore I would group the glass separately because it’d be easy to quickly select the glass for editing later. And of course if I plan to ever re-use the window I would contain all four groups into a window Component. In this way if i end up with 50 of these windows in my model and decide they should all be 1” narrower and painted yellow, all i need to do is edit one of the windows components and the changes are instantly reflected in the other 49 window components!  

  Group your beans before you put them on the shelf

Group your beans before you put them on the shelf

We’re now ready to discuss why one doesn’t simply draw door geometry on a door layer, and wall geometry on a wall layer, etc. For one reason, it’s easier to draw on Layer 0 than to constantly be  switching layers every time you draw part of a door or window or stair or car, etc. And if you don’t think that’s a big deal, see what happens when you realize you’ve been drawing on the wrong layer for 10 minutes. And then what happens when you go to move geometry that’s sharing the same object but is on different layers. And then what happens when you hide that geometry! It’s not only confusing, it leaves you helpless to hide or move certain objects without adversely affecting other parts of your model. By keeping everything on Layer 0 and using Groups and Components properly you avoid a world of pain. 

I will extend this discussion just enough to caution against two things. First, avoid placing geometry in the same plane. If you draw a table surface and group it and then draw a piece of paper laying flat on that table in the same plane there will be a conflict. Simply move the paper up over the surface of the table by a fraction of an inch and, so long as the geometry is no longer in the same plane, all is well. 

The second thing to avoid is burying groups within groups within groups within components within groups within components… and so forth. You can embed groups and components within each other, just as you can stack a jar inside another jar or stuff a plastic bag full of other plastic bags. But you know that you can’t stack jars too high before the stack is unstable, or stuff too many bags before it’s too impossible to grab a single bag. My point is, keep the grouping light; avoid burying geometry, groups and components too deeply


Practically speaking, a piece of paper has two sides. We’ll call one side the front face and the other the back face. In SU, a surface is like a piece of paper- infinitely thin and having two sides. The front side is what you want facing outward for the world to see. An effective SU model is one in which all the surfaces are facing in the right direction. This can be checked very easily by viewing the model using the Monochrome face style. By default the back side of geometry is purple and the front is white (depending on your style template). 

  To the far right is the Face Style: Monochrome

To the far right is the Face Style: Monochrome

In SU as you draw and push/pull, geometry sometimes ends up facing the wrong direction. You might find purple on a random wall in your house model, or all the glass in your window is purple, or the entire tree model you just imported is purple. Why not just use the Bucket tool and paint the purple surface white? Because the surface is still facing the wrong way. And if, for example, you render the model using Vray or Thea, or export it for use in 3dsMax, the back-facing geometry may very well render as black, or disappear all together. There are some great extensions for correcting large areas of your model with back-facing geometry, but by just right-clicking these offending surfaces and selecting Reverse Face as you model you will keep your model useful and effective. 

  Purple faces are back-facing

Purple faces are back-facing



SketchUp allows you to apply color and texture to geometry in several ways, each having its own advantage. Although this tip is just as important if you never plan to render outside of SU, it’s particularly important for those of us who render using Vray, Thea, or any of other available packages. And it is practically a must if you plan to import the SU model to 3dsMax or similar software. The fundamental is this: apply textures and color to raw SketchUp geometry and not the group or components that contains it

This is a hard one. As you go throughout your SU model applying and tweaking textures and colors it’s so very easy to end up applying textures sometimes to geometry and sometimes to the group or components. The trick is to be consistent and aware to make sure it's always the geometry and NOT the container. 

Let’s look at a glass jar of white beans. If you want those beans to be colored red, you could go ahead and color each one individually, or you could just paint the jar red so that they all appear red when viewed through the red glass. But painting the glass hasn’t changed the color of the beans themselves. Only by painting the beans themselves with the beans be made red.

This is a subject deserving it’s own essay so I won’t go into more explanation. My models are cleaner and no longer confusing to edit since I have made it a habit to texture the geometry and let the groups and components alone. 



This one is easy. When you’re ready to hand off a model, first make sure you purge from it all the extra geometry, layers, materials, and styles that have stayed with the model but are no longer needed. Purging get’s rid of all that stuff that you don’t need and makes your file smaller.

So that’s it. Your SketchUp models will be more useful to you and those to whom you may be handing them off. You will have easier access to editing your models, and you will save hours of prep work for rendering. 


Next time I’ll talk about some ways you can improve your workflow.