SketchUp is a popular 3D modeling software that’s intuitive and easy to learn. It’s mostly used by architects and interior designers, but it’s also very popular in the maker community.
Once you’ve mastered the SketchUp basics and start modeling more complex things, it’s very common to get “stuck” with the native tools because they’re not able to do exactly what you need. But don’t worry — that’s what plugins and extensions are for.
Plugins are tools developed by members of the SketchUp user community who want to enhance the native tools by making them more powerful. Most are free and available for download in the SketchUp Extension Warehouse or in the Sketchucation Plugin Store.
The most recent release of SketchUp allows you to run the software entirely online. It has three versions: Free, Pro, and Shop. Each has its own pricing, range of tools, cloud storage, and compatibility, but only the Pro version allows you to download the software and install it on your computer.
Additionally, the Extension Warehouse is only available for the Pro version. That said, you can still download the 30-day trial version of SketchUp Pro in order to try out the plugins we list in the following.
Before we dive into our list of plugins, let’s first take a look at how to set them up. The first option is to directly use the Extension Warehouse in SketchUp:
The other way to install a plugin is by registering on the Sketchucation website (for free) and downloading extensions from their Plugin Store:
Now that you know how easy is to install a plugin, let’s take a look at some of the most interesting and useful plugins every SketchUp user should have. The best part? All of them are free!
This popular plugin is useful when modeling curved surfaces, like the roof of a stadium. The first thing it allows you to do is create a skin, which is just a mesh generated from a closed edge loop. This can be done by clicking on the Skin button after selecting the respective edges. Simply provide a subdivision value and press Enter. The higher the value, the smoother the surface will be when you “inflate” it. (Keep reading…)
With the surface generated, you can now “apply pressure” by selecting it and clicking on the button labeled “Bub“. Inflate the surface in either direction, using positive or negative values, until you get the desired shape.
This plugin is very powerful, capable of creating complex geometries from contours or lines in a more accurate way than the SketchUp sandbox tools. With this tool, one can even generate organic models. It offers three functions:
This plugin makes it possible to extrude curved surfaces. It is essentially a more powerful version of SketchUp’s native push and pull tools. It offers a toolset capable of extruding any curved surface with different parameters and styles. It even allows you to make multiple extrusions at the same time.
This is perhaps one of the most powerful plugins created for SketchUp. It allows you to bend any group or component created in SketchUp along a “target geometry”. The initial surface must be a “quad surface”, which means it is confined to four vertices.
The way this plugin works is very simple, but the result is amazing. One first aligns the initial surface perpendicular to the quad surface. Then, it’s a simple matter of selecting both geometries and pressing the Flowify button!
This plugin is very useful for bringing models to the real world. It’s a tool designed for digital fabrication — production with the help of a computer numeric control (CNC) machine. The plugin allows you to slice a model into different pieces, give them thicknesses, and prepare them for cutting.
As an example, let’s say you have a 3D model of a chair and you want to build it for real. With this plugin, you’ll be able to slice the model and set up the pieces to be cut with a CNC mill. As long as you have an idea of how to assemble them, the process is fairly simple.
Once you install a plugin, it’s really easy to familiarize yourself with it, especially if you use it constantly in your workflow. Searching for and installing them is simple as most can be found directly within SketchUp. Additionally, most are regularly updated, so you can expect frequent bug fixes and improvements.
It doesn’t matter if you’re an experienced user or a beginner; you’ll always find a hidden feature or a new plugin in SketchUp that will help you to enhace your workflow, making it easier, better, and faster.
Feature image source: sketchup.kunstbrowser.de
License: The text of "6 Great SketchUp Plugins You Should Know" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.