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SketchUp Tutorial for 3D Printing: A Guide for Beginners

by Genaro PonceMar 26, 2019

Going from designing to 3D printing with SketchUp requires only a few steps, but there are some issues you may face in the modeling process. In this tutorial we show how to combine SketchUp and 3D printing.

SketchUp & 3D Printing A Tool for Everyone

3D printed building designed in SketchUp.
3D printed building designed in SketchUp. Source: sketchupdate.blogspot.com

SketchUp is a very popular 3D software suitable for beginners and experienced users alike. Its main goal has always been to introduce people to 3D modeling as easily as possible, which is why it’s so simple to use.

The platform is popular in industries like architecture, design, and film-making. It’s also useful in the maker community as it’s capable of handling large models as well as small objects.

SketchUp is also a great tool for those who want to start with 3D printing but don’t have too much knowledge about 3D modeling. It allows you to start modeling in a very short time. And that’s exactly what we’re talking about in this article.

Continue reading to learn how SketchUp and 3D printing go hand-in-hand.

SketchUp & 3D Printing SketchUp Products and Pricing 2019

SketchUp products and pricing as of March 2019.
SketchUp products and pricing as of March 2019. Source: SketchUp

The 2019 version of SketchUp offers 3 options:

  • The SketchUp Free online-based software, which you can access through their website only by creating an account. The only thing you need is a good internet connection. It offers a set of basic tools and 10 GB of cloud storage.
  • The SketchUp Shop license, which you can purchase for $199/year. This is basically the same as the Free license but with some extra features, like access to the 3D Warehouse and unlimited cloud storage.
  • The SketchUp Pro license, which you can purchase for $299/year. It offers the native tools and access to the Extension Warehouse and the 3D Warehouse, where you can download plugins and models already made by other users. The Pro license can be used online or it can be downloaded and installed onto your computer.

SketchUp & 3D Printing How to Use It?

SketchUp Products Menu.
SketchUp Products Menu. Source: SketchUp

As a beginner, we recommend the SketchUp Free version to get familiar with the user interface and the native tools. In order to use it, follow these simple steps:

  1. Enter the SketchUp website and register for a free account.
  2. Once you’ve registered, go to the Products Menu and select the SketchUp Free option. This will lead you to another page where you have to select the Start Modeling button.
  3. This button will automatically open the SketchUp Free User Interface in your browser.

It’s as easy as that! Now you’re ready to start exploring.

SketchUp & 3D Printing SketchUp User Interface and Basic Tools

SketchUp Free user interface.
SketchUp Free user interface. Source: Genaro Ponce / All3DP

Before we start modeling, let’s get familiar with our User Interface:

  • File Menu: It allows you to open and save your models. You also can import and export them to other file formats. You’ll find it at the top-left side of the screen.
  • Modeling or Viewing Area: This is where your model will be visualized. This space includes everything you see in gray, where the x (red), y (green) and z (blue) axes are displayed.
  • Selection, Navigation, Drafting and Editing Tools: This tools allow you to manipulate the object you’re modeling by changing its view, shape and size. You’ll find this toolset on the left side of the screen. We’ll explain how to use these tools in the next section.
  • Info/Managing Menus: On the right side of the screen you’ll notice there’s another toolset. These tools allow us to manage the model information, such as Entity Info, Layers, Materials, Styles and Views.

SketchUp & 3D Printing Modeling Our First Object Step #1: Setting Units

Setting SketchUp units.
Setting SketchUp units. Source: SketchUp

They say that the best way to learn is by doing, so for this beginner tutorial we’re going to show you step-by-step how to model a simple but functional object: an SD card holder!

We will start by setting up the model units.

In the File Menu, click the Open Model/Preferences button and select the option New Model. In this example we will select millimeters. This is because our object will be a small one and using millimeters gives up a bit more precision and control over it.

SketchUp & 3D Printing Modeling Our First Object Step #2: Using Basic Shapes

Screenshot of SketchUp during a modeling process.
Screenshot of SketchUp during a modeling process. Source: Genaro Ponce / All3DP

Before you start modeling, it’s important to figure out the dimensions you need. For this project, we started with measuring a standard SD card. We will then use the Native Tools provided in SketchUp Free to start designing:

  • An SD card measures 24 mm in width and 2 mm in thickness. Considering that we want two rows of four card slots, we’re going to start by drawing a square of 60 x 60 mm with the Rectangle Tool. (This is the example we’re using here, but of course you can modify this for your own purposes.)
  • With the Extrude Tool, click over the rectangle and pull it upwards to give it a thickness of 20 mm. This depth should be enough to hold the SD cards without any problem while not swallowing them whole.
  •  Using the Line Tool, divide the rectangle in two halves. This will help us to better distribute the card slots.

SketchUp & 3D Printing Modeling Our First Object Step #3: Inserting Slots

Screenshot of SketchUp during a modeling process
Screenshot of SketchUp during a modeling process Source: Genaro Ponce / All3DP

Once you have the basic shape, the next step is to include the slots for the SD cards using the Native Tools.

Making the first slot:

  • Select the line you have just made (dividing the rectangle in half) and right click on it. This will display a menu. Select the Divide option to divide the square in four equal parts. We need to set a value of 5 segments, in order to use the generated vertex as guide lines for our card slots.
  • For the card slots we’ll draw rectangles of 25 x 3 mm and we’ll distribute them with the Move tool.

Duplicating and distributing:

  • To make a copy of the rectangle instead of drawing it again, select it and with the Move tool activated press the “Ctrl” key. You’ll notice that a plus (+) icon appears. This indicates that the next object you move will generate a copy.
  • Click on the rectangle and move it to another line segment. Repeat this action until you have the eight card slots added to the square.
  • Then, with the Extrude tool click on each rectangle and extrude it downward 15 mm. This will be enough space for our SD cards to hold.

SketchUp & 3D Printing Modeling Our First Object Step #4: Modifying the Base Design

Screenshot of SketchUp during a modeling process
Screenshot of SketchUp during a modeling process Source: Genaro Ponce / All3DP

For the final touch, we can add some details to our SD card holder. To add some character to the SD card holder, select the bottom line of the front face and move it forward 5 to 10 mm. This will cause the front face to slant forward. 

SketchUp & 3D Printing Modeling Our First Object Step #5: Adding Text

Screenshot of Sketch showing how to add text.
Screenshot of Sketch showing how to add text. Source: Genaro Ponce / All3DP

Now, select the Text tool to add some text. You can align it on any face you want. However, in this case we put it on the front of the SD card holder where we created a slant in the previous step.

If the text is too big or too small, you can Scale it.

Once your text is positioned, Explode it by selecting it, right clicking, and choosing the Explode option. 

SketchUp & 3D Printing Making Your Model Printable Step #1: Making a Group

Screenshot of SketchUp showing how to make a group.
Screenshot of SketchUp showing how to make a group. Source: Genaro Ponce / All3DP

Now that we have our model created in SketchUp, we need to export it in a printable format if we’re going to 3D print it.

For this last step, we need to convert our model into a group. The way we do that is by selecting the object with three left clicks – this will select the entire object.

Then right-click to display the options menu. Select Make group and keep that group selected.

SketchUp & 3D Printing Making Your Model Printable Step #2: Adjusting Entity Info

Screenshot of SketchUp showing entity info inside a hollow object.
Screenshot of SketchUp showing entity info inside a hollow object. Source: Genaro Ponce / All3DP

Now, we want to adjust the Entity Info. This can be found in the right side toolbar. By selecting the first option: Entity info, a sub-menu is displayed. In the upper part of the menu you should see “Solid group“. This will ensure the object is fully printable without errors.

If you do not see “Solid Group” in the Entity info box, it means there’s some error in your model that will cause an error when sliced and sent to the 3D printer. To try and fix this issue, check the inner faces of the model, close any gap you see, and erase the faces you don’t need, in order to get a hollow object.

SketchUp & 3D Printing Making Your Model Printable Step #3: Exporting to STL

Screenshot of SketchUp showing how to export as an STL file.
Screenshot of SketchUp showing how to export as an STL file. Source: Genaro Ponce / All3DP

Once you’ve checked your model and you got the “Solid Group” green light, it’s time to Export it. All versions of SketchUp 2019 allow you to export STL files, which is the file type we need to make our 3D model printable.

To do this, you only have to click on the Open/Save menu and export it in the STL file format. You’ll get a file you can download and then open in any slicer software like Cura or Simplify 3D to send it to your 3D printer.

SketchUp & 3D Printing Final Thoughts

Finshed 3D printed SD Card Holder designed in SketchUp.
Finshed 3D printed SD Card Holder designed in SketchUp. Source: Genaro Ponce / All3DP

SketchUp is a very powerful software. As you can see, it has a very intuitive interface, and the learning curve is very natural. The more you use it, the faster you’ll learn how it works. Best of all you can use it for free.

As you’ve noticed in this tutorial, you can design and model almost anything you want very easily, using only the native tools. SketchUp can be very useful to introduce people to 3D printing because anyone can 3D model and print an object with the first use.

We’ve designed a very simple object here, but in the making of it we’ve covered all the basic aspects of how this software works. We hope this tutorial inspires 3D printing enthusiasts to keep practicing and learning SketchUp until they become able to design and print more complex objects.

Feature image source: SketchUptraining

License: The text of "SketchUp Tutorial for 3D Printing: A Guide for Beginners" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.