Guide: 3D Printing from SketchUp
Welcome to our 3D printing guide! This document will help you get started creating SketchUp models that can be 3D printed, and give some tips on printing too
It’s designed to give you an overview of what all you need to know with links to more in depth training and resources where applicable. In many places, it links to videos in our SketchUp Tutorials library. Our library is the best way to build the SketchUp skills you need, and we offer a 7 day free trial.
To help get you started, we’ve also made a short 10-minute screencast that will guide you through drawing a model that can be 3D printed.
Setting up SketchUp
So you’re ready to dive into the world of 3D printing and you’ve chosen SketchUp as your 3D modeling software. Well done! Before you start designing, follow these quick tips to set yourself up for 3D printing success:
Set your Template to Metric or Imperial units
Depending on the 3D printer you will be using, you may want to change your SketchUp template to metric or imperial units. To do that, go to SketchUp >> Preferences >> Tempate and select a template for Meters or Feet (and Inches) depending on which best suits your needs. Note: This changes the Template for all future files that you start, but will not change the template for a file that has already been started. So do this first, then start a new file, to be sure the proper template is in place.
Installing the SketchUp STL Extension
In order to 3D print your SketchUp model, you’ll most likely need to export your 3D model as a .stl file so that a 3D printer can read it. SketchUp offers a free extension to allow you to export .stl files called SketchUp STL.
If you are using SketchUp 2013 or later:
- Open SketchUp
- Go to Window >> Extension Warehouse
- Sign-in using your Google account
- Search for “SketchUp STL”
- Then click “Install”
If you are on SketchUp 8 or earlier:
- Open your web browser and use this link to find the SketchUp STL extension on the Extension Warehouse
- Sign-in using your Google account
- Click on the “Download” button
- Open SketchUp
- Go to SketchUp >> Preferences
- Select Extensions
- Click on Install Extension
- Then pick the Extension that you downloaded
Basic SketchUp concepts: 6 easy steps to building your first 3D printable model
Whether you’re brand new to SketchUp or an old pro, take some time to brush-up on these basic skills. They’ll help you through the steps to creating your first 3D printable model.
Use your mouse to Navigate in 3D
Did you know that 3 of the main navigation features in SketchUp – Orbit, Pan and Zoom – are all accessible to you through your 3-button, scroll-wheel mouse? Simply roll the center wheel forward and back to Zoom, press and hold down on the center mouse wheel and then move the mouse to Orbit, and hold down the Shift key on your keyboard while Orbiting to Pan. If you subscribe to our SketchUp Tutorials, watch the Navigating in 3D video tutorial (in our SketchUp Level 1 tutorial series) to see these skills in action. (Not a subscriber? Sign-up for a 7-day free trial to access our video tutorials.)
The right (and wrong) way to use your mouse with SketchUp
In SketchUp, when you are using a tool, you should get used to clicking and letting go of your mouse button to begin using the tool, then moving the mouse (say, to draw an edge with the Pencil Tool), and then clicking a second time to complete the operation. This method is called Click-Move-Click and is generally considered the “correct” way to use your mouse in SketchUp. The “wrong” way, or the way we are more accustomed to using the mouse is to click and drag the mouse and then let go of the mouse button at the end of the operation – essentially clicking just once instead of twice. This is known as Click-Drag. If you subscribe to our SketchUp Tutorials, watch the first two minutes of The Pencil Tool video tutorial (in our SketchUp Level 1 tutorial series) to see these skills in action. (Not a subscriber? Sign-up for a 7-day free trial to access our video tutorials.)
Understand and Create basic 3D shapes
In SketchUp, everything that makes up a 3D model is either an Edge or a Face. Collectively, edges and faces are assembled to form Polygons (or geometry) that will define the shape for your 3D model. So whether you are using the Pencil Tool to manually draw a cube, or you instead use the Rectangle and Push/Pull Tools to draw the same cube, in either case you are merely using different techniques to draw a set of edges and faces that make up a cube. Once you understand this core concept, you quickly begin to learn how to create 3D shapes using different strategies and different tools.
To create geometry in SketchUp, start by using the standard drawing tools: Pencil, Rectangle, Circle, Polygon, Arc and Freehand Tools. Remember the proper way to use the mouse. Once you have any 2D face, try using Push/Pull to push or pull that face into a 3D object. With these basic tools, you’re already off and running.
At this stage, it’s easy to get stuck or stumble on how to take these abstract concepts and turn them into skills that help you build exactly what’s in your head. If you subscribe to our SketchUp Tutorials, this would be a great time to take about 60 minutes to watch videos #1 – #8 in our SketchUp Level 1 tutorial series to see these skills in action. (Not a subscriber? Sign-up for a 7-day free trial to access our video tutorials.)
Turning your 3D shape into a 3D printable Solid
If you’re following along, by now you’ll have created a 3D shape in SketchUp. No matter how basic your shape, you’re just one step away from having a 3D printable model! The final step is to make sure that your shape is “manifold” or “watertight”… or in SketchUp’s terms, that it is a Solid.
Here are the steps to making your 3D shape solid:
- With the Select tool, triple click on the shape to select it all. Right click on the selected shape and pick the option for Make Group.
- Right click on the shape and select Entity Info. If you drew the shape with no holes then it should say “Solid Group” in the Entity Info window.
- If it says “Solid Group”, then you are done. If it only says “Group”, then you must have a hole or opening that you’ll need to fill-in
Note: If you are putting 2 or more solid groups together to form one larger object, you’ll want to use the Outer Shell command available in SketchUp’s Solids Tools to pull the solids together into one solid model that can be 3D printed from SketchUp. Watch our tutorial on creating a 3D printable chess piece to see the Outer Shell command in action.
Final Step: Export a .stl file
With the SketchUp STL extension installed:
- Go to File >> Export STL
- For Export Unit, select the same unit type that you selected for your Template. An example: SketchUp’s default is Inches, so if you left your template alone you would select Inches
- For File format, we recommend Binary for smaller file size.
- Name your .stl file and pick the folder to save it… then click Save. (Watch our tutorial on creating a 3D printable chess piece to see the exporting of a .stl file in action).
That’s it! You have a .stl file that you can 3D print. Congratulations!