Sketchup Blog - News and Notes from the Sketchup folks

Creating web-ready images with SketchUp Pro and LayOut

As you probably know, working with LayOut (included with SketchUp Pro) is an excellent way to prepare printed documents and screen presentations with 3D models. What you might not know, is that it's also a great way to prepare images of SketchUp models for publishing on the web.

Let's start with the idea that we're building a website and need to create an "Under Construction" webpage until we are ready to launch. First lets find something in the Google 3D Warehouse that conveys the feeling of under of being "under construction." In SketchUp 7, the component browser lets us find models in the 3D Warehouse and download them directly into our document without leaving SketchUp. Here's the model I'm going to use:

After we select a model, we need to adjust its style slightly. On the web, we often don't care about the model's sky or ground color. In fact, we often don't want the sky and ground color to show up at all. We want the model to have a transparent background, making it compatible with a variety of webpage background colors.

Now for the first trick: we can prepare our SketchUp model to give LayOut a hint that we want a transparent document background. We give LayOut the hint by making the model background white. (Actually, any color will do, as long as it matches the paper color of the LayOut document.)

In the styles inspector, go to the "Default Styles" collection and select the "Engineering style." This style turns off sky and ground and makes the background white, the very same paper color found in a blank LayOut document. Like so:

Next, we'll get our model ready for the web by adding some visual texture in LayOut. Select "Send to LayOut…" from the File menu to create a new LayOut document with the construction barrel SketchUp model. Next, adjust the model size or camera angle and use the other LayOut tools for adding text or annotating the model.

Now for the second trick: open up the "Document Setup…" panel and select the "Paper" tab. Make sure that the "Print Paper Color" is turned off. This setting not only works for printing but for exporting images as well. During image export, disabling this setting tells LayOut to create a transparent background.

With all the settings in place, simply export the image in your favorite web format (PNG is a good format choice, since it supports transparency) and add it to the "Under Construction" web page. Here's an example of the original image centered on a web page with the default white background:

However, when we inevitably change our mind about the background color, the image with a transparent background doesn't require an additional export. Here's the same image on a web page with a different background color.

Images with transparent backgrounds are much more flexible when working on the web. SketchUp Pro and LayOut make creating web-ready images a very simple process. Just remember to let LayOut know you want a transparent model background by selecting a SketchUp background color that matches your LayOut paper color.

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New blocks available in Building Maker

The Google Building Maker geometry team has been busy adding a few more freeform blocks to enable you to model more complex roofs and generally non-rectangular shapes. This is a result of our plan to continuously enhance the capabilities of this new web-based modeling application by listening to you and developing new features based on your feedback.

Specifically we have added these two new freeform blocks:

Horizontal Freeform Block: You might be familiar with the "Vertical Freeform Block" which is very useful to model buildings that have irregular footprints, insets, or protrusions. Now, we have extended this concept by adding the horizontal version of this block. You can use it very nicely for roofs with partial cylinders, stepped flat roofs, or sawtooth shaped roofs. This new block is also ideal for modeling arches with a single block, as opposed to many different ones - this can save a lot of time. Here is a quick video to demonstrate an ideal use case in Nürnberg, Germany - 2min:



If you look closely, you will notice two little triangles near a couple of points of the block - they indicate which points are at the bottom, so that you can properly place it on top of an other block or on the ground.

Freeform Polygon: This is another very powerful block; in technical terms, it's basically an n-sided flat polygon. It is extremely handy when you're modeling irregular roofs or patch holes that are hard to do with the more regular blocks, but, be careful not to overuse it, since it will require more effort to locate it in multiple images. In general, when you're using Building Maker, try to represent a building with large simple blocks where possible - basically "block" out the building with minimum effort, then add detail and work on the irregular portions with the polygon where needed. Here is an example for Venice (which some of you have noticed, has a lot of irregular buildings due to the medieval construction) - 4min:



Again, we've introduced a small marker at a corner of the triangle - this should make it easier to keep track of how the triangle is oriented when you switch from one video to an other. Also, keep in mind that as with any freeform block, you can add points by just simply clicking on an edge.

And most importantly, have fun modeling and keep those great models coming!

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Tucson and Cleveland in 3D

Tucson, Arizona and Cleveland, Ohio are some of the newest cities to join the Google Earth 3D family. If you haven't checked them out recently, it may be time to take a trip (download a kml tour)! These two American cities should not be missed, as they have a little of something for everyone!

Fly to the southern shore of Lake Erie and you will find Cleveland, rich with diverse architecture and history.

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Featured Modelers: NilsW and Do-nuko

Google Building Maker has been a hit since its release and several individuals have been geo-modeling their cities using the new tool. With over 315 buildings in Switzerland, NilsW is rapidly filling in unbuilt areas in Zurich, Switzerland. While on the other side of the world in Sapporo, Japan, do-nuko has added over 160 buildings.

Building Maker is a recent addition to the modeling tools available from Google. It offers access to geo-accurate, oblique photographs taken by an airplane and a simple set of building blocks. It all happens via web browser: users align the blocks to the imagery and Building Maker maps the photos to the building shape, then uploads the resulting photo-textured model to the Google 3D Warehouse. Each building is then reviewed for inclusion in Google Earth. Building Maker supplements our geo-modeling tool set that already included Google SketchUp, the ideal software for creating complex, customized 3D buildings using photographs from any source.



NilsW uses all of Google's geo-modeling tools. "I've been a Google Earth user for years and I really love the 3D buildings. It's a thrill to make buildings and know that they can be seen by the whole world. The first building I made was in Zürich, where I live and work. I found the modeling process to be pretty easy because I had already been working with 3D programs, although I have to say that SketchUp is a lot more fun than those. I used the Google Earth snapshot in SketchUp to model and texture the buildings from photos I had taken around the buildings."

He saw the potential for Building Maker to help him model more buildings, more quickly. "I love Building Maker for simple buildings. I started using right away because it let's me model buildings without having to go out and take pictures. It's also easier for me to figure out the building dimensions. It's really fast, though I'd like to see more tools for making complex forms. Maybe there could be an Expert Mode in Building Maker. I am using SketchUp for complex buildings. SketchUp is great for detailed modeling work. Creating buildings is really fun and I want to be famous!" NilsW works in IT and is a photography (loves Panoramio) and architecture enthusiast.



Do-nuko also works in technology as a programmer and loves MANGA. He also started with an interest in Google Earth's 3D building layer. "I wanted to put my town in Google Earth, of course; but it seemed like an impossibly big task. That's why when I first started with Building Maker, it was a shock! I couldn't believe how fast and accurately I could model. It made me realize that modeling my town could be a reality. I have completed most of the buildings along one of our main streets (see embedded video). Working with simple buildings is really easy. If you have a little patience you can do even complicated buildings too. I want to ask the developers of Building Maker to please also add tools to make rounded roofs!"

Check out what these two master Building Makers have put together in this video, and be sure to check out their Profiles on the Google 3D Warehouse.



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A very SketchUppy holiday

For the last couple of years, we’ve uploaded some holiday-themed SketchUp models to the Google 3D Warehouse. I thought it might be handy (for those of you who’ve found this blog only recently) to provide a recap of what’s available – you never know when you’re going to need some component-sized holiday cheer.

Santa Claus sitting down

(click the Google 3D Warehouse logo to link to the model)

Santa’s sitting (and wearing goggles) because I made him for a little sleigh-modeling competition we had in 2007. This version is "dynamic", meaning you can pose him. Click with the Interact tool to move his arms and head, and to change his belt buckle style.

We provided Santa and his reindeer (see below) and asked folks to send in designs for Santa’s sleigh. The results were inspiring.

Santa Claus standing up

(click the Google 3D Warehouse logo to link to the model)

This Santa's poseable, too. Just remember to download (or import) him directly into an existing model to maintain his "dynamic" functionality.

Reindeer in a variety of poses

(click the Google 3D Warehouse logo to link to the model)

Looking back, I’m not sure why I gave them dog’s heads. I probably should have looked at a photo of an actual reindeer while I was modeling. Live and learn. Incidentally, if you’re planning to line them up into sleigh-towing formation, this model might save you some time.

Menorah, unfinished and dynamic

(click the Google 3D Warehouse logo to link to the model)

The point of this model is that the candles are dynamic – they react when you click on them with the Interact tool. I created this last year as part of an invitation for folks to finish the menorah. This blog post tells the whole story.

Design-your-own gingerbread house

(click the Google 3D Warehouse logo to link to the model)

The above model is intentionally dull. It was meant to be a starting point for people who participated in last year’s Gingerbread House Competition (the winners were spectacular). It’s dynamic, you see – when you scale the house, the thickness and height of the walls stay constant. The instructions are watermarked into the model.

Most of the decorations below are dynamic, too; the best way to find them while you’re using SketchUp is to type gingerbread is:dynamic into the search box in your Components browser. These components need to download directly into your model to work properly.



Pinwheel Mint: Click with the Interact tool to change from green to red and back again.


Candy-Striped Pole: Use the Scale tool to adjust height and diameter. Use Interact to change color.


Wafers: Place on any surface, then use Scale to adjust length and width. Scaling adds or removes wafers as necessary. Use Interact to change colors.


Hooked Candy Cane: Nothing too exciting here. Just a plain ol’ candy cane.



Gumdrops: Use Scale to make rows longer or shorter, then use the Component Options dialog box (in the Window menu) to change colors, spacing and “Wobble” – choose “Robotic Precision”, “Close Enough” or “Too Much Eggnog”.

Happy holidays!

Posted by Aidan Chopra, SketchUp Product Evangelist

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The Motor City goes 3D

A few of us on the SketchUp team either have roots in Detroit or grew up there, so we're especially happy to announce that Detroit, Michigan as been added in 3D to Google Earth. From sports venues like Joe Louis Arena (home of the Red Wings) and Comerica Park(new home of the Tigers), to great watering holes and eateries, like the The Old Shillelagh and the legendary Lafayette Coney Island - home of the world's best 2am coney dog - they are all there in 3D.



Being able to cruise through Detroit in 3D reminds us of how much history this great US city has. We're excited that users around the world will now be able to discover this city virtually, for themselves.

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Chattanooga aims to get on the virtual map

Last month, a small group of volunteers launched a community-wide effort, called Chattanooga 3D to put Chattanooga, Tennessee on the 3D Map. Their goal is to "Bring Chattanooga to life in Google Earth for everyone to enjoy. Architecture, attractions, businesses, streets, greenways, parks, art...whatever you want. It can be done."

The effort was organized by Karen Liwanpo, Creative Director, and Stephen Culp, Founder and Chairman at Smart Furniture, headquartered in Chattanooga. Smart Furniture was one of the early adopters of the Google 3D Warehouse. They used Google SketchUp to publish product catalogs for use by architects, interior designers, general consumers, and design enthusiasts.

Karen was aware that many people model 3D buildings for Google Earth, and she realized her familiarity with Sketchup could make it easy to do the same in Chattanooga. In the midst of one of the world's largest community visioning processes ("Chattanooga STAND"), Karen and Stephen saw an opportunity to launch Chattanooga 3D as one of the first community-inspired initiatives to emerge from STAND. And since Google SketchUp and Google Earth are tools that just about anyone can use, they were perfect for such a collaborative community effort.

While Karen was an experienced SketchUp user, she had never used the program for geo-modeling. So, she contacted us. She said, "We're holding an event next weekend, we'd like to create 3D model for Google Earth in real-time. What do we need to do to get people up to speed to model Chattanooga for Google Earth?" Next weekend? Yikes! We directed her to the plethora of online training resources, and also connected her with Chris Wilson, the director of the community modeling effort in downtown McMinnville, Tennessee. As a pioneer of community modeling for Google Earth, we thought Chris would be willing to share his learnings with Karen. And sure enough, he was - a quick call between them and Chris was arranging his schedule to provide a quick training session to the Chattanooga volunteers.

The Chattanooga volunteers are doing a great job modeling their downtown, and their models are beginning to appear in Google Earth's 3D Buildings layer. The project has garnered lots of attention, which in-turn has helped to create awareness and aid their volunteer effort. If you're interested in helping the group model their downtown, or getting some tips for your launching own effort, you can contact Karen through the Chattanooga 3D web site.




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The making of a sweet physical model

Remember the Design Your Dwelling competition we ran with Dwell magazine last year? The winner (in case you missed it) was a gentleman named Drew Wilgus from North Carolina. His prize included a physical model from Sweet Onion Creations, a model shop that combines 3D printing with hand-construction techniques.


The model they constructed of Drew's design is nothing less than spectacular. Better yet, they documented the process of building it and turned the footage into a great video:


Aidan Chopra, SketchUp Product Evangelist

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Benvenuti a Milano

Milan, Italy in 3D is now live on Google Earth! You can take a virtual stroll in via Montenapoleone or watch the city from the top of the Duomo di Milano, walk on the ramparts of the Castello Sforzesco and check out the Stazione Centrale. You can explore these places, and more, in Google Earth. These 3D buildings and landmarks in Milan are primarily comprised of Google-generated models, but also includes some user-created models.



Whether you've never been to Milan, are a native curious to explore your city from a unique perspective or anything in between, Milan in 3D offers an incredible opportunity to visit and explore Milan in exciting new ways.

As a Google employee on the Geo team and a native of Italy I treasure the opportunity to virtually rekindle my memory of particular locations in Italy as well as plan trips and itineraries for my next visit home. Buon Viaggio!


Simone Nicolo, Google SketchUp Team

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New Building Maker cities

Today we added six new cities that can be used to model with Building Maker. They are:

  • Stockholm, Sweden
  • Nuremberg, Germany
  • Hiroshima, Japan
  • Saitama, Japan
  • Miami Beach, FL USA
  • Orlando, FL USA
Tip: There are two methods to identify available cities in Building Maker. You can either click on a placemark icon, or use the "Available locations" drop down in the upper-right corner.


If you're not familiar with Building Maker, it's a new 3D modeling tool for adding buildings to Google Earth. It's fun to use, and an easy way to get on the 3D map. Oh, and be forewarned, it can be addictive!

Happy Modeling!

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Put your town on the 3D map: Google Model Your Town Competition

People use Google SketchUp for all sorts of things. One of them is geo-modeling – making photo-textured models of real-life buildings that appear in Google Earth. For some, geo-modeling is a hobby; they get a kick out of building something that provides a real benefit to the people in their community. Local geo-modelers are the unsung heroes of the virtual world – no longer.

Our first-ever Google Model Your Town Competition is by far the biggest 3D modeling challenge we've ever launched. It's open to just about everyone (not just students), just about everywhere in the world. Form a team, model buildings (using SketchUp or Building Maker) and upload them by the end of February 2010.



You can model as many structures as you like – which types of buildings you choose to include is entirely up to you. The important thing is that your choices say something about the character and history of your town. You can even include links to videos and photo albums in your entry; this is really more of a 3D portrait contest for communities.

If your town wins, a bunch of us from the SketchUp team will visit, throw you a party and do our best to make you look like the local hero that you are. There are other prizes, too – check out the competition website for details, and start rounding up teammates!

Here's some inspiration (just to get your creative juices flowing):



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