My Sketchup workflow

A quick guide on how I use SketchUp to create architectural documentation

I use SketchUp pretty much every day. It’s a tool for quick object exploration as well as more in-depth design analysis. I use it for exploring design options for client work – creating visual merchandising objects – and for more complicated architectural work.

I’m a RIBA registered architect in the UK and whilst my practice days are pretty much behind me, I still occasionally undertake residential renovation projects.

I use SketchUp exclusively for this work, creating the design, production, planning and detail design models for all my projects.

SketchUp is extremely easy and quick to use but whilst its simplicity allows you to create models quickly, that simplicity can also work against you. Models can become entangled and messy very quickly.

As a result, I’ve developed a workflow that keeps my models organised, consistent and easy to update. When it comes time to publish drawings for planning or construction, well-organised models make it easy to create a variety of drawing sets.

Drawing Origin

A single project can generate a number of different SketchUp files. These separate files are then related to each other by using SketchUp’s file import feature – something I’ll go into more detail later on.

To achieve this cross-referencing, I have to ensure my drawings all share a single ‘origin’. The origin is the reference point from which all objects are placed and when combining multiple files it’s the point I use to place imported models in their correct relative positions.

My origin marker – a simple series of lines saved as a component

Tags and Instances

Sketchup drawings are organised around objects that are grouped in ‘Instances’ and characterised by their ‘Tags’. Tags and instances are very different things and can be confusing to first-time SketchUp users.

Organising drawings using these two features is really important as working in 3D soon becomes quite complex when things stick together, or can’t be seen through. Tags and Instances make separating, viewing and editing objects really easy.

Instances

A SketchUp instance is a group of elements. So a square; with 4 lines and its corresponding surface can be grouped and named. Double-click a grouped object to edit that object.

A grouped object of 4 lines and a surface named ‘a simple flat rectangle’

The Outliner panel is where you organise and manage instances. Instances are shown in the outliner in alphabetical order and their visibility status persists across multiple SketchUp instances.

Instance visibility persists between drawings – switch off some instances and they will be switched off when re-importing into referenced drawings.

I use instances to organise my drawing into building element classification sections. I use OmniClass Table 21 Elements to organise my sections

My instances organised using the OmniClass™ Construction Classification System

Tags

I use Tags more loosely to define objects with a bit more precision. In other words, where I have drawn ceiling boards (placed in the OmniClass instance named, ’21-03 20 50 ceilings), I then add tags that define the MATERIALS (m_), i.e ‘m_plasterboard’ and COMPONENT (c_) tags to define where the plasterboard is being used, i.e. ‘c_ceilings’ or ‘c_walls’.

I also use STATUS (s_) tags to separate elements into those items due to be ‘s_demolished’, ‘s_retained’, or introduced as ‘s_new_work’.

I never tag anything at the base geometry level; In the first instance after drawing an object, I group the geometry together and define the MATERIAL.

Tag visibility is drawing dependant; tags visibility is not changed when re-importing a referenced SketchUp file.

Using the plasterboard ceilings as an example, I tag the grouped geometry as ‘m_plasterboard’.

In the second instance, I group the various materials together and define the COMPONENT.

A collection of plasterboard objects and any other associated ceiling components is defined as ‘c_ceilings’.

So the deeper you go into grouped objects, the more precise the definition. At some level in the grouped groups, I then add the STATUS tag which shows which items are s_demolished, s_removed, s_retained or introduced as s_new_work.

The STATUS tag is also useful if you want to show things like door positions; open or closed.

Anything that is not a real object in the real world (like a north point) is given a REFERENCE (r_) tag.

SketchUp Files

I create two types of files in SketchUp; ‘component’ and ‘working’ files.

A component file is essentially where I create the drawing information and working files are where I combine all the components into a single drawing.

Most often my component files are separated into the following files:

  1. CO-00 Existing elements
  2. CO-01 Proposed work
  3. CO-02 Fittings
  4. CO-03 Furniture
  5. CO-04 Drainage
  6. CO-05 Electrical

As all of these component files share the same origin, the positions of objects within the files all lie in the correct alignment when I import them into my working drawing files. Working drawing files are the SketchUp master files I use within Layout to create annotated drawings.

  1. WD-00 GA Plans
  2. WD-01 GA Elevations
  3. WD-02 GA Sections
  4. WD-03 Fittings & Furniture
  5. WD-04 Drainage layout
  6. WD-05 Electrical Services

This list is not exhaustive; the more complex the project the likelihood is that I create further files to manage particular information – for example if there are landscaping or external works to cover I would add a separate working drawing to cover this information.

On small jobs, I tend to use one working drawing file named ‘WD-00 GA Drawings’ as it’s easier to keep one file updated for use in Layout.

Sketchup Scenes

Scenes are a vital way of saving particular views, section cuts, instance and tag visibility and styles. I create scenes in my working drawings to cover the basic views like plans, sections and elevations; these are scenes where I save camera positions, section cuts, drawing styles and visibility of objects.

I also create utility scenes that turn presentation features on and off – like shadows and fog settings. I also have utility scenes for showing and hiding certain elements like door swings for plans or furniture layout – specific objects that I can turn on and off as needed. These utility scenes don’t save camera positions.

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Ian D Thompson

Visual Developer | Architect | British Art | Read. Learn. Listen. Make