Posts Tagged ‘SketchUp

3D Modeling – A Need to Learn Skill
3D printers were originally meant to be used as rapid prototyping solution that would allow product designers to relatively quickly get a physical model from the virtual 3D model of something they are designing. These are people with the right set of skills needed to create a product including 3D modeling that use the 3D printer as a helpful tool.

With the boom of interest in 3D Printers in the recent years and these devices getting widely available and at attractive prices for home users one of the most overlooked things is that you will need some skills to properly use these devices. 3D printer manufacturers conveniently forget to mention that it will be good to have at least some basic 3D modeling skills in order for you to be able to create things that you can them print on the 3D printer they sell you.

Surely there are already a lot of 3D models available for you to 3D print and use, but that is not the whole idea of the 3D printer and is most certainly not the best way to take advantage of one. The best thing about having a 3D printer at home is that you can quickly design new things that you may need at home and then start using them, it could be something basic, it could be something more complex… it does not matter. You design it, you print it and there it is doing something useful already and it all happens in a couple of minutes or hours, depending on what you do.

In order to do that however you will need to know how to make virtual 3D models of the things that you need to use the 3D printer for building. That is a new skillset that you need to acquire and the nice thing is that the basics are actually not that complex and you can quickly get into it. Of course you will not be making complex and very realistic 3D characters for use in movies in a couple of days, I talking about much more basic things as a beginning. Then if interested you can continue building on top of that and go to the more complex stuff, it is up to you, but you need to start from somewhere. All that is needed only if you don’t already have the required skillset for 3D modeling, if you do, then you can probably just skip this post.

Why Use SketchUp for 3D Printing
SketchUp is a great tool to get started with basic 3D modeling for use with your 3D printer. I have mentioned it already in one of the earlier posts of the 3D printing series, but now I’ll be going into a bit more details about the software and how to get it ready for use specifically for 3D printing.

Why SketchUp:
There’s a reason SketchUp is synonymous with friendly and forgiving 3D modeling software: we don’t sacrifice usability for the sake of functionality. Start by drawing lines and shapes. Push and pull surfaces to turn them into 3D forms. Stretch, copy, rotate and paint to make anything you like.

Professional tools that can be used for 3D modeling such as AutoCAD or 3D Studio are usually way too complex and confusing for people that are new and are just starting with 3D modeling. Of course these are much more powerful and allow you to do more complex things, if you know how, but getting started with them is much harder than with a simpler and more user friendly tool like SketchUp for example.

There are two different version of SketchUp – Make and Pro. The first one is completely free and can be used by anyone for personal projects and educational purposes, though you should know that SketchUp Make is not licensed for commercial work. For professional work you would need to go for the commercial version SketchUp Pro. The good news is that the free SketchUp Make is more than enough for your needs to get started into modeling 3D objects that you will later on 3D print.

Apart from being licensed for commercial use the Pro version has some extra more advanced features, once you install the Free Make version you will also get a 30 day trial of the Pro functionality, so you will be able to explore these as well. More details about the extra features available in the Pro version are outlined in the table above, again the basic functionality is available in the free Make version, so no need to buy anything.

Configuring and Setting Up SketchUp for 3D Printing
When you start SketchUp you get a choice of multiple startup templates available to use that may help you based on what you are planning to be modeling inside the software. There are two Templates available for 3D printing as well that might be somewhat handy initially for some users.

The templates are called 3D Printing – Inches and 3D Printing – Millimeters and apart from setting your working units inside the software for the object sizes (Inches or Millimeters) they also give you another helpful tool – a box that represents the available build size of a MakerBot Replicator 2X 3D printer.

You can use the box as a guiding point for the size of the 3D object that you are designing if you have a 3D printer with a similar maximum build size or if you got the Replicator 2X. If you don’t need that extra guide (it is essentially a 3D model) you can just click on it to select it and hit the Del key to remove it from the workspace. Alternatively you can easily design a similar 3D model that reflects the actual build size of the 3D Printer you have available, so that it will be more useful as a reference.

Initially when you start SketchUp you get it configured with a simpler line of tools at the top of the software, however I don’t find that one very useful, so I prefer to switch to a different and more functional one. To do that you can either use Right Click on the toolbar or go to the View menu and then select Toolbars

The standard one is called Getting Started and the one I’m using is called Large Tool Set, you just need to right click on the line with the tools and select the Large Tool Set (it will show on the left side) and then do the same, but unselect the Getting Started one to remove it from the top. There are more Toolbars for you to choose from and you can experiment by turning on and off some of them until you customize the workplace you find that is most convenient for you. What I prefer is not to over complicate things and the Large Tool Set is enough for me most of the time.

The Large Tool Set gives you an easy access to the selection tools, the basic shape drawing tools, the object manipulation ones, the measurement and tools for changing the viewing position. These tools are also accessible via the menu of the software as well as via a special shortcut keys that you can learn while using the software to make switching even faster without having to use the mouse to click on different tools.

Extension Warehouse and 3D Warehouse
The Extension Warehouse is a place you need to get familiar with as you need to start with the installation of a very important Plugin from there that is required for you in order to be able to import and export STL files (the file format used by most 3D printers). By default SketchUp does not come with that Plugin and there is no support for STL, so one of the first things you need to do is to add that support.

You need to call up the Extension Warehouse from the Window menu of SketchUp, it will open in a new window and you need to search for the SketchUp STL Plugin and install it. It is a free plugin, and even though the Extension Warehouse does also offer some plugins you need to pay for, there as a lot that are free to use like the SketchUp STL.

Once the SketchUp STL extension is installed you will get the ability to import STL files from the File / Import menu as well as to save STL files via the File / Export STL… option that will become available. Prior to installing this plugin STL files are not supported by SketchUp!

The 3D Warehouse works in a very similar way to the Extension Warehouse, however instead of giving you access to additional plugins you can install, you get access to many free to use 3D models. This might not be that useful when designing a 3D model for 3D printing yourself, but you might still want to check if there isn’t a 3D model of the thing you are trying to do that can save you some time. Also if you are designing some scene that included multiple items in it can be handy just to import some readily made 3D models in it.

Note: The 3D models available in the 3D Warehouse are not designed primarily for 3D printing, so some of them might not print without problems or at all due to various reasons, so do have that in mind if using them!

Now is the Time to Finally Make Something
It is time to start playing around and experimenting with the basic drawing shapes such as the Line, the Freehand tool, the Rectangle, the Circle, the Polygon, the Arcs and the Pie. After you draw some 2D shapes you can try the Push/Pull tool to turn them in 3D objects, you can further move them around, rotate them, scale and offset and so on. Do try adding some 2D text first, and then try using the option to Extrude it and have it in 3D. You can also import 2D vector shapes made in another software and have them become a part of your own 3D objects. As I’ve said these are the basic building block of 3D modeling, but after a while you might be surprised to see how powerful they can be and what kind of things you might be able to make using only the simple forms and shapes.

I’m not going to go into too much details about using the SketchUp software now that you are ready to play with it, instead I’ll leave it to you do play around and discover things.

Check the official video tutorials for learning SketchUp…

YouTube is also a great source for finding many other video tutorials on how to design various things in 3D using the software, so go learn something else new…

Once you have designed a 3D model that you want to try 3D printing what you need to do is to just select the geometry of the object you want to export (no need to select anything if you are exporting everything) and go to File / Export STL.

Here you can select if you want only the selected geometry to be exported or the whole scene from SketchUp. You can change the type of units used for the exported STL, essentially scaling up or down the model, though normally you don’t want to play with this settings if you used the right type of units designing the 3D model. The third option is to have the exported STL file in Binary or Text format, choosing either should work, unless of course your 3d printing software supports only one of the two types of STL files.

Note: Make sure you have selected something if you are not exporting the whole scene, as if there is nothing selected the resulting STL file will be zero in size (there will be nothing inside it).

So you have just received your first 3D printer and are wondering what you should do now as soon as you open it up and install it. Baby steps, baby steps. Don’t be in a hurry, you will get there eventually, you will need to start from somewhere like for example actually 3D printing something yourself on your new and shiny 3D Printer, but what?

Start by 3D Printing Some Stuff
Some people start by 3D printing some of the sample 3D models that they got along with their 3D printer, you can do the same thing or maybe try printing something else. Either way the very first 3D printed object you have is something that you would want to keep and later on show to friends what was the first thing you made with your new gadget.

Alternatively if you want to start with something more complex and risk having your first 3D print turning either no so successful or unsuccessful you might try to print a Star Wars Yoda bust for example. A popular choice for many people among the first things that they make with their 3D printers, even though it is a larger and more complex object that may cause some printing, even I have printed it soon after I got my first 3D printer.

You want to try printing something else or to just browse around and find other interesting things to try 3D printing now that your first 3D print is ready. No problem, as there are many places where users share and provide the 3D models ready for 3D printing for everyone to download and try. Furthermore many of the generic 3D models designed by people can be converted and 3D printed without too much trouble, so this seriously extends the choices. Though we aware that is a specific 3D model has not been made for 3D printing or at least optimized for you might be in for some headaches trying to make a physical object out the of the virtual 3D one… especially if you are a new user.

Thingiverse is a very good starting point to find a lot of user made 3D models designed mostly for 3D printing and there are many more other such websites out there. Just use the search functionality on the website and you will be surprised by the number of results you get on various keywords, there are a lot of things available there and they are free (check the usage licenses under each model). Of course there are also websites where people sell their own designs ready for 3D printing and there are also services that offer visitors to choose a 3D model and have it 3D printed and delivered to them. I’ll leave these for a later time however as now there are more important things to focus in your journey to get to know your new 3D printer.

Try to Make Some Simple 3D Models Yourself
Not everybody knows how to model things in 3D space, in fact very little people with that knowledge go and get themselves a 3D printer. Sure it is fun for a while when you have an enormous resources with 3D models ready for 3D printing that are waiting for you to download and try. At some point however you start thinking that you can make small and simple things on your 3D printer if only you know how to model them in 3D.

The thing that nobody tells you about 3D printers is that it will be good if you know how to do 3D modeling, companies just want to sell you their hardware and leave the rest to you. They say it is easy to use and problem free, so go ahead buy it and enjoy it… and then you start learning the hard way that things are not exactly as they were marketed. So actually buying a 3D printer is the first step you do in a long learning process ahead of you and learning to make 3D models yourself is an essential part of that process.

The good thing is that it is actually not that hard to learn the basics if you start with a simpler and more user friendly tool such as SketchUp (available in a free version as well), so no need to buy any software either. You might’ve heard about the software as Google SketchUp as it was owned by Google a while ago, but not anymore, now it is Trimble SketchUp.

What SketchUp does is provide you with a basic 3D workspace and a few more basic tools that you can use to start designing not so complex 3D models yourself. The software comes with access to the so called 3D Warehouse, essentially big library of free 3D models designed for SketchUp that you can download and use and also export for 3D printing. There are also numerous plugins available for the software that can extend its basic functionality, in fact you will need to install one just to be able to import and export STL files (the most commonly used file format by 3D printers for 3D printable models).

It is learn and experiment with this tool, reading some basic tutorials about it can also be helpful if you are completely new to this. I’ll be talking about SketchUp more in a future post as there is more needed to be done for properly using the software for 3D printing. I’m just mentioning it for now, so that you can give it a try if interested and maybe even play a bit with it. It does have a free version that is fully functional, though it may lack some more advanced features, but you probably won’t need these initially anyway.

Learning the Basic 3D Printing Parameters
There are a couple of important printing parameters that you have control of that can greatly affect how things are being printed on your 3D printer. I’ll try to cover the most basic ones now, because not using them properly can lead to you getting trouble printing properly some or even all objects that you try. As you continue your learning you will also find out that there are a lot more advanced printing parameters that you can also play around with or tweak to get better results or to make a successful 3D print of something normally harder to print.

The above screenshot is from the standard 3D printing software (slicer) for the Makerbot Replicator 2 3D printer, other devices may have different visualization of the basic 3D printing parameters, but they should essentially be the same. The of course could be some difference in the exact names used, though you should still be able to guess as to what they are referring from the list below.

Layer Height or Quality is the most important setting as it chooses what level of printing quality you are going to get. With it you change how thin or thick each of the printed layers that build up the physical 3D model will be. A lower the number means thinner layer and better quality, but also more time needed to print, a higher number means lower quality as fewer layers will be needed, but also faster printing time. Common settings are 0.3 mm, 0.2 mm or 0.1 mm for the layer height, though these values may vary from one 3D printer to another.

Infill is a percentage value that represents how solid a 3D printed model should be. Going for 100% means that the inside of the 3D printed object will be completely solid, going for 20% for example will result in having a semi-hollow structure inside that will be reinforced with hexagonal or square patterns. Most 3D prints are just fine with between 10% and 20% percent infill as it is enough to provide good strength while also reducing the needed material and the extra print time that a fully solid insides will require.

Number of Shells represents the number of outer shells or walls that you are going to have on a 3D printed object before the inside part starts. The outer shells are fully solid while the inside part can be solid or semi-hollow based on the Infill percentage you have set. Normally the default value of 2 or 3 should be enough and you won’t have to change it.

Extruder Temperature is the operating temperature at which the printing head needs to heat up while the 3D printer is extruding the printing material (filament). Depending on the type of filament you are using you may have to change this temperature, for the more common PLA materials 230 degrees Celsius is usually fine. If the temperature of the extruder is too low it may not be able to melt well the thermoplastic material that is used to build your physical representation of the 3D model and it can jam the print head. If the temperature is too high the printed thermoplastic material may deform and the resulting print may turn out to be unusable or with very low quality.

Raft is a special additional base that is being 3D printed below your actual 3D model. It is being generated automatically for you if you activate the feature. You may need to use it if your 3D model has a very small base and is having issues sticking to the build plate for example. It could also help with larger 3D prints where one of the edges of a larger base of the model starts peeling off the build plate, you would of course need to restart the print.

Support is additional structure that also gets automatically generated and added to your 3d model in areas that need some additional material to assist in properly printing them. There is no way a 3D printer can print a part of a 3D model that just hangs in the air and has nothing to hold it to the base of the printing surface, this is where the additional support material comes to help and resolve the issue by allowing you to print the model. After the print is ready you can just remove the extra support material that was used.

You may have some trouble understanding how some of these settings work at the moment, but as soon as you start playing with them you will be able to see how they affect the printing process. I’ll also be further covering them in another post with examples and some tips, so the above was just to give you an idea what each of these printing parameters does.

Are You Ready to Learn Even More
The fun things are just about yet to be discovered and you need to be ready to learn a lot of new things about 3D printing and 3D printers as you start trying to print different models or build your own. You will need to learn about different filaments, how to get better quality prints, how to avoid failed prints, and so on and so on…


If you are new to 3D printing and 3D modeling in general it is normal to start your first steps in 3D printing by downloading and printing models that other people have shared on the Internet. But soon enough you would want to start doing more like doing small modifications to models that you have download and even designing your own simpler 3D models to print. A good starting point to people that have no previous experience is 3D modeling is the SketchUp software, previously owned by Google, but now a part of Trimble. The good news is that there is still a free version of the software called SketchUp Make that can be used for any educational purpose, available for both Mac and Windows. There are also many other options available but based on our experience SketchUp Make could be a great first step in the world of 3D modeling for most people before going to something more powerful and serious in terms of features.


Downloading and installing the free SketchUp Make software however is not all that you will need in order to be able to edit already available 3D models for printing or create and export new designs that you make. You will also need an additional plugin that will provide support for importing and exporting files in STL format – probably the most commonly used file format for sharing 3D models for 3D printers. STL (STereo Lithography) is a file format developed by 3D Systems, one of the pioneers in the 3D printing industry and it offers an easy and suitable solution for the needs of 3D printing. STL files contain only the surface geometry of a 3D object, there is no extra information about things such as color, material or texture available like in other 3D model files as you normally do not need such information for 3D printing. Of course you can also import more complex 3D models designed 3D visualizations and animations and convert them to a format that is suitable for 3D printing.


How to download and install the SketchUp STL Extension:

– Start the SketchUp software
– Open the Window menu and select Extension Warehouse
– Use the search to find the SketchUp STL extension
– Click on the red Install button (you will be required to login using Google account)

After the SketchUp STL Extension is installed you will be able to import and edit as well as export STL files that you can after that import into the 3D printer software you use to print the actual object. You should be able to see STereo Lithography Files (*.stl) option in the dropdown box for file type when you go to File / Import in SketchUp Make and also should have another option called Export STL… directly in the File menu (it is not inside the standard Export option of the software). With this you should be able to start making your first steps in modifying an imported STL 3D model or creating your first own 3D model to print later on with a 3D printer. Do note that the SketchUp software comes with a template designed to make it easy for you to consider the available printing space, the template by default is made to cover the available printing size of a MakerBot Replicator 2X 3D Printer, so do not rely very much on the scale you have if you are using a different 3D printer.