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Prof.  Elizabeth  Macdonald

Computer Graphics for Planners
ArcMap AutoCAD Illustrator Photoshop SketchUp Links










SketchUp Overview

"SketchUp is a deceptively simple, amazingly powerful tool for creating, viewing, and modifying 3D ideas quickly and easily. SketchUp was developed to combine the elegance and spontaneity of pencil sketching with the speed and flexibility of today's digital media.

Developed for the conceptual stages of design, this powerful yet easy-to-learn software allows for quick and easy 3D form creation, the result is an interface that supports a dynamic, creative exploration of 3D form, material and light.

SketchUp combines a compact yet robust tool-set with an intelligent guidance system that streamlines the 3D drawing process."


SketchUp can be used to

  • generate three-dimensional massing models to study building heights, solar impacts, and relationships of existing buildings to proposed development;
  • create diagrammatic figures in three dimensions that easily display complex information;
  • model ground level perspectives; and
  • produce basic scaled forms and shapes for use as underlays for hand drawn graphics.

SketchUp also enables computer-generated graphics to maintain a sketchy, loose character that most programs do not allow. This is an important aspect to remember as Planners. Very clean, hard-edged computer graphics, when presented to the general public as preliminary designs, convey a sense of permanence and finality that we don't want to present prematurely. It is important to show plans at early stages as works-in-progress.


The SketchUp software is available on select computers in the DCRP computer lab, all computers in the LAEP computer lab, and also as a free trial download for use on personal computers. Once the trial period has expired, reduced-cost student licenses can be purchased for continued use. The program is easier to use and more affordable than many traditional CAD programs, and provides excellent user support.


Video tutorials are offered by @Last Software, the developers of SketchUp. They do an excellent job of providing a general overview to the software, as well as covering many complicated tasks as well.

Tips and tricks for using SketchUp

  • Watch and listen to the video tutorials; they are awesome! They will tell you all that you need to know to start using the program, familiarize you with the SketchUp terminology and commands, and venture into very advanced features. SketchUp in itself is a shortcut to creating output similar to much more complex drafting and rendering programs.
  • Newer releases of SketchUp have improved importing function. For very large site areas, or when base files can be obtained from outside sources, SketchUp can import .dwg, .dxf, or .eps files. Depending on the origin of the file, it can even be manipulated as an object.
  • Quick plan-view sketches can be imported as ground-plane bases for SketchUp models. This allows quick sketches made on trace over aerial photos to turn into rough 3D models in a matter of minutes.