Downloadable Plans, SketchUp
Comments 9

Will I ever become a SketchUp pro?

Not so dumb anymore. My SketchUp text book. An appropriate book for me since there is still a lot for me to learn.

I have been working this week on my upcoming free e-book: the down loadable plans for my daughter’s bookcase. A critical tool in the preparation of this e-book and my last one is SketchUp. In addition to my e-books, I often use SketchUp illustrations to communicate a variety of things related to woodworking on my blog. It was about a year ago when I posted some of my frustration with SketchUp. I am now glad to say I am very comfortable with this impressive 3D modeling program. But, I wonder if I will ever be as good with SketchUp as those guys that write for FWW or Popular Woodworking? By the time I get too old to use a computer, will I be as deep a SU thinker as they are?

Button envy. A screen shot of my simple version of SketchUp on top and below it is one of the guys from Look at all of his buttons! I mean, come on already. How many toolbars is that?

It seems that with every project I illustrate, I pick up a helpful tip or two and this bookcase drawing is no different. So, I thought I would put up a post about my challenges so far and the fixes I have implemented (and I welcome any tips as well).

Not professional grade. I want this to look as good as what you would find in a woodworking magazine. It just isn’t there yet.

I have been looking through a variety of woodworking magazines and books to better capture what is expected in a properly executed project plan. As I did this, I realized what I had drawn just didn’t measure up.

In the image above (click it to enlarge), there are a couple of things going on that need to be changed. First, the standard background on SketchUp’s woodworking template is blue. This bookcase being a khaki color actually looks good with a blue background, but I prefer white and in the past I have simply selected the plan view template which has white as a standard background. But with this template, some of the settings change which I don’t like, so while looking through my SketchUp for Dummies book, I ran across a way to change the background of any template.

On the “Window” drop down menu, select “Styles” and select “edit” in the middle of the styles pop-up box. Click the light blue background box and yet another menu pops up that enables you to adjust the RGB color settings for the background. The frustrating thing is you have to know the RGB color numbers, which I didn’t, but it wasn’t too hard to figure out. First problem solved.

Still not professional grade. The next thing to tackle is the text.

I am using Microsoft Publisher to create my down loadable plans. The second problem is that as I import the photo above into Publisher, I need to enlarge it significantly so that the various parts are easily seen. This is a result of the bookcase being tall and slender. As I enlarge this image, two things happen: 1) the text becomes mildly distorted and 2) the text becomes rather large. In addition, I am not liking the labels that identify the components of the bookcase – all those lines and arrows bother me.

Getting there. Click to enlarge – at the top of the page: a much better organized drawing. Note the lower illustration. The font size on the two illustrations are now the same.

According to my Dummies book, I can get a possibly higher resolution image by exporting vector images vs. raster images. The only problem is that vector images are possible only with the Pro version of SketchUp which is about a $500.00 software upgrade and not something I am willing to do right now. So I am stuck with raster images which are really only an issue when I need large illustrations.

What I have decided to do at present is use SketchUp to provide the illustrations and use Publisher for text and as many of the lines as possible. I have not yet found a way for Publisher to create the lines and arrows used to provide dimensions – something that Publisher may be able to do with a little more research.

The question I have is how the magazine and book publishers do this? It seems they use software that can provide illustrations and page layout all in one.

Snow, snow, snow. A look out my front door this morning. This is the third snow we have received this year – unusual for Alabama.

On a side note, we woke up today to a pleasant snow; not even enough to cover the ground, but pretty to look at and no road problems at all. A good kind of snow event.

This entry was posted in: Downloadable Plans, SketchUp


During the week, I sell flooring products for The Dixie Group. Weekends, you'll find me in my basement workshop making furniture.


  1. Great questions Jeff.

    Hold on… It's gunna be another 'long one from Jason' πŸ™‚

    First Question. Mac or PC? If PC, I'm sorry, I don't know. If Mac, use the image capture built into OSX. Comd/Shift/4. That gives you a selection box. Draw it around what you want to take a picture of on the screen and 'click' your done. You now have a jpeg that will look exactly like you see it on your screen. Does that may sense? Depending on how much your zoome in while using SU, your good to go. Likely you will need to make the image smaller when you move it over to the publishing program.

    I'm sure there's a way to do this on a PC, I just don't know. soory.

    It may not matter at all, but also check your resolution in Publisher. I would doubt that you need to go over 72 dpi for an ebook. 300 for print, but anything more than that is pretty pointless on a computer screen. (at least that's what I do will all my photos)

    The big boy publisher?? I would bet 9 out or 10 use the Adobe Creative Suite. You can pick up the latest version of CS5 for about a $2500. uggg. I think you would only need Illustrator though. Adobe kicks the butts of just about EVERY creative/visual/design program out there. You could also use Photoshop as well. I've made some pretty cool fliers with PS4.

    They certainly don't give away their products. You can download them and play with them for 30 days for free.

    Hope this helps! I'm bettin' it's gunna be great just like everything else you share with us!


  2. Thanks for the tip Jason. My daughter has the whole Adobe suite – problem is our home PC is so old that it won't run it and my company laptop (which I am on now) won't allow me to install programs.

    So, for now, I'll have to make do. But I am going to start looking into CS5. We'll have to get a new computer soon.

    I could easily take a screen shot of a SketchUp image (I think that is what you describe), but what would the resolution look like when I enlarge it? I'll play around with that too.

    Good ideas and thanks a bunch!

  3. This is one of the areas where the pro version of SketchUp may actually be justified, Jeff. But I think you are on the right track and may have luck with the print screen method.

    I know Pop Woodworking imports their SU models into Adobe Illustrator for production work. I had a talk with Bob Lang at Woodworking in America last year about it, and I know it is not a trivial process. Bob indicated that he had been working for a while on getting the process dialed in and that it takes a discipline approach to modeling in SketchUp using a consistent set of rules. I'd say you have made some good progress on your own!

  4. Aaron, when I asked the question about how the pros do project plans, I really didn't think someone would actually know, so I really appreciate your comment.

    I will work on the screen shot idea this weekend.

  5. Jeff, one more thing. I realized I'm wrong about the resolution for the ebook. People may choose to print a hard copy of it. So indeed stick with the 300dpi.

    As far as the screenshots. When you want a large image, zoom in tight in SU and take a shot of that. Do everything you can to size the images in SU, not in Publisher.

    I know everyone has there own method, but I use this route for all my blog post. HOWEVER they are pretty low resolution.

    I am now seeing the full size and shape of the pickle. If I have any more random thoughts, I will send them your way.

    Good luck. Keep us posted. πŸ™‚

  6. My son keeps trying to teach me how to use sketchup pro and so far he has failed miserably. It is all his fault.

    At least that is what I keep telling myself.

    I keep telling myself one day.

    keep up the blogging.


  7. Thanks Jason – I'll give that a try this weekend.

    David, learning SketchUp, even the free version, is quite a challenge. I think I can get around a software program with the best of them and SketchUp almost did me in. πŸ™‚

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