A lot of woodworkers use SketchUp, but I consider myself to be in a small group of woodworkers which view SketchUp as an illustration tool.
SketchUp is the main drawing program I use to illustrate woodworking plans. I hope one day to be able to make truly magazine quality woodworking plans. The only thing holding me back is time and experience with the right software. I have often wondered if SketchUp Pro is software that can help me reach my goal.
There is one aspect of SketchUp Pro which makes me curious: LayOut. It’s a software package which comes bundled with SketchUp Pro. LayOut is a tool that takes SketchUp images and inserts them into a template leading to high quality documentation (examples here). This is where LayOut might improve the quality of my woodworking plans.
But SketchUp Pro currently sells for $495; probably a good value, but I just don’t know a lot about it and I have seen at least one negative comment on it. I came real close to buying SketchUp Pro late last year, but didn’t. Enter Matt Donley and his book “SketchUp to LayOut”. It is billed as an “essential guide”, so I wondered if this book could help clear the air on LayOut. I got a copy and began to read.
Matt Donley is just like a lot of us. He began using SketchUp without any formal training. As he says, he downloaded the program and “dove right in.” He used SketchUp extensively in his residential construction/remodel business. Currently, he operates a website called MasterSketchup where he provides tutorials and helpful tips; he even has a SketchUp podcast. Matt is a project engineer for a company which installs casework in schools, hospitals and laboratories and has moved up to SketchUp Pro.
SketchUp to LayOut
Matt’s book is not just about LayOut; it is a book which explains the process of using SketchUp Pro to get the most out of LayOut. The early part of the book helps the reader orient his mind and his SketchUp model to work best in LayOut. This is accomplished by plenty of step-by-step instruction and Matt includes SketchUp models with the book to help make teaching easier. Later in the book, Matt covers LayOut in detail.
The initial section of the book is called “Preparing Your Model for LayOut” and includes chapter titles like Planning, Organization, Workflow Overview, Creating Scenes, Advanced Scenes for LayOut, Scene Anatomy and SketchUp Styles. Matt stresses that this book is not for the SketchUp newbie and the reader should have a good understanding of SketchUp prior to buying this book. But in these early chapters, we are reminded of some basic SketchUp techniques along with ones which are a little more advanced, all of which make using LayOut easier. Example: when to use components and when to use groups, and options for setting up scenes.
Next up: LayOut. In the section titled “LayOut Documents”, Matt gets into the nuts and bolts of LayOut.
The next 74 pages are devoted to the understanding not only the basic functions of LayOut like the toolbar and tray panels; moving, rotating and scaling objects; but also understanding how to use page templates, layers, adding title blocks along with dimensions and annotations. Within each of these topics, Matt provides instruction and tips for the best ways to use these functions to achieve a pleasing document in the easiest way possible.
Here, of special interest is the way LayOut handles dimensions and text. There are many more ways to control dimensions in LayOut than with SketchUp. In LayOut dimensions are consistent, a problem in SketchUp. Also with LayOut, you can add a text box with a curved leader.
The longest chapter in this section is titled “Insert SketchUp Models” and here Matt covers a lot of ground going over how to import your SketchUp model using Viewports. Matt writes:
The most powerful feature in LayOut is the ability to create a dynamic link to your SketchUp model through the use of viewports. Viewports can remain linked to the SketchUp file they were created from. If you make changes to the SketchUp model, you can tell the viewport to update its model reference and it will show the updated model.
With LayOut, you’re not really importing your model; what you import is a scene from that model. This is where the initial planning comes into play. When using LayOut you need to set up scenes and plan for those scenes accordingly. Then Matt covers additional topics which impact how the scene is rendered within the viewport.
The book closes with some advanced techniques like hatching and poche (I had to Google poche since I had never heard of this term). Also discussed is stacking viewports which definitely would help when making woodworking plans.
Matt also provides full tutorials showing the process for making a table in SketchUp and then importing scenes into LayOut. All of the steps are laid out for a successful LayOut document. He then repeats this process using a kitchen cabinet model and a house – three full examples on how to set up a model in SketchUp for use in LayOut and then completing the LayOut document. Each example increases in complexity which is a good way to develop your LayOut skills.
I wanted to save this for last: LayOut has both a built-in PDF creator as well as a full screen presentation tool. Getting good output of your work is important and LayOut has the ability to make your work look good.
For me, “SketchUp to LayOut” by Matt Donley is a great way to learn about LayOut prior to spending the money for it. It helps me see what LayOut is all about. No doubt when I get LayOut, I’ll be using Matt’s book frequently to master this program. “SketchUp to LayOut” provides detailed steps and handy tips to help you get a start with the program and then move on to more advanced techniques. His book looks at both SketchUp Pro and LayOut and how the two work together to create architectural quality documents.
If you are considering moving up to SketchUp Pro, I encourage you to take a look at “SketchUp to Layout”. If you are like me, the thought of stumbling through the learning of yet another software product is simply unappealing. Matt’s book will help you learn LayOut quickly.
There are three purchase options available with a very comprehensive version for professionals. To get more information about this book, click here.