Photoshop, SketchUp, Woodworking Plans in Progress
Comments 19

Experimenting with Sketchy Edges

Did you notice this in a recent blog post? The image above is the first time I have published an illustration using SketchUp’s “Sketchy Edges” along with some Photoshop work. For those of you who don’t geek over SketchUp, Sketchy Edges is a set of illustration styles which can be applied to a SketchUp model.

You may wonder, “Why do this?” I suspect a lot of woodworkers could care less about Sketchy Edges. But I have a goal of being able to produce magazine quality images for my blog posts and woodworking plans. Illustrations in woodworking magazines often feature line styles which look like illustrations even though they are computer generated and not hand drawn. A very good example of what I want to achieve is below.

An illustration from Woodsmith magazine. Image source here.

An illustration from Woodsmith magazine. Image source here.

Note the line style with extenders which gives the look of a pencil or pen drawn illustration. When I first downloaded the pdf which contains this image, I made creating images of this quality a long-term goal.

There is a whole different world of SketchUp users which do amazing things with SketchUp images (examples here – the Google+ SketchUp community). These people are typically doing work for architectural firms. There are a number of software products which take SketchUp images and turns them into photo quality work.

I loathe the idea of learning a new, complex software program. I consider Photoshop to be such a program, but I have it on my laptop. I’ve rarely used it beyond basic photo touch up. A couple of weeks ago, I started digging into Photoshop a little more, mostly as a result of finding this YouTube video which shows how to do some excellent things with a simple photo; and the pace of instruction isn’t ultra fast like a lot of tutorials are.

The process I am exploring starts with SketchUp. I pick a line style called “Pen Black 3” by clicking the SketchUp “Windows” drop down menu, then select “Styles”. Change the “Default Styles” setting to “Sketchy Edges”. My exported image looks like this (all images are clickable for a larger view)…

The exploded view of my media cabinet with Sketchy edges.

The exploded view of my media cabinet with Sketchy edges.

Note how the Sketchy lines blur the joinery - not good.

Note how the Sketchy lines blur the joinery – not good.

Some elements like pocket screws loose their needed detail.

Some elements like pocket screws loose their needed detail.

The Sketchy edges give my model more of a hand drawn look, but some important detail is lost. This is common with all of the Sketchy edge styles in SketchUp. This is where Photoshop comes in.

Let’s look at the media cabinet case with standard edges…

Nice crisp edges.

Nice crisp edges.

With Photoshop, following the video I mentioned, I can put the Sketchy edge image on top of the standard image and allow the crisp edges to show through where I need them to, and keep the illustrative look of the Sketchy edges for the rest of the image. The result…

Case Exploded View 031515 bp

A blend of crisp edges and Sketchy edges.

A blend of crisp edges and Sketchy edges.

And this is a good start on my path for creating magazine quality images. Still, I need to explore adding wood textures which have a muted look which doesn’t make joinery difficult to see.

Here is the final image seen in page six of my upcoming woodworking plan…

Page 6.

Page 6.

I recently upgraded to Microsoft Publisher 2013 which has a number of new features. One which I am using in the image above are text boxes which point to specific components with curved leaders. All the magazines use curved leaders. This is something my old version of Publisher couldn’t do. One thing Publisher 2013 does not do is give me a crisp jpeg image of a page. What you see above is fuzzy.

I am about 1/3 finished with this woodworking plan. I’ll have another update soon.

* * * * *

Have a question or comment about this post? Leave me a comment below; but I also like email. Use my contact form to send me an email (click here).


  1. David C says

    Jeff, Your images looked good before, but i do appreciate your drive to provide “magazine style” images. I am a draftsman by trade – learning the old-school way – by hand – and i appreciate the artistry people put into their work. Sometimes computer-created design looks cold. Thanks for keeping the art in design and woodworking.

    • Thanks David – the illustration style image work is a personal goal. I agree about the cold look; I hope the exploration I am doing will lead to warm illustrations. Thanks for the comment.

  2. I’ve not used Sketchup before. I use AutoCAD for me day job and the drawings that I produce there are mundane construction/fabrication drawings. So I never get to add any rendering or other embellishments to them. All of the work I do of myself and my blog I do by hand. I find it relaxing.

    Your SketchUp drawings are very nice and I like the style that you are trying to emulate. It does impart a hand drawn illustration look. Your exploded views and detail callouts are nice as well. Ironically, when I was in college I would have been quickly failed if I had turned in any hand work that contained extenders.

    Nice work!


    • Thanks Greg. Anyone who is interested in looking at warm illustrations should visit Greg’s site. His images are very well done. Click his name above to go to his site.

  3. Dave says

    If ms publisher doesn’t provide the crisp jpg quality you’re after, what happens if you pu bliss to pdf and then load that in photoshop? Can you make any improvements there?

    • The MS Publisher to PDF is good, the JPEG image for the blog post is poor. The old version of Publisher had a print preview that I would always get a screen capture of for blog posts. Don’t have that capability any longer.

      • But you have Photoshop I thought you’d said. Load the pdf from MS Publisher in there and then see what you can do with the quality. You should be able to tweak it some with PS and then output it as any image type you like. PNG works really well with SketchUp because it retains transparency… and that can be a big deal!

        It’s worth a shot… but you might have to up your PS game. 🙂

  4. Dave says

    Good start Jeff. As you get into it more you’ll find more and better ways to handle sketchy edges.

    As you know, I use sketchy edges frequently in my illustrations. I make styles for my own use. Depending on the style I am using I can emulate a very quick, rough sketch or increase the detail as needed for the application. I don’t combine sketchy and regular SketchUp lines to get more detail, though. That can be handled entirely with the sketchy lines. A number of my styles are available in the Sketchucation Shop.

    • Hey Dave, does the use of your sketchy edges require SU Pro? I am assuming I would need Style Builder to do what you describe. Please let me know if I understand correctly. My use of Photoshop will eventually go beyond just getting edges the way I look.

  5. Dave says

    Jeff, Style Builder is required to make sketchy styles but it isn’t required to use styles that have been made. So, no. You don’t need SketchUp Pro to use the styles I have created.

    I use a freeware image editor called PaintDotNet although I have Photoshop. I do little modification of edges in the editor, though. Most of what I do with edges in SketchUp and the image export. It does depend on the style you’re using though.

    Where did you get your Black Pane 3 style?

    • Sorry, its Pen Black 3 that I used and it is in SU Make. I definately need to look into your styles if they do not require SU Pro.

  6. Dave says

    Thanks. So that style’s shortest line segment is 32 pixels long. Halo is set to 4 and it drops out lines kind of early, too. It’s no wonder you’re losing the details.

    Most of the styles I’ve made use all of the available stroke lengths and as many as 10 strokes to improve the random look of the lines in the drawing. I also set dropout to zero to maintain short line segments. You could adjust the level of detail and turn off Halo to see if you get more detail in the short lines although it’s still going to be limited.

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