John Hartman, SketchUp, Woodworking Plans in Progress
Comments 12

Making an Exploded View Using SketchUp

When I open the pages of Fine Woodworking magazine, not only do I look at the various articles and their authors, I also pay attention to the illustrations and who created them. A typical issue of FWW will utilize illustrations from a number of artists; my favorite being John Hartman. He is a true illustrator. For my woodworking plans, I simply use SketchUp and a little bit of Photoshop. I’m not an illustrator; John Hartman is. His work in Fine Woodworking is what I use as inspiration for the images you see in my plans (check out John’s website for more of his work).

As an online member at Fine, I can search for just about any article from the library of past Fine Woodworking issues. When looking for inspiration for my upcoming woodworking plan, I searched for Matt Kenney’s updated Enfield cupboard (see the article here, membership required). It is somewhat similar in shape to my kitchen cupboard design, so when contemplating how to make the exploded view, I looked at the illustration in this article. John Hartman made the illustration and it is excellent (see the image at the top of this post).

Since I rely on SketchUp for all my images (I don’t do any hand drawn or digital illustration, for now), it is very difficult to replicate what Mr. Hartman and the other illustrators create. Also, because my images need to fit one page, I can’t spread them across two pages as is regularly done in a FWW article. My first attempt at an exploded view for the kitchen cupboard is below…

First attempt at a proper exploded view.

Firstly, the amount of information I add to my exploded views are miniscule compared to what you would see in a magazine. Making all the needed information fit on a single 11 x 8.5″ page is extremely difficult and since this is not a magazine plan, I can simply spread this information out over additional pages. In this image, I am combining two images from SketchUp. Note the right face frame stile is see through enabling the mortise and tenon joinery to be seen. Also, the three drawers inside the cupboard are see through so the drawer guides can be seen. I don’t like this image. I don’t like the shadows seen in this exploded view and I don’t like how the components are spread so far apart.

Since the image John Hartman created is spread across two pages, I wondered how I could do the same. I decided to show most of the kitchen cupboard in an exploded view on page 4, then show an exploded view of a door and a drawer on page 5…

New exploded view, page 4.

I like this. I adjusted the shadows to sit more underneath the SketchUp model and with fewer components to show in a single image, I could get a better angle on the model and zoom in tighter. This image is a keeper, although I am thinking about fine tuning the blue highlights showing joinery.

For page 5, I did not want an image with a lot of white space in the background, so my thinking was have the cupboard in the image and then pull a single door and drawer forward and explode the components. I did want to de-emphasize the cupboard and make the exploded parts stand out. My first attempt at this was to blur just the cupboard (in the image below, I have not yet added text and leaders).

Page 5 showing a blur technique on the cupboard.

I exported an image with just the cupboard which I added a Photoshopped blur effect and then added a layer with the door and drawer components without a blur. This is pretty cool, but I felt the cupboard is still too pronounced; but this is a technique I’d like to explore further.

For my next attempt at this image, I relied on a trick I developed many years ago in which I place a large rectangle between the cupboard and the door and drawers…

Note the rectangle.

I then created a custom material in which I took white and adjusted the opacity to 40%; I then applied this material to the rectangle. This allows the cupboard to be de-emphasized and I can adjust the opacity to suit my taste. In Photoshop, I erased unwanted lines. The result…

New page 5.

This image is a keeper. Note I have added blue highlights showing joinery in the door. I did not do this in the first version of page 5 and the blue was added in a different way than what you see on page 4. So I may go back and do page 4 over using the same technique just so they look the same.

Here is the plan as it currently exists, click the link to view…

Modern Kitchen Cupboard 0051317

I do want to add a more hand drawn look to my images. For that I’ll have to become more of a real illustrator; something I can do. Just wished I had more time to develop my Photoshop skills and even some hand drawn techniques.

CONCERNING MY WORKBENCH PROJECT – I have all the hardware purchased, but not a single stick of lumber. I’ll begin buying lumber next week and hopefully start building the workbench very 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. The exploded views look great Jeff! Exploded views can be tricky. It is a challenge to show all of the important bits without confusing the whole. You did a nice job here.

    One day I would like to see what the process is to go from idea to magazine illustration.

    • Thanks Andrew. What you see is about 90% SketchUp and 10% Photoshop. If I knew Photoshop better, who knows what I would be able to do. It’s a goal of mine to find a good Photoshop course online.

      • When it comes to photoshop, I cheat. My wife’s a graphic artist and an expert with photoshop so when I need something done there I normal start with something like, “Honey, if I cooked and washed the dishes tonight …” πŸ˜‰

        • Lucky you to have a Photoshop expert for a wife. I need to find a good online course to take.

  2. John Hartman says

    Thanks jeff for the call out and keep up the good work. you are making great progress!

  3. Edward Decker says

    I really enjoy your work and explanations! I wonder why you kept the shadows. Does Sketch-Up “require” them in exploded views, or is there an option to not see them? If Sketch-Up can’t remove them, Photoshop should be able to do the job. Your thoughts?

    • Hey Edward, yes shadows can be easily turned off and even when they are used there are ways to control shadows. I like to use them because the light effect used to cast the shadows helps make the model more life like. I have not found a way to isolate just the shadows for Photoshop but I am exploring ways to further modify shadows. Anything I find out, I’ll report here at my blog. πŸ™‚

  4. Sarah says

    I really do enjoy your posts about the process you use to develop the plans. Your plans still are one of the most important tools I’ve had to learn how to put the pieces together.

    There is a method for using an image or layer to create a realistic pencil effect. I have had to use it a couple of times for work to show architectural changes, but as I am no graphics expert I have to go back to YouTube every time to remember how I have accomplished it before.

    There are a lot of great tutorials there on how to achieve that effect, but most of the time it will be using a combination of effects. You may end up with three layers that are all the same view of a cabinet, but different effects are applied. One layer may be the base unaltered layer, with another layer with a Gaussian blur effect at some opacity, and the third may be more saturated. Searching for what effect you are looking for (like pencil sketch) and your version of Photoshop will be the best method since the newer versions have a lot more tricks that my old CS3 does not have.

    As far as isolating the shadows, you might just use the lasso tool to move them onto their own layer. It’s not the most elegant solution, but it is what I find myself doing when I need something finished immediately. I like having the shadows though. It keeps things grounded in my mind.

    • Sarah, thanks so much for your thoughts on manipulating shadows. Since I put up this post, I emailed Dave Richards who is a SketchUp expert. He showed me a way to isolate the shadows enough to alter them. Now, I need to work on my Photoshop skills. Again thanks. πŸ™‚

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