SketchUp 7.1 for Architectural Visualization: Beginner's Guide

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By Robin de Jongh
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  1. Quick Start Tutorial

About this book

Google SketchUp, the most popular architectural software package, is used by millions of architects and visualizers throughout the world. But what you may not know is that it's also the most powerful 3D design software on the market. With this book in hand and patented technology such as the PhotoMatch, Push-Pull, and Face-me components you can produce commercial quality photo-realistic or artistic output of your designs.

This book shows you how to master SketchUp's unique tools to create architectural visuals using professional rendering and image editing techniques in a clear and friendly way. You'll be able to get started immediately using these SketchUp tools and open-source rendering software. The book shows you how to create architectural visuals from your SketchUp models. In no time you'll be creating photo-realistic renders, animated fly-overs, and walkthroughs. You will also create composites of real and rendered images, creating digital and paper presentations to wow clients. For the impatient, a "Quickstart" tutorial is provided in the first chapter to get you rendering a photo-realistic scene immediately. The rest of the book builds on this knowledge by introducing in-depth concepts, tricks, and methods in an easy-to-follow format through quick tutorials.

Using easy step-by-step explanations, this book opens the door to the world of architectural visualization. With no prior visualization experience you will quickly get to grips with materials, texturing, composition, photo-compositing, lighting setup, rendering, and post-processing. You'll also be able to take SketchUp's unique sketchy output and add the artistic touch to create pencil and watercolor scenes. With this book you'll be able to get started immediately using the free SketchUp download and open-source rendering software.

Publication date:
April 2010


Chapter 1. Quick Start Tutorial

So, you've decided to learn how to use SketchUp for architectural visualization? Maybe an architect or a visualizer told you how easy it is and you decided to give it a go yourself? Maybe you've read a book on basic SketchUp and want to take it further? You already know that SketchUp is the easiest, most powerful, effective, and fun-to-use application you could wish to use for 3D work. With this book you'll learn how to use SketchUp and other free software to achieve great architectural visuals in no time. You will need some basic knowledge of SketchUp, but can be a complete beginner in visualization.

With this Quick Start Tutorial you will get up and running immediately. It gives you a flavor of what is in the rest of the book. In this short tutorial you will learn how to:

  • Produce a photo-realistic rendering of a scene modeled in SketchUp

  • Produce real-world shadows and lighting using a physically accurate light simulator

  • Create materials that reflect or absorb light

  • Produce realistic windows

  • Set up a camera at eye level

  • Use photos for background and decoration

When you've followed the tutorial and seen how easy it is to produce great results with SketchUp, you'll be able to go on and refine your skills and technique in the subsequent chapters. The rendering software you'll be using is Kerkythea, which is a free, professional-level lighting simulator. To find out more about it and install it, jump to Chapter 2, How to Collect an Arsenal Rambo Would Be Proud of—but come back again!

For this tutorial you will need:

  • A Windows PC or MAC

  • SketchUp or SketchUp Pro

  • Kerkythea (available free from

  • The SU2KT plugin (from the same website)

  • A background photo (.jpg or .png format)

  • Photos of some artwork


Can SketchUp really produce pro visuals?

What do you mean you're not sure about SketchUp visuals? You've heard it's just for simple stuff? And all the images you've seen are always cartoony? Ah, but those are just myths. Actually, top movie studios and world renowned architectural practices use SketchUp. Just because something's easy to use and free that doesn't mean it's not great, right? And just because beginners immediately want to post their results on the Internet, doesn't mean your results will be like theirs. It simply indicates that SketchUp is easier to learn and more accessible than other software. Take other free Google products like Google Search for example. There's nothing out there to rival it, period. And the same goes for SketchUp. Here's what you can expect from just 20 minutes modeling and rendering:

Reflection and absorption, even using simple SketchUp materials:

Accurate glass reflections:

Soft shadows from multiple light sources:

Physically accurate lighting, especially on indirectly lit surfaces:

And if all that's achieved with just the Quickstart, imagine what you will be producing after reading the whole book.

This tutorial is an introduction to photo-realistic architectural visualization. I think you will be enthused by it when you see the quality of your own results.


Modeling the room

So, let's get started straight away. The room scene you'll be modeling here is simple and easy to produce in SketchUp; it's just four walls like the majority of rooms in the real world.


Time for action – model the room in SketchUp

  1. Start by firing up SketchUp, then click the Model Info button (a blue circle with an i in it or go to Window | Model Info). Set the units to the values shown in the following screenshot. You can use inches if you prefer.

  2. Close the Model Info dialog by clicking the red X and start modeling by selecting the Rectangle function.

  3. You can snap to the origin and start there.

  4. Draw a rectangle of any size. Click the left mouse button again to finish it.

  5. Now type in 4000,10000. This appears in the little text box at the bottom as shown in the following screenshot. Hit Enter and your rectangle will resize to 4000 mm by 10,000 mm (4x10 meters).

  6. Rotate the view by holding the middle mouse button and moving the mouse.

  7. Now click the Push/Pull tool and click the rectangle, moving the mouse up to extrude the rectangle into a box.

  8. Type in 3000 and hit Enter. This sets the height of the room at 3 meters. You can see it in the following screenshot:

  9. Draw a rectangle on the west facing side as shown in the previous screenshot. This is your window.

  10. Now select and delete the face.

What just happened?

You've just created a basic room based on the inside dimensions. You don't need to create the building outside because you'll never see it. Rotate your view now until you're inside the room looking out of the window.


Composing the view

You're now going to set up the camera view and sun lighting. You might have noticed that there are very few actual camera buttons in SketchUp. That's because SketchUp is all about "what you see is what you get". If you see it on the screen, that's what you'll see in your render. In actual fact, all the complex camera stuff is taken care of in the background and the right settings will be exported to the renderer without you or me having to worry about it. You will find out how to set up scenes for maximum impact in Chapter 3, Composing the Scene.


Time for action – setting up the camera

  1. Rotate and zoom the view so that you're more or less looking at the scene as shown in the following screenshot.

  2. Click the Walk button or Camera | Walk.

  3. Type in your eye height in mm (say 1600) then enter. The camera changes to view the room from that eye level.

  4. Use the Eye tool to move your head around and compose the view you want, and use Walk to move in or out of the scene by holding the left mouse button and moving up or down.

Saving the camera view

Now that you're happy with the view you've created, you need to save it so that it can't be changed by accident, or while doing further modeling tasks. You do this by creating a scene tab, which will be imported into the rendering software as a camera view.

Go to View | Animation | Add Scene. A scene tab will appear at the top of the main viewing window.

Rotate your view now with the middle mouse button, then click on the tab. You are taken back to the saved view.


Time for action – setting up the sun

Let's get some direct sunlight in through the window to bounce off the wall and floor, just like a real-life setting. In SketchUp the sun only lights up areas directly and there's a sharp contrast between light and dark. But in the renderer (and real life) the sunlight will bounce into the whole room. You can read more on lighting in Chapter 8, Photo Realistic Rendering. Follow these simple steps now to set it up:

  1. If you need to get the shadow buttons up on the toolbar, go to View | Toolbars | Shadows.

  2. Click the Display Shadows button.

  3. Move the sliders around until you get the effect similar to the previous screenshot.

  4. If you can't get light to come in through the window, you may need to change the orientation of north (that is, the direction your building is facing). You can find out how to do this in Chapter 5. You could also select and rotate the whole room.

  5. When you're happy, right-click on the scene tab and select Update.

What just happened?

You now have all the lighting you need for a daytime indoor scene. The following screenshot is what you would get if you did a quick test render in Kerkythea. As you can see, the whole room is lit by the sun, just as it would be in real life. You'll discover the quickest test render settings for Kerkythea in Chapter 8, but there's no need to go there now.

Add simple ceiling lights

No art gallery would just light its rooms by sunlight and turn visitors away on dull days. Happily, there's an incredibly easy way to set up lights in SketchUp and Kerkythea. Just draw rectangles and give them a light emitting surface!

  1. With the Rectangle tool, draw a rectangle on the ceiling approximately the size of an ordinary fluorescent light.

  2. Click the Paint Bucket tool.

  3. Select a color you'll be able to recognize later from the Pallet. It doesn't matter what it is.

  4. Click the rectangle (see the following screenshot).

  5. With the Move tool, click on the rectangle, hold Ctrl, move, and click to create a second light as shown in the following screenshot:

These colored rectangles will act as lights when we add a light emitting material to them in Kerkythea. They will light the room from three different angles to give pleasing shadows and depth to the scene. Now that wasn't so hard was it?



You'll now add some flooring materials straight from the ones included in SketchUp. In Chapter 5, Applying Textures and Materials for Photo-Real Rendering, we'll look at creating and obtaining many more materials from photos and online texture libraries. For now, let's stick with what's already there, so you can see how good a render you can get straight out of a basic, no frills, SketchUp model.


Time for action – timber flooring materials

  1. Go to the Materials pallet and select Wood from the drop down box. If it's not visible already, go to Windows | Materials.

  2. Select a material

  3. Click on the floor. Try a few different ones until you find one you like best.

  4. Now draw a rectangle on the floor for a carpet as shown in the following screenshot:

  5. Use the Push/Pull tool to slightly elevate the rectangle.

  6. Select a carpet texture and paint it onto the raised surface as shown here:

What just happened?

You've now got two textures in the scene that you'll be able to modify in Kerkythea to add highlights or reflections. The carpet will stay a matt finish. You'll learn how to add bump maps and other stuff to surfaces such as these in Chapter 8, if you want to. And you'll look at creating and applying SketchUp materials in more detail in Chapter 5.


Modeling the window

The scene looks fake with just a hole in the wall. Let's make a window using SketchUp's Push/Pull tool. It will help if you now hide the wall to the left of the window to allow you to view into the room more easily as you progress with the tutorial. You can un-hide it later.

  1. Select the wall face to the left of the window, right-click and select Hide.

  2. Use Push/Pull to extrude the side of the room with the window in it. This will give thickness to the frame.

  3. With the Pencil tool, draw a line out from the bottom edge of the window, then down along the blue axis, back to the wall and back to the start as shown in this screenshot:

  4. The lines will fill with a face as soon as the rectangle is completed.

  5. Select the Arc tool. Draw an arc as shown, then delete the square corners with the Erase tool.

  6. Use the Push/Pull tool to extrude the shape along the window first in one direction, then the other, to form a windowsill.

  7. Select the Rectangle button and hover over the centre of the top of the window (see the following screenshot). When you see a Tooltip saying Midpoint, click and draw a square.

  8. Use the Arc tool to round the corners facing the camera and delete the corners as before.

  9. Push/Pull the shape to span the whole window frame.

  10. Select everything you made so far (triple click), right-click and select Create Group.

  11. Create the glass pane by selecting the rectangle tool. Click the Midpoint of one corner (as shown in the following screenshot).

  12. Rotate and pan to the opposite corner, find the midpoint and click again.

  13. Select this rectangle and give it a glass material with the Paint Bucket.

  14. If any wall faces have turned blue, select them now. Right-click and select Reverse Faces.

Here's the finished window:


Photo images

You're bound to have some images that will do as a backdrop for your scene. If not, just grab something from the Internet for now. All you're after is a fairly interesting view out of the window. You'll need some pictures that will do for the gallery paintings too. In Chapters 3 and 5 you'll look at where to find great images to use in your scenes from the Internet, and how to make the best use of them to set up your scenes.


Time for action – setting up the scenery backdrop

  1. Go to File | Import, and tick the Use As Image box. Navigate to an image, click on it and click Open.

  2. Zoom out in your model and click somewhere on the window to insert the image. Drag the cursor to size it and click again.

  3. You have now inserted the image in the correct plane—the plane of the window.

  4. Use Move to set it further from the window and alter the height position (see the following screenshot). Click on the scene tab at any time to check what you will see out of the window.

  5. Use the Move function and hover over the edge of the image. You will see some red plus signs appear. Use these to rotate the backdrop if you need to alter the angle (see the following screenshot).

  1. Explode the image (right-click and select, Explode)

  2. Right-click on the image and select Entity Info

  3. Untick Cast Shadows and Receive Shadows


Time for action – hanging digital art

For the artwork on the wall you can simply grab some images of your own or browse the web. It doesn't matter for this tutorial where you get them from. But if you have some art of your own, why not scan or photograph it and use it here? You can create your own 3D portfolio!

  1. Go to File | Import. Now move the cursor to the wall and click. Stretch the image to the size you want and click again.

  2. Repeat this for more images. Remember to click on the scene tab from time to time so that you can see what will or won't be in the frame when you render.

  3. Now right-click on each image and select Explode (see the following screenshot)

  4. When you're done, use the Push/Pull tool to give the canvasses some depth.

  5. Finally, close the side of the room back up. Go to View | Hidden Geometry

  6. Select the hidden wall. Right-click and select Unhide.

  7. Click the scene tab to check the camera position. You should have something like this image:


Exporting to the render application

Install Kerkythea, the free rendering software which you will find on the website You'll also need to install the free SketchUp to Kerkythea exporter (SU2KT), which you'll also find on the website. Details about this and loads of other items up for grabs are in Chapter 2.

  1. In SketchUp, go to View | Toolbars and make sure SU2Kerkythea is ticked.

  2. Click the Export model to Kerkythea button. You'll get the dialog box shown in the following screenshot:

  3. Change Export options to Yes for Geometry and Lights.

  4. Click OK. Find a folder to save the file to and type in a file name, then click Save.

  5. When asked Open exported Model in Kerkythea? click No for now.

  6. Open Kerkythea and go to File | Open. Find your saved file, click on it and click OK.

  7. The following screenshot shows what you should be presented with. All the buttons are explained in Chapter 8 but you can still produce a great render knowing no more about them than you learn in this Quickstart. That's because SketchUp has taken care of most things already.

  8. Hit V on the keyboard to view the scene in solid colors.


Modifying materials in Kerkythea quickly

If you were to render this scene straight away you would get something like the following screenshot:

This is rather nice, but there are a few things missing. Notice what still needs to be done for a realistic scene:

  • The glass material needs reflections

  • The smooth floor needs to be shiny

  • The lights need to go on

But that's all you need to do. Kerkythea's lighting and shadows already make for a pleasingly realistic scene. Follow these steps now to add in these last few details.


Time for action – Kerkythea materials

  1. Click on the glass window. A star appears in the list to the left, next to the name of the glass material you used in SketchUp.

  2. Right-click this and select Apply Materials | Basic Pack | Thin Glass. This comes already installed with Kerkythea.

Diffused light

This is the easiest step of all, and it makes setting up photo-realistic scenes with indoor lighting child's play.

  1. Click on the color you selected in SketchUp for the ceiling lights.

  2. Right-click and select Apply Materials | Basic Pack | Diffuse Light.

Reflective floors

  1. Select the floor material.

  2. Right-click and select Edit Material. This takes you to the Material Editor.

  3. Right-click on Reflection and click the left button (shown in the previous screenshot).

  4. Drag the cursor down the right-hand side of the triangle to select a dark grey (see the following screenshot). Click Accept.

  5. You can alter these grey levels until you're happy with the preview image shown top left in the material editor. A dark grey is usually best.

  6. Click Apply Changes, then Close Editor.

What just happened?

What you've just done is added qualities to your SketchUp materials that they didn't possess before. And usually these few steps are all that's needed to get a great render. It's really simple and really effective. The grey levels are Kerkythea's way of obtaining a value. It helps to think of it as a slider or volume control on your stereo: black is none, and white is maximum. You don't need to bother with the other colors in the triangle.


Rendering in Kerkythea

Now you're all set. If you've followed all the steps so far, the finished render is just a few clicks away!

  1. Select the little green button (Start Render).

  2. Select the preset setting labeled 07. PhotonMap – High + AA 0.3.

  3. Leave everything else as it is and hit Ok.

  4. The render will progress and appear in the bottom right preview window.

  5. At the top left corner of your screen you will see a percentage complete status. When it's finished click the Image button.

  6. The image preview window appears. Click Save, type in a file name and click OK.

Here's your finished render:



This chapter was designed to give you a taste of how easily and quickly you can get great photo-realistic results with the SketchUp and Kerkythea combination. In particular, you've learned the basic steps towards:

  • Modeling a simple indoor studio scene

  • Setting up daylight and indoor lighting

  • Applying photo backgrounds to add realism

  • Enhancing SketchUp materials in Kerkythea for photo-realistic rendering

This is the basic framework for achieving successful renders of most interior and outdoor scenes. Congratulations! You're now able to apply what you've learned immediately in your own projects. The rest of the chapters in this book will take your skills a step or two further. You can dip in whenever you need some specific guidance, or follow the chapters in a course format.

In the next chapter, you'll find out how to create your own visualization and animation studio setup with free software and plugins, ready to make even better architectural visuals!

About the Author

  • Robin de Jongh

    Robin de Jongh is the author of several books on professional workfl ows with SketchUp, GIMP, and Unity3D. He has worked for many years in the construction industry as a CAD designer and at one time ran his own architectural visualization company using SketchUp as the main presentation tool. He now works as an acquisitions editor for Manning Publications where he mentors new authors, and publishes books on Open Source technology topics. You can find him blogging at

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