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How to Make Quick 3D Models From AutoCAD to SketchUp

3D Models From AutoCAD to SketchUp

Our resident SketchUp expert Kevin J. Pfeiffer teaches us how to take our drawings from AutoCAD and turn them into SketchUp models. One of the main advantages of using SketchUp is the ability to produce very fast 3D massings for your site. This enables the understanding of how the space works in the 3rd dimension. Very often, it’s tough for designers and clients alike to understand the relation of the ground plane to the vertical plane and how they inform one another. When given the opportunity to see how tall your buildings are, how wide your roads are, and what the scale of the space is, you can better grasp the design and improve the end product. Often, clients can be confused about what certain lines mean and how lineweights function. Utilizing SketchUp to make these 3D models allows the client to see what your design is striving for and can be used throughout the design process. When using SketchUp in this manner, the program becomes extremely useful in any workflow. Related Articles:

One of the great advantages to SketchUp Pro is the ability to import DWG files from CAD programs, using the line work you drafted in AutoCAD to build your model. While drafting in SketchUp is an option, many people are much more comfortable doing that in CAD. After simply importing the DWG lines and making them surfaces, you’re ready to build a model in just a few minutes. Here I will show you how in just a couple of steps you can have a functioning model for your design.

Drafting in AutoCAD

First, the easiest step – drafting in CAD. Whether you are tracing from hand-drawn lines or drafting on specific detail level, all you need to make sure of is that your lines connect. SketchUp is fussy, in that if there is a break in your line, it will not want to make it a surface. Below, you’ll see this simple plaza design I made for a project. While all of my linework is on one layer, SketchUp can take in multiple layers. I generally like to copy and paste just the lines I’m using into a new file, run purge on it to make sure the drawing is clean, then save it as a DWG.

How to Make Quick 3D Models From AutoCAD to SketchUp

Image credit: Kevin J. Pfeiffer

Importing Into SketchUp

Next, go to file>import in SketchUp. Now, only SketchUp Pro users can import DWGs. But, if you are a SketchUp Make user, you are able to import JPGs. I suggest exporting your lines from AutoCAD as a PDF, then converting them to a JPG. Then, import that file into SketchUp (make sure you scale). From there, you are able to trace the lines using drawing tools in SketchUp. This takes more time, but for these quick massing models, it can be just as effective. For SketchUp Pro users, make sure in the import screen to click “options” and check that your units in SketchUp match the units you used in AutoCAD.

How to Make Quick 3D Models From AutoCAD to SketchUp

Image credit: Kevin J. Pfeiffer

Proofing and Making Surfaces

Next, it’s useful to clean up your lines, just in case you had any fray lines in AutoCAD. Go to window>model info>statistics, then “purge unused” as well as “fix problems”. This will help SketchUp run faster and prevent possible crashes.

How to Make Quick 3D Models From AutoCAD to SketchUp

Image credit: Kevin J. Pfeiffer

Next, let’s make surfaces out of our linework. You will need an extension; I use s4u Make Face. This plugin will make surfaces out of all of the linework. Simply select your lines and run the plugin. You’ll notice the highlighted blue lines on certain lines after running Make Faces. That indicates that there are breaks in the geometry. You just need to go in with the pencil tool, zoom in closely, and connect it to the nearest line to close the gap. This will create geometry in a closed system that can be independently pushed/pulled.

Building Your Model

From here, I spent about 15 minutes sculpting using the push/pull tool (p on the keyboard) to make the heights of the walls and spaces. Then I add a few humans or cars, which can give the space a sense of scale to the viewer. From there, you can take an exported image of this model into Photoshop or other image-editing software and add a whole array of entourage!

How to Make Quick 3D Models From AutoCAD to SketchUp

Image credit: Kevin J. Pfeiffer

– I hope this quick tutorial will become another tool in your workflow. SketchUp is often seen as a “final step” in a project, but this is just one example of how it can become a vital part of how you design. In just 30 minutes, I went from having a hand-drawn sketch to a rendered 3D perspective in Photoshop. While I think designing in these computer programs will never replace designing by hand, tools such as SketchUp can better inform your design process and build off those hand-drawn lines. I have found myself making three to four iterations of the massing models through a project, each time becoming more refined — and with each pass I am given the vital information of how the space would feel if I were physically standing in it. Utilizing these quick 3D massings using AutoCAD linework can really unleash the power of SketchUp.
How to Make Quick 3D Models From AutoCAD to SketchUp

Image credit: Kevin J. Pfeiffer

What do you guys think? Can SketchUp become a step in your workflow? What is stopping you from implementing this program in the early stages of design? Let me know in the comments! Recommended Reading:

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