Sketchup 3d printer

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Introduction: Using SketchUp for 3D Printing

Who we are: ProgressTH is a Bangkok-based makerspace and media platform that focuses on using makerspaces to solve real-world problems. We regularly give workshops on SketchUp for 3D printing and we are working on putting this entire course online for free.

Introduction: This particular Instructable is simply how to take a 3D model you made in SketchUp, and exporting it as an STL file for 3D printing. We've made a video of this entire process to go along with both this Instructable as well as this article here on the process.

What You Need:

  1. SketchUp Make (free to download here)
  2. 3D Slicer Program (i.e. Cura, MakerBot Desktop Software, etc)
  3. SketchUp STL Exporter Plugin (available here, but don't download it yet!

Step 1: Installing and Using SketchUp's STL Export Plugin

First install the STL plugin:

  1. Open SketchUp and go to Window > Extension Warehouse.
  2. Type in STL in the search box and then click on "SketchUp STL by SketchUp Team."
  3. You will need to have a Gmail account and be signed in to download this plugin.
  4. Once you click "Download" and follow the prompts, it will install itself.
  5. Usually you will be able to use it without restarting SketchUp. If not, try restarting.

If you cannot install the plugin inside of SketchUp:

  1. Open your Internet browser and go to SketchUp's Extension Warehouse.
  2. Type in STL export and click on the one by SketchUp Team.
  3. Click Download. (Make sure to note where on your computer it downloads the plugin to).
  4. Go back into SketchUp, then Window > Preferences. In the lower left corner click "Install Extension..."
  5. From here, navigate to where you saved the plugin, click "open" and follow the prompts.

To use the plugin:

  1. Go to File > Export STL...
  2. Usually you want to have the box "Export selected geometry only" checked. Make sure the part of your model you want to export is selected.
  3. Save the file in the directory of your choice and make sure you add .stl after your file name. We used ring.stl.

Using an STL file for 3D printing: Usually if you are using Cura or MakerBot Desktop software you can just drag the STL file from Windows Explorer into the workspace and then prepare it to print.

If you don't have a 3D printer, this STL file is what you will pass on to your local makerspace or friend to print for you.

TIP: When you drop your STL into your 3D slicer program, make sure to ALWAYS! check it in layer view. This will show you exactly what your 3D printer will print.

This is an important step because sometimes what the normal view shows is not what your printer ends up printing due to format issues with some STL files. If you see something strange, you will need to go back to your 3D model in SketchUp and see what you can change geometry-wise to simplify and clean up your model. You can also use programs like NetFabb Basic to automatically repair STL files (we'll cover that in a future Instructable).

It's really just that simple. If you have any trouble doing any of this -- please join our Facebook 3D design and 3D printing group and feel free to ask us for help.

Step 2: SketchUp for 3D Printing

SketchUp is a 3D design program free to download with a large user community and an ever-growing number of plug-ins that make it useful for designers, engineers, artists, and the curious alike.

It is so simple, children can learn it thanks to its many intuitive tools.

Everyone from students and hobbyists to professional designers and engineers use it everyday all over the world.

You can take SketchUp as far as you want to without worrying about running into many limitations. By the time you do decide to move on to a more complex 3D design suite, you will be an experienced designer who will likely pick up another program very quickly.

And because it is so widely used and easy to learn it is probably a good thing that it is also very apt at modeling for 3D printing. Whether you are printing scale models, spare parts, or prototypes for product design, SketchUp allows you to quickly design and redesign models that can then be printed out right before your eyes.

For our 2-3 hour-long workshops, we usually have students design something simple like a keychain. But we have used SketchUp to design 3D printed items such as laboratory equipment, automatic fish feeders, and custom project cases for IoT systems and voltage regulators for solar powered projects.

In future Instructables, we will introduce you to the basics of SketchUp modelling and lead you through step-by-step in creating your first 3D printable 3D model.

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3D Printing a Model

Before you print a model on a 3D printer, you need to make sure your 3D printer can understand your model data. Here’s a quick overview of how to set up your SketchUp model for 3D printing:

  • Orient your model so that the 3D printer has a base on which to build your model. Your 3D printer prints your model one layer at a time. If your model juts out at the top, the 3D printer has nothing to build upon. For example, if you want to 3D-print a gear, rather than orient the gear vertically, place the gear on its side, as shown in the following figure.
  • Make sure your model is a solid group. With your group or component selected, choose Window > Entity Info. If your model is a solid group, the Entity Info window tells you so in the upper left, also shown in the following figure. If your group or component isn’t solid, download and install the Solid Inspector 2 extension created by Thomas Thomassen and available via the Extension Warehouse. (In SketchUp, select Window > Extension Warehouse, search for the extension, and click the red Install button.) This extension helps you analyze why your model isn’t solid and repair and holes or issues. For example, if your model contains internal geometry, then your model is not a solid.
  • Check that the fronts of faces point outward. (And thus, the backs of faces need to face inward.) Technically, making sure all your faces are oriented the correct way is called checking the normals. To check that the face fronts point outward in SketchUp, select View > Face Style > Monochrome to see whether the back sides of a any faces point outward. By default, the face fronts are white and face backs are dark gray. To reverse a face, context-click it and select Reverse Faces. If you use Solid Inspector 2, the extension can find and fix the reversed faces for you.
  • Your model needs to have a volume. For example, if you want to print a box that’s hollow in the middle, the faces along the outside of the box need to have a thickness, as shown in the following figure.

After you check that your model is ready to be 3D printed, you need to output your model to a format your 3D printer understands, also known as the STL format. To export your model as an STL file, see Importing and Exporting STL Files for 3D Printing

Note: As 3D printing technology improves, SketchUp users are sharing new tips and tricks for great 3D-printed models all the time. To connect with other SketchUp users, check out the SketchUp User Forum.

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Don't use SketchUp for 3D-printed designs


SketchUp is great in many ways, especially for creating architectural and construction models. However, while the objects that it creates look solid, many are not. That's not a problem if all you're doing is showing a client a design or creating an animation -- but it's a huge problem if your intention is to print your model in 3D.

Unfortunately, for all its design prowess, SketchUp produces faulty, unprintable STL files (the most common file type used by 3D printers). Some slicers (programs used to generate special 3D-printable gcode files) will not complain about SketchUp files, though many will, including Simplify3D.

Don't use SketchUp for designing objects you expect to 3D print. Better choices are the amazing Tinkercad (an online and free tool) or the hardcore Fusion 360 (free to many).

SketchUp is great (for some things):

I love SketchUp. I used it for many years to help me visualize DIY designs. It's easy to use and when it first came out (and Google eventually bought it), it was way ahead of its time. The way that it let you extrude surfaces and position objects in 3D space was really revolutionary.

And it's still great today, but only if you intend to display your designs on screens or on paper. Unfortunately, for all its design prowess, SketchUp produces faulty, unprintable STL files (the most common file type used by 3D printers).

The two images below illustrate the problem I'm talking about. Both images are screenshots from Simplify3D, an excellent and popular slicer. A slicer is a program that takes STL files and converts them into gcode files for a specific 3D printer. Gcode files contain instructions that tell a 3D printer how to print an object (coordinates, speeds, amount of material, etc).

Slicers also allow you to visualize the layers of a 3D print. The first image below is a screenshot from the layer visualization panel in Simplify3D, a fantastic, if pricey, slicing program. The visualization is of a 3D model which was edited in SketchUp to shorten one of its parts and then output as an STL file. You'll notice right away that something looks very wrong. There are holes in some surfaces, surfaces that jut out at strange angles and areas which should be voids are filled in. What you're seeing is an unprintable 3D model. SketchUp created 3D geometry that looks great on screen, but which can't be replicated as a physical object.

The second image is of the same original source model edited in Tinkercad (a really great and free online CAD tool), output as an STL file and then visualized in Simplify3D. Even if you're not an expert in CAD or 3D printing, it's easy to spot the differences between the good model and the bad model.

how to create 3d model using sketchup web. (easy)

3D Printing with SketchUp: 10 Tips and Tricks

3D Printing with SketchUp: 10 Tips and Tricks

by Fabian| March 30, 2017

SketchUp is one of the most popular 3D modeling & design programs for 3D printing, as we found out from our analysis. However, preparing a SketchUp model for 3D printing can be a little tricky. That’s why we put together a list of 10 simple yet effective tips and tricks to make your SketchUp design 3D printable.

1: Set your Template to Millimeters or Inches

Some simple clicks before getting started will make your life easier: you may want to set your SketchUp template to metric or imperial units. This way, you won’t need to re-scale the printing size of your model later.

You can change the template by clicking on Window > Preferences > Template and selecting ‘3D Printing – Millimeters’ or ‘3D Printing – Inches’.

3d printing with sketchup - change units

2: Install the SketchUp STL Extension

Typically you can save your 3D model as a SketchUp file (SKP). Even though our online 3D printing service accepts these files, you might want to get SketchUp’s free STL Extension. The STL file format is the most commonly used in the 3D printing community and will make it easier to share, print, and edit your design in other software.

With the SketchUp STL extension installed you can export your model as an STL file. Make sure to select the same unit type that you chose in your template (millimeters or inches) when exporting, and choose the binary file format to reduce the size of your file.

export sketchup file as stl for 3d printing

3: Avoid Paper-Thin Surfaces & Set Wall Thicknesses

In order to make your SketchUp model printable, you need to ensure that each and every surface has a wall thickness. Without setting a wall thickness, a 3D printer has no information about how thick or how thin it is supposed to print your part.

The picture below shows a model with paper-thin surfaces (not printable, left) and a solid object with thick walls (printable, right). If you want to learn more about how thick your walls need to be exactly, make sure to read this blog post.

set wall thickness in sketchup for 3d printing

4: Make Your Model Watertight (Manifold)

A printable model must not feature any holes in its surface. Ask yourself the question: if I were to put water inside my model, would it flow out? If that’s the case you need to find these holes and close them. This is one of the trickiest parts of creating 3D printable models in SketchUp.

The design below is an example of a model that is not watertight. You can clearly see that there is one big hole on its surface.

learn to make a sketchup model watertight

Once this hole is closed (for example by drawing new lines), SketchUp recognizes that the object is solid on the inside and ready for the printer! You can see such a watertight (also referred to as manifold) object below.

A watertight sketchup model for 3d printing

5: Avoid Internal Overlapping

Intersections and walls within your design can make your life difficult since your model needs to have one continuous ‘outer shell’. That’s why it makes sense to think about your model in a 2-dimensional space first.

In the case below, the left shape will not be printable once it is pulled into a 3-dimensional object since it will feature paper-thin walls within the object. The shape on the right, however, won’t be a problem to print once it is pulled into a 3D object because it will only have one ‘shell’. It doesn’t feature paper-thin walls on the inside. We’ll look at an automatic way to create one outer shell later.

internal intersections in sketchup cause trouble for 3d printers

6: Check if Your Model Is Solid

Creating watertight models with one continuous outside can be tough sometimes. Luckily SketchUp lets you check if you made any mistakes.

Here’s how it works:

  • Triple-click on your model with the select tool (this will select everything).
  • Right-click on your object and select ‘Make Group’.
  • Right-click on your object again and select ‘Entity Info’.

If you designed an object with holes (not watertight) and internal intersection (not in one shell) the Entity Info window will say ‘Group’. This means that your model is not printable and you’ll have to check it again. Right-click on it and select ‘Explode’ to re-edit the components.

check if sketchup 3d model is solid

If you designed a watertight model in one shell, the Entity Info window will say ‘Solid Group’ and then you know that your model is ready to be 3D printed (in the next steps we’ll tell you how to fix this).

create solid sketchup 3d model

7: Look inside Your Model with the ‘Hide Tool’ and ‘X-Ray-Mode’

Looking at your model from the outside means that the inside is a ‘black box’ for you. However, even the inside of your model could feature many modeling mistakes that would make your object unprintable. In the example below, the ‘Entity Info’ window indicates that the object is not solid.

look inside your sketchup model for 3d printing

Since it looks solid from the outside, it makes sense to take a look at what’s going on inside. Select a surface (face) you want to hide and select ‘Edit’ > ‘Hide’. And voila: you can find the trouble-making mistake. Alternatively, you can switch into x-ray-mode by clicking on ‘View’ > ‘Face Style’ > ‘X-ray’.

detect modeling errors in sketchup

8: Create an ‘Outer Shell’

We already pointed out that designs with overlapping objects create problems for 3D printers. The good news: there’s an automated solution for creating one ‘outer shell’ around the overlapping objects, deleting all internal overlapping parts.

To start with, we have these two solid blocks. Each of these blocks was ‘grouped’ separately (Select > Right click > Make Group). We also selected the x-ray view to make things easier.

sketchup one shell for 3d printing

We then move one block into the other. We now have overlapping areas in the interior of this object.

sketchup outer shell for 3d printing

To get rid of these, we select one block, click on ‘Tools’ and choose ‘Outer Shell’.

outer shell tools in sketchup

The last thing to do is to click on the second block. SketchUp automatically created one solid group out of these blocks. As you can see, the internal overlapping parts are gone. The result is a new solid object that is ready to be 3D printed!

groups 3D model in sketchup for 3d printing

9: Fix Reversed Faces (Inverted Normals)

Another problem that can occur is so-called inward-facing or reversed faces. This means that a surface of your model is facing in the wrong direction (typically this means that it is facing the inside of the object instead of the outside). These surfaces are automatically colored in light blue.

To fix this, right-click on the inward-facing surface (face) and select ‘Reverse Faces’. You can see an example of this in the image below (left). On the right, you can see the object how it is supposed to be: all faces point to the outside again.

reverse inverted faces normals in sketchup

10: Increase Circle/Arc Segments to Getting Smooth Curves

SketchUp ‘smoothens’ arcs and circles in its visual presentation. Even though circles might look perfectly spherical in SketchUp, they are actually only made of 24 sides. Click on ‘View’ > ‘Hidden Geometry’ to see theses sides. When being printed, this circle might come out quite edged.

When you select the arc or curve tool, SketchUp will show you their default sides in the bottom right corner. You can then enter a higher number to increase the number of sides. Validate your entry by hitting the ‘Enter’ key and then draw your arc or circle.

The image below shows a comparison between the default 24 sides (left) and 150 sides (right).

learn to create smooth faces for 3d printing in sketchup

Extra: Automatic File Fixing and Preparation

Sometimes problems are tiny and hard to see with the naked eye. There are SketchUp extensions like the Solid Inspector 2 that find problems automatically and point them out to you. Simply select a group or component and activate the Solid Inspector tool for an analysis of what would prevent it from being a solid manifold.

Another handy extension is CleanUp 3. It allows you to cleans up and optimize your SketchUp model with handy tools like “Erase hidden geometry” and “Erase duplicate faces”.

Extra 2: Getting Your High-Quality 3D Print

Did you manage to follow our tips and tricks and create a printable SketchUp file? In order to send it to our printers, download the SketchUp 3D print service plugin. Alternatively, you can upload your models here and choose from hundreds of material options.


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