3 Ways to boost your CAD to 3D Workflow

You might love or hate CAD files, but if you find .dwg files circling through your workflow, we suggest you check out the latest Campus Track: 3 Ways to boost your CAD to 3D Workflow

The process is broken down into 3 methods, which also apply to how you might receive .dwg files. If you create the files yourself, check out our suggestions for how to optimize the files before importing them into SketchUp.

If you are given the files and just need to make the best of them inside SketchUp, we’ve got you covered there as well with 2 different approaches with suggestions for using the native tools or some extensions.

Please share your feedback and ask questions here, we are eager to hear what you think.


It was a beneficial track of classes. Only thing that I might suggest is explain more as doing things, such as deleting/hiding layers in track one. That went by really fast and I had to watch that step several times. I get both cad files and PDFs and they each have their challenges in getting into SU. Thanks for doing these!

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Thanks for the feedback, if you have any more, please let us know.

Interesting & useful track. I’m not interested in using CAD, but plan to convert PDFs to DXF files and then trace over those. I thought the tips in method 3 would be useful, but, being a novice, I’m trying to figure out how the gray color is applied to the lines, rectangles etc. your drawing over the base layer. Is the color applied to a certain layer? Sorry if the answer’s already in the lesson and I missed it
Maybe there’s a separate tutorial for that?

I think there are 2 ways you could approach this, Styles or Color by layer. (Or a combination of the two)

Color by Layer (Tags):
Group all the CAD linework together, then put that group on a new layer. (Layers- now Tags in 2020) Toggle ‘Color by Layer’ on and that is what makes the CAD linework layer appear in one color. Change the default layer color to something different, and now as you draw, that will appear in a different color.

Create a unique style and in the linework, toggle edge color ‘by Material’. This will let you color edges differently. Apply a color to the linework group and all those edges should inherit that color.
Create a new group for the linework you are drawing on top of the original and color that group with a different color. -You may want to create a new surface color as well.

In both cases, it’s a good idea to lock the underlying group so it can’t be modified, and Eric also creates some scenes that toggle the original group on and off by hiding it’s layer (Tag)

Hope this makes sense.

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I didn’t see any information here about working with imported contour lines from CAD files. It would be great to know optimal workflow for simplifying contours and creating terrain mesh when importing CAD files from a civil engineer. Do you have a recommendation of where I could learn more about that? Thanks!

Methods likely vary depending on site/complexity. For example, are your CAD contours flat or do they have elevation values applied?

Did you have a file you wanted to share to review together? The cleanup parts of the course are the still relevant here - ie, Isolating contour linework, reducing layer count, purging, saving as clean file/wBlock.

Also, have you checked out other posts on the forum? Site Topography, contour lines and terrain setup for 3D model

Hi Eric,

Thanks for the reply. The contour lines have elevations applied. Attached is the dwg I got from the civil engineers. I brought it into Sketchup and it is obviously way too big for what I need for Lot 13. What would be your recommended workflow for extracting only what I need? Also, the contour lines are made up of several small line segments. Should I simplify the contours or use the weld plugin to connect them together? or both? Should I use TopoShaper to create the mesh or From Contours? Also, If I am wanting to
upload the model to google earth to analyze views, what do I need to consider in terms of the axis location and the elevation I need to import my building model into? Thank you for your help!

ACAD-SPRINGHILL RESERVE_LOT 13_EXHIBIT-Model.dwg (12.4 MB) Springill Reserve Plat.pdf (5.7 MB) Lot 13_Building Envelope.pdf (139.0 KB)

So for this file, I’d agree with you that reducing both the overall area of the contours to convert to a mesh and simplifying the contours will help speed things up.

In CAD, I drew an area around lot 13 with plenty of extra room on all sides to help guide me later in SU for what I need to keep and discard. This could be done first in CAD but if the lines are all joined, then you’d have to trim or break them so I figured it’d be easier to do in SU. Either way is fine.

Here is a comparison of mesh made with just Sandbox Tools (Toposhaper works with point clouds, etc but since you have clean contours, Sandbox works just fine). Note that there are over 65,000 edges for just contour linework in this new reduced lot 13 area. After using Simplify Contours extension, the number drops to 3,200. The Sandbox meshes look nearly identical.

Lastly, with hidden geometry turned on, you can see the density of linework needed to create each mesh with the original CAD linework being overkill.

Countours_Lot13_Simplified.skp (1.2 MB)

Edit: for Google Earth, just use the ‘Add Location’ feature in SketchUp and move your mesh to align with it’s real-world position. Then turn off any layers you don’t want to show in Google Earth and export as KMZ format. Tip: sometimes the Google Earth terrain and SketchUp mesh overlap each other so I tend to ‘fake’ it a bit and move my mesh up about a meter or so so that it ‘floats’ just above the Google terrain.

I am confused on what to do with the extensions once downloaded? The Face Creator extension worked well and was instantly available in Sketchup. However, all of the others referenced, I can see are downloaded but maybe I need to drag to a library somewhere to be accessible via Sketchup? I am new to extensions. Where can I learn more about how to work with extensions?

You could read this:

You might have already successfully installed them. Some work immediately, for others you need to quit SketchUp then open it up again. Try restarting SketchUp and look for them in the menus.

There’s more than one way of installing them:

  1. From inside SketchUp: Window->Extension Warehouse
  2. From inside SketchUp: Window->Extension Manager. Click ‘Install Extension’ then locate a .rbz file that you’ve downloaded earlier.
  3. Older (or simpler) plugins can be installed by copying the files into your Plugins folder here:
    ~/Library/Application Support/Sketchup 2020/Sketchup/Plugins
  4. With the Sketchucation store extension for those that are hosted there.

The directory depends on which version of SketchUp you have. Your profile says 2010. Is that SketchUp 8?

Cleanup3 and Edge Tools require a library TT_Lib2 which you need to install too. You just install it like any other extension. Joint Push Pull is on SketchUcation and I’d recommend getting their extension store which makes installing and updating other extensions from there much easier:

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