Drawing as though on paper

Highly-experienced architectural designer here - lost old drawing program and looking to advance into 3D graphics (by default). Would prefer to ‘draw’ in 2D and to convert/modify/whatever into 3D model. Key is ability to draw, IN SCALE (using equivalent of scale ruler with pencil-like cursor) in 2D first. This is what my old program allowed one to do; and now new Mac cannot run the old program.

How does one set up rulers in LayOut to be able to draw in 2D, in constant scale such as 1/8" = 1 ft, without doing maths against 1:1 rulers every time you let go the mouse?

What drawing program were you using before?

The typical workflow for this would be: draw in SketchUp 1:1 and choose a specific scale in Layout for output.

In my experience prior to SketchUp it helps to be able to draw in scale from the beginning. Output, such as display on screen or print on paper, is distantly secondary to knowing from the off how big the house actually is. My experience with SketchUp seems to demand that I figure out each dimension mathematically before I know where to draw the line or element, which seems (IS) antiproductive.

1 Like

I’m sure it’s not relevant but it was Expert Home Design, from like 1999-2012. It was a program very like CAD that did a lot of work, such as dimensioning, for you. I tended to specify my own wall thicknesses and could dimension rooms to within 1/4" (which I typically do to real-world carpentry scantlings - not drawing what ‘looks good’ and then seeing what the program tells me I did). Probably its best feature for this question was Expert Home Design displayed scale rulers on X and Y axes and your cursor always showed in both as you drew.

Before Expert Home Design I trained in CAD but all my architectural work was via board-and-paper.

1 Like

I’m not sure what you mean by this, are you suggesting that Sketchup isn’t accurate or you can’t draw accurately with it?
This shows you can be specific to 6 decimals of an inch, which is somewhat more exact than 1/4 of an inch.

1 Like

I have quite a few people who use my extensions that like to lay things out in 2D first before switching it all to a 3D model. I get the “start with 2D” first mentality. I’m kind of the same way, it is much easier to look at the big picture stuff with a 2D plan view rather than get bogged down with all of the 3D details at the start.

I think that was probably the biggest reason why I came up with the 2D → 3D functionality with my wall plugin and vice versa. Unfortunately, I have not really implemented the same functionality into the foundation and truss plugin yet, but I will once I get to it.

A free extension I would highly recommend is the SketchUp Grid Tool. A very simple extension but in my mind almost crucial when it comes to laying out floor plans and walls. It is available for download in the Extension Warehouse:


Regardless of your workflow (or how you ultimately define and develop it) I think you will find that SketchUp has a very low learning curve and is an amazing product.

The tile of your post is instructive: “drawing as though on paper”. In SU you can’t and shouldn’t. You can use it for 2D work but it is intended as 3D primarily.

When you draw something, you draw it as if it were a real world model at real world sizes. CAD allows you to change your apparent focal distance to see as much or as little as you choose (AKA zooming). That is quite different from paper where you are limited by the paper size and your (roughly) fixed distance from it (limited by the length of your arms as much as anything). If you like that way of working, you may be better reverting to a drawing board. But if you persevere, you should soon get used to the new way of working.

You have to figure out far less than when drawing to scale. No math involved to convert real life (or design- ) measures to the 1:1 scale you are drawing in.

b.t.w. You can have a scaled model component of your real model component to the side in your virtual 3D world. Switch back and forth with saved scenes from real life size to scaled size. SketchUp does all the math and converts your model to any scale you set the little component instance to.

That’s a very nice line you’ve drawn. If you were drawing in 1/4”-to-1’ scale, how big is the line?

Thanks for the encouragement and I’ll look up the extension.

I don’t understand. Scale is a matter of how an object’s actual size maps onto a fixed-size, inelastic medium such as a sheet of paper. Scale is important if the only way you have to position and measure the object is something like an architect’s ruler laid onto that medium. The ruler does the real-world to paper scale conversion math for you, but only at a particular fixed scale.

In SketchUp you are not developing your model on such a medium. You are working in a virtual model world at full size. But that does not mean you need a screen 15m wide to display a house! The computer display can zoom in and out to provide a continuously variable scale. And all of the SketchUp tools let you input or observe the real world measurements of each item as you go along. I fail to see why it matters whether a 1m object is 1cm or 10cm or for that matter 5.217645mm long on your computer screen.

It is only when you need to print out a representation of the model on a fixed medium such as paper that you even need to think about “scale”.

1 Like

Your explanation that SU doesn’t do this is instructive. Not to be snarky but I take it you’re under 35 or 40. ;p

Drawing on paper with all its perceived limitations (and paper size isn’t really a factor) is a first fundamental in all drafting - one too many architects of today have long forgotten. For example in navigation (in the car), using only small-screen GPS denies you the bigger picture - you see only a 3-by-5-inch screen and not the larger general direction - ‘basically which way should I go and which major road tends that way?’ You become a slave to the little box which as if by design limits your vision of greater (physically bigger) reality.

In modern residential architecture it is common to see houses drawn with no overall sense of unity or scale. Residential designers develop the design from individual room sizes. When they’re all put together they consult the overall dimensions. ‘That house will be… 49’7” x 88’3”; so you need a lot at least 91 ft wide.’ That’s not really helpful if you’re a serious professional.

I cut my teeth designing for LBI and OBX where you are (were) constrained by section size and cost - draw a fast- and easy-to-build 24 x 36 Cape Cod for a 50 x 100 lot and include 4 bedrooms, garage and patio without exceeding 2500 sq ft of developed foundation on the lot and coming in within 10% of budget. It starts with an overall scale, not a two-story foyer that turns out to be 17 x 19’6” that looks really cool in 3D on estate-agents’ web listings but isn’t necessary or helpful to the project.

To the other extreme I’m currently designing a castle/palace residence over 650 ft wide for another project but, again, I know all the dimensions and just need to develop working plans. (And, no, having done this since the ‘80s I know that paper size isn’t the problem - just get more paper.)

So having and knowing the starting scale is more vital than nonprofessional residential designers might wish to believe. It’s even more vital if you’re starting a remodel with an existing structure whose dimensions are finite and nonnegotiable. What I’m asking is how I begin with plotting those dimensions.

I tend to first-plot drawing on graph paper, which is what Lloyd Wright did, because it helps constrain you to 2x4 and 4x8 material dimensions. This nets the cheapest possible way to build something amazing. (But then I grew up in a Wright-inspired tract so maybe that’s why.) I’m the architect so I’ll provide the amazing part. Having drawn like this I already know all the dimensions in scale. I want to draw them in something like SU now for the output opportunities and to print large-format working plans.

TLDR Question:
Is there a way to impose a fixed-scale graph on a SU document from the start? I’m sorry but I haven’t found that yet.

It sounds like you could stand to spend some time going through the instructional materials at learn.sketchup.com

In SketchUp you model at real world dimensions. You can then create scenes showing the model that are using in LayOut. Then in LayOut, you can set the scale for those viewports as desired.

If you want to draw in 2D in LayOut, you can choose Scaled Drawing, set the scale and then proceed to use LayOut’s drawing tools to draw. You’ll enter real world dimensions and they’ll be drawn at the scale you have chosen.

I think I get that you know what I mean. I’ll apologise if I sound obtuse in trying to describe it. But I differ; you are not drawing in full size. You’re drawing in an arbitrary scale. That is - we don’t know what the scale is; it’s just constrained by the boundaries of our medium.

My point is - how do you draw an architectural structure for a real world of building materials and methods and sizes (what in shipbuilding is called ‘scantlings’ - the table of overall proportions of materials and dimensions) without knowing how big it’s going to be first?

It’s like people I’ve know who form bands and then don’t know what the band name is. The band name should come first! - it’s an overarching philosophy that’s fundamental to the rest of the project. It guides, empowers and restricts you in the right sorts of ways.

I am not Simon but I am over 65 and have used CAD tools since 1986. I have never drawn anything “to scale” - everything has always been created to full scale. Scale is about print or other output settings.


Sorry to sound like an old-gen dolt here. Let me ask a simple question.

Using SU, how would you start to draw a 30x24 frame house relying on the central longitudinal 2x4 wall (yielding two rooms at 11’6” rough width) to be load-bearing for the second floor?

No; this is actually a VERY relevant question. It’s how budget-constrained houses are designed & built in the real world.

If you are going to start building the house by building that central wall, I guess I’d model that wall first.

Unlike @Anssi, I am Simon and I recently turned 63. I wish your assumption could make me 35 again!

I will agree with you on one point. CAD has never come close to the kind of drawing experience you get with paper and pencil. I well remember when I was starting with CAD, I used to suggest to CAD resellers that what we really need is a screen we can draw on directly. This was back in about 1990, long before touchscreens. I also remember their pitying looks at me and the mournful words “a mouse is an amazing invention”. So it was but it puts you at one remove from the medium you are drawing on. It is much harder to design conceptually that way.

Having said all that, I wouldn’t go back to the old days. My back alone probably wouldn’t take the strain. And of course, we are gradually, gradually, inching our way towards desks that are screens that you can indeed draw on directly. I never thought it would take as long as this to get there and it may be too late for me!