If you’ve worked for any length of time at all in tech support, you have probably heard the term RTFM. It’s always been a Good Idea to read the instructions for any product before you use it. As products have grown more complex, however, the manuals have grown even more so. When I was little, the instructions to use a telephone were pretty simple and fit on a dozen pages (most of which included pictures and instructions in telephone etiquette). My antique Samsung flip-phone has a manual that is 206 pages long. An iPhone 7 (which I don’t have), has a manual that is 586 pages long. While, today, the practice of careful RTFMing is more important than ever before, most folks just rip off the wrapper and start poking at things.
SketchUp says that it is “The easiest way to draw in 3D” on their website. However, Mr. Internet has a slightly different opinion that leans more toward Intermediate than Beginner. This is not intended as a negative comment or observation, but it is necessary to highlight that SketchUp is easy enough for most folks to learn, but powerful enough for professionals as well. As a result, the recommendation to please RTFM before using, becomes a swirling dark hole of videos and contradictory information that tends to confuse more than to inform.
It is unfortunate that there is no single coherent on-line reference that can provide one-stop-shopping for SketchUp answers. Once I found this guide, ug_sketchup_win.pdf (3.0 MB), I was able to read it through and then go back to specific sections until I felt I had a pretty good grasp of everything. While this particular guide is for version 6, it pretty much describes the same tools as they exist in 2017.
I also found this quick reference guide for Windows: sketchup8refcardwin.pdf (388.4 KB)
The latest one for SketchUp 2017 is here*: sketchup2017refcardwin.pdf (308.6 KB)
And one for Macs: sketchup8refcardmac.pdf (384.3 KB)
The latest one for SketchUp 2017 is here*: sketchup2017refcardmac.pdf (308.7 KB)
Or follow this link: SketchUp
Reading the 1 page Reference Card is easier than reading the 390 page manual. Taking a few minutes to look at each item and learn how they work will quickly highlight some weak spots a user might have in their knowledge base.
I recently came across an old adage I had never heard before: "Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit, wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad” [Miles Kington]. In SketchUp, this translates into workflow and Good Practices. Everyone comes to SketchUp for a different reason. Some want to remodel their house. Or make money 3D printing. Or maybe model the new car that they bought. One of the biggest mistakes that new users make is trying to do something difficult and elaborate as their first project. While some people can run before they can walk, they are rare indeed. If creating several cubes in groups and intersecting them to form a solid is “impossible,” anything more complex is not going to be any simpler. Bad habits that are developed by not RTFMing before using, are hard to break and can become exponentially frustrating as a project evolves. This is often exhibited by newer users of SketchUp that have spent countless hours trying to accomplish a relatively simple task. Would reading 390 pages of a manual to learn the scope of a product provide insight? More than likely. But learning the details of the tools alone will not prevent you from putting them in the fruit salad.
I think the best way to learn SketchUp is to start with a simple model. Maybe some stairs. Or the outside of a house. Or just a few boxes and cylinders randomly drawn on one another. Designing an office building full of offices and furniture is not a good choice. Modeling that new Subaru BRZ is not a good one, either. Start with straight edges first, then play with circles. then extrude and manipulate surfaces (or facets). Try building a simple model three different ways. Installing the electrical in a real-world house is much easier before adding the floors, walls, and ceilings. This, of course, is obvious after you watch a house being built. Similarly, in SketchUp, some things are much easier when done in the proper order. When properly grouped and managed on layers. And learning to add the texture at the end instead of the beginning. When to scale up and when to not. And why.
RTFMing will give the user knowledge. Practice, practice, practice, will allow them to model Carnegie Hall.
- Thanks to @DanRathbun for pointing me to the new Reference Cards!