SketchUp workflow ideas for SET DESIGN/ CONCEPT DESIGN

Hello there,

I am looking for recommendations.

I use SketchUp and Layout, sometimes ArchiCAD (for sophisticated and faster 2D drafting), and of course Photoshop (for texture and picture editing).

I am planning to learn Blender and Twinmotion for texturing and rendering. I would like to produce more artistic concepts and professional final products.

I would like to find a workflow, where I could add decay and aging, damage to the sets I am working on…I am constantly searching for a way to better present the set designs…I find myself admiring hand-drawn set designs and hand-drawn architectural perspectives, detailed drawings for inspiration. I wonder if I could achieve a similar quality with a computer and tablet…

In practice, set design, the process sped up over the years…Changes seem to be more and more frequent (as we tend to work on computers)…In most cases, the first idea would turn into another, the space, the location, and the details are changing constantly and fast…I like to use SketchUp and Layout because in case of minor changes I don`t have to start re-draft the 2D doc from scratch. I also like axonometry and the schematic presentations, white models rather than textures, keeping the presentation simple and light, then develop the model as we go along, adding the texture after the form is settled.

SketchUp has the advantage of being able to access the terrain, and sun settings (for shadow studies) and does all this relatively quickly…I also find the modeling process very enjoyable, in contrast with my experience using ArchiCAD (I used it for many years and I still use it for 2D drafting).

I’ve seen people exporting to Substance Painter from Blender (which I think would be probably quite expensive as it’s an Adobe product), but also I don’t understand why someone with Blender would need that. I thought that Blender has a very good texturing tool. So it is very confusing to know what software to learn as they change so fast. For me Blender seems like software that is in touch with its audience, it grows together with it, and it has a good community (just as SketchUp does and it makes a difference too). These are the reasons I am planning to go this way.

I am interested in other people’s experiences in similar situations - concept/ interior / architectural design and the workflow used.

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As you are an Archicad user you might be able to make sense of the interface of Blender, although having experience of Archicad since the late 1980s has not helped me in that. But both are a mess (part of my job is to use Archicad and advise others in using it, but that doesn’t make me love it). Blender might have good available render engines, but AFAIK no one uses it to model, at least none of the models demoed in the legion of threads in these forums praising it have been made in it.

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I use SketchUp and Layout as a companion workflow for design and documentation, and Twinmotion as a visualization / rendering tool.

I have seen some nice renders being produced with Blender, however it is my impression that this is from a small group of power users, I have also seen many mediocre Blender renderings. I am sure it can be done, but perhaps the timeline / learning curve required to produce those images does not lend itself to widespread adoption as a workflow in fast paced real world design industries like AEC and Scenic / Set design. Admittedly, I have only dabbled in Blender and use it primarily as a format converter, but Twinmotion is currently serving my needs well.
Advantages that keep me in Twinmotion vs other options are a strong and growing library of objects and textures, decent lighting fixture control, ability to map playing video files as materials (crucial for using video in stage design), and useful animation controls for objects. Twinmotion has it’s quirks too, but it’s my tool of choice. Happy to answer any specific questions about my workflow.

Are you imagining this as a change in texture? Or physically eroding the geometry to indicate wear?

Film/TV or stage? Depending on how much you like hand drawn/painerly type presentations you might like SketchUp for iPad (that comes with a Pro subscription anyway), and it’s handoff of 2D and 3D output to Procreate. I need a better iPad to really give the 3D/UV mapping stuff a try, and it may still be not working quite right, but it’s promising, especially if you want to take the textures on the model into a painting app and age/weather them for better effect.

I have only been using SketchUp for my designs for the last few months, however I have been a theatre set designer for about 20 or so years. I have always been a hand-drafter (that comes with a scenic painter and carpenter background I think), however some theatres required 3D style plans, so I was also pretty fluent in Vectorworks. I spent enough years teaching in state schools that the free version for professors was always available.

I never did like the lack of texture, or just the lackluster choices that come with a 3D “sticker -style” application. I used to take my PDF images produced in Vectorworks and then paint over them in Adobe Photoshop… Or more ridiculously, I would print them and hit them with what my students refer to as “analog art supplies” (kills me). Watercolor was usually my go-to because of the inherent texture.

Now? I have done my last 8 set designs in SketchUp for iPad, and then because I still feel like the textures are inferior most of the time, I do one of two things.

I either take them as images into Procreate and direct paint on them like I used to do in Photoshop, or I create a texture in Procreate specifically for the “wrap” of each piece and then use that as the material in SketchUp.

I will contact my recent theatres and ask if I can post those images here. Lots of NDA at the moment. Once my son goes to bed, I’ll also go look for some of the old Vectorworks stuff.

I have to say I’m addicted to SketchUp, and like @RTCool says above, I could not be any more pleased with the iPad version, especially with the Pencil, and Procreate, and Mental Canvas.

It should be noted that I also struggle with the desire to knock back the “squareness” of almost all my models. It’s the decades of theatre making me wish I had the digital equivalent of a can of glossy woodtone spray.

I have had great success using the freehand tool to draw new edges on square structures, then hide or soften the original edge. Just that minor adjustment has made a huge difference in allowing my artistic sense to accept some of the more simple textures right in the program.

I am very much looking forward to the export directly to procreate working. I think that will change my entire workflow in an awesome way.


Sketchup and Twinmotion is a great balance of modelling and rendering software, very quick and cost effective… highly recommended no rocket science interfaces, both intuitive,

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Hi Anssi, thank you for your answer.

I am imagining a SketchUp to Blender workflow, rather than doing everything in Blender. I enjoy SketchUp too much to give it up for a struggle in Blender.

Thank you, Riley,

Yes. I was thinking of using texture painting and perhaps surface modification as I did with ZBrush mini a few times…I need to experiment but to do that I will learn some basics for sure.

Mainly big-budget feature films.

I have SketchUp Pro and I think I have a good grip on Layout too now.

I am interested in widening the workflow…I would like to refine my presentation skill no so much to copy the hand drawing style, but be able to communicate the feeling of a design better, whit more artistic touches…I always hated plain cad drawings - many of us do - hence the need for fills and textures and layers in 2D documents.

Ideally, I am looking for a non-destructive workflow, as it would make documenting adjustments faster, but I think artistic touches are difficult to automate…

Hi Dani,

I came across your post the other day I was very impressed with the images you posted. but knowing that you only started to use SketchUp recently, I am even more impressed.

I could tell that you have a design background and that you are good with your hands too.

I went to architecture starting on the drawing board, then halfway through we moved to the computer. Before architecture school, I wanted to be a painter and trained accordingly. I am hoping that I can also learn to use my HUION tablet for the things you presented above. It’s very good to see these ideas.

I used Photoshop for custom textures before and re-touch, but I don’t use enough to justify the price. I will have a look at Procreate, I haven’t heard of it yet. I downloaded SketchBook to my Samsung tablet - mostly to encourage my daughters to draw on them. My younger daughter (9) however prefers SketchUp and PicCollage…I mean I wish I have 3 heads and could learn all of them…

I would like to post some of my work, but I have no right to do so. Although, I know a few colleagues who are not that conscious of these issues.

I haven’t tried the tablet version of SketchUp yet, as I am so attached to my shortcuts and space mouse at the moment and just bought my 4th Alienware, desktop this time.

Hands up for the new free-hand tool!!! I appreciate it more than I thought I would…

I really like the after-touches in Procreate. This could work to add decay and dirt and make better use of my neglected HUION.

Thank you for your thoughts. I think we are on the same wavelength.

Love it. Very nice! The cutout pods are a little reminiscent of Charles Moore.

Thank you.

I prefer mid-century modern to postmodern.

I designed the bunk bed so it fits in the space of the old, built-in cupboard which was originally in place in the house when we bought it as part of the original layout. We used the existing bunk bed for the structure - left behind by the previous owne.

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Very nice!! I admire the precision! And I love seeing the models. Many a cardboard model has passed through my shop, and I will always have a special place for them in my heart.

One of the main reasons I’m enjoying SketchUp is the 3D aspect. If I want another angle of something, I can just rotate it and get a new scene. Before it was copy, paste for the outline and then erase what was unnecessary before drawing in the new view.

I always liked the hand drafts better. Markers, watercolor, paint, colored pencils, etc. so much more interesting.

You might not actually enjoy the iPad version of SketchUp, simply because you’re already proficient on the computer. I stated with iPad, so the interface seems intuitive to me, but from what I gather by reading posts here in the forum, if a person is used to clicking without dragging, the pencil mechanics of the iPad are maddening. There are many proficient users here that have iPads who can probably speak better to that. I do know that even though I have the Pro on my desktop, and have followed many tutorials and downloaded extensions, etc… I prefer the iPad, probably because it’s where I started.

The other program… Procreate… is also exclusive to the iPad, but it does work on older models of the iPad, and last I checked it was cheap. I think I bought the lifetime license for 10 dollars, but that was probably 8 years ago now.

Any drawing program with layers and the ability to import PNG files would technically work. I still have a monthly subscription to photoshop because I have had for a long time, but with the latest updates to Procreate, I don’t think I’ve even opened it in the last 6 months. And procreate technically does have the ability to draw right on the models… it just doesn’t work quite right yet. it will though! I have faith!

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Sorry, I decided to delete my previous post as I thought it was too many personal projects in them…

It sounds very interesting that you can draw straight on the model…

This is why I am thinking of using Blender, because of what I had experienced with the texturing… although involving more software makes the workflow less reliable in my experience…

Sorry to see them go - they are awesome.

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Hi, I use SU/Layout and Twinmotion and UE5. I extensively use Substance 3D Sampler (basically for all my textures), I occasionally use Painter, in the instance where I need to UV unwrap something and the paint (using my Sampler materials). This a workflow I have tried to develop over the last few years and it works very well for me in terms of speed of design iteration from SU into Twinmotion.

Just for curiosity, what is your requirement for something like Blender? (excluding its use a potential render engine).

FYI the Adobe Substance pipeline is extremely flexible and transferable (i.e. many render engines support SBSAR format) so you can author a material within say Sampler or Designer and use that material elsewhere (including Blender). I usr Sampler ALL the time, its great, in practice (for me) this means I can keep a single (non-destructive) material file (for each material) with layers for colour variations, ageing, dirt, weather effects etc and export either texture sets or use the SBSAR with activated / non activated layers across different applications (Twinmotion doesn’t support SBSAR but UE5 does).
Decal application is very good in Twinmotion for adding non-repetitive, wear, weathering and age effects, although unfortunately, the Path Tracer doesn’t yet support decals but the standard rasteriser does.
Hope this is of use.

Just on cost, I think I pay around £16 per month for a Sampler / Painter / Designer subscription.
Learning curve on Sampler and TM are nice and shallow

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Hi Rob,

Thank you for your thoughts.

  • I will have to look into the Substance products you are using. I haven’t heard much about them until recently. I wonder if they only work with render engines or if I could use the texture in SketchUp and in Layout - or 2D documentation…

  • I was thinking of using Blender for texturing (texture painting???) then bringing the model back to Sketchup and layout for 2D drawings…Not sure of this, just an idea…I used ZBrush this way with SketchUp until I found a sculpting extension.

  • I also use Blender to reduce the models received from concept artists, and VFX. I reduce the polygon brought into SketchUp this way. And sometimes I use SKIMP for exporting and to reduce the poly even more.

  • I am under pressure to swap SketchUp to Rhino 3D because of collaborating issues. I would even say that in the last few jobs the work environment started to become hostile based on which software are you using…Whilst I would love to learn Rhino, I have limited time and I would like to direct my time and effort toward something which could give me more benefits regarding the actual job I am doing. I haven’t yet made my mind up about Rhino, but I am desperate to find another solution and I so I can leave this worry behind me. At the moment this is an everyday issue and it causes me so much stress and frustration.

Yes, I use my substance exported texture (sets) in all my SU models. I bake the base colour, ambient occlusion and normal maps together in Photoshop to make a basic SU texture, which look pretty good, then swap out the combined map with the correct maps in Twinmotion. If you look at my art station page (in my profile) you can see some of my Layout drawings with my textures applied.

Used Sampler for a number of years from when it was Substance Alchemist before Adobe bought it.
Its perfect for me at its very easy and quick to dive into and build awesome materials.

You could use Blender and it will do a good job, I use Painter for this task as it obviously works with Sampler and is Photoshop ‘ish’ in its layering / masking system.

Yep, I use Transmutr for similar tasks

Again, this workflow works for me and I don’t really have to collaborate that much. I’ve never used Rhino but heard good things, Vectorworks is also worth a look and I think they do a version specifically aimed at stage and set design.
Good luck

I had a look at your work in ArtStation and it’s looks amazing. Looks really good. Do you have an office or work by yourself?I never took the time to go into any rendering softwares deep enough and I also have to learn the language…baking etc. But it’s only looks good if the ageing ,the textures and the lighting are right. A lot to learn…

I use ArchiCad, so need for Vectorworks.

I am familiar with Photoshop although as I use an old version I probably could do with catching up with the new functions…

I definitely think Twinmotion is an obvious choice for SketchUp.

Thank you for your thoughts. I will check out Substance from Adobe.

Hi, you’re probably all over it but have you explored the styles in SketchUp like sketchy lines and various other ones.

I use podium (and podium walker) for my renders, which isn’t a super advanced software package, but I have found it relatively user friendly and provides good enough renders for almost every job I have done so far. It doesn’t do moving objects or ageing so may not be a perfect fit for your needs but possibly worth a look.

Be great to see some updated comparisons between the various rendering software Options, I saw one ages ago but probably way out of date now.

Good luck!