What's the basic Sketchup workflow concept? I'm so confused


I’ve decided to build myself a house. So I’m learning Sketchup Pro. Problem is, the basic concept of how the !?&$!@? program works eludes me.

Poking around here, I found out about layers (yeah, I’m that kind of dumb) and something called primitives. Funny, I thought I’ve been making solid shapes all along.

So help me out here…I’m supposed to make groups of shapes (walls, windows, door frames), all on Layer 0, then instantly group them, copy them and paste them into another layer, then hide the layer so I can make more grouped objects? Is that the idea? That’s why every time I touch one of my non-grouped assemblages, all hell breaks loose with weird tangles of lines that take hours to untangle?

I have many years with Adobe programs for graphic design. They are fairly straightforward: you draw what you draw and that’s the final product. Sketchup seems to be a glorified clipboard; you draw what you draw but only when you save it to another place does it become a real thing. Do I have this right?


I’d scratch most of what you just said, and try to start over again with a fresh viewpoint.

… and on the second time around don’t be so literal, and absolute about what you’re suppose to be doing.

Drawing everything on ‘layer0’ would be the one thing to be somewhat disciplined about… that is a good practice. But it’s also true that at some point you need to know WHY things are that way… and to get there, that’s going to mean making some mistakes along the way.

Hence my warning about not getting tied up to tightly in the early stages here.

In SketchUp, RAW geometry is by design sticky geometry. The simple act of selecting something doesn’t isolate that selection from other items which it’s connected to. So indeed all hell can and will break loose depending upon the transformation you apply to your selection… And most transformations will have implications on the other connected, yet unselected (raw) geometry.

SO, Placing your RAW geometry into a Group is one the first steps towards taming this. Any newly drawn RAW Geometry doesn’t stick to geometry which has already been grouped together.

If you want to assign your groups onto a layer then you don’t need to copy anything… Instead use the ‘Entity Info’ menu and reassign the layers in that manner.

Be careful about directly comparing SketchUp’s use of Layers to what you’ve seen in Adobe (or even many other products)… in some ways SketchUp’s handling of layer is simplistically basic, and they function as little more than a means to provide a naming convention to groups of geometry, and/or to also allow their visibility to toggle on/off.

In SketchUp You don’t really achieve much by selecting a layer (as current) and then drawing on it. That in itself doesn’t do anything towards isolating your RAW geometry from one another. RAW geometry, even if it’s been set onto different layers, will still stick to each other… SO in this sense the act of placing geometry into groups is more akin to having placed them into layers in other design software.

Once you get this duality of groups and layers down you’ll have a lot less trouble with wild unexpected changes.

more to come later on…

in the mean time have you seen any of the basic video tutorials about getting started in SketchUp ?


I never understand why people join a forum and basically say, this software is rubbish so you must all be idiots for using it, now use your time, which obviously has less value than mine, to show me how it works.


Hello and welcome to the forum.

I see that @JimD got to you before me and his advice is spot on as always.

I suggest you spend some time with a few discrete video tutorials directed at the beginner. Click on the following link:

SketchUp Getting Started Playlist

The most simple approach is to just use the basic tools (line, rectangle, circle) to generate shapes. You correctly indicated that all raw or primitive geometry should be created on Layer 0. Use the Edit toolbar icons (Move, Push-Pull, Rotate, Follow-Me, Scale and Offset) to transform the entity shape or size as needed. When you have realized a useful entity form, that is a good point to save it as a group or component and to place on a layer other than Layer 0, for instance you may want to organize your model so that all of the components related to walls at a specific level are placed on a Layer that could be labeled as follows: “AR-IntWalls-3Flr”.

You could break this down even further to specify the wall base, or chair rail, etc, but that may be confusing for now.

I can practically assure that if you take the time to review the video link I offered earlier AND STUDY THE VIDS, you will get up to speed with SketchUp in a relatively short time.

Keep an open mind and come back to this forum with any additional questions.

Good luck and happy sketchupping.



Thanks for your thoughtful reply!

Yes, in fact I’ve spent quite a few hours watching beginner videos. But the problem with those is that–while telling you all the stuff the tools do–they never give the WHY, the overall 30,000-foot view of “here’s how you approach a complex project.” But I did learn that what took me a week to do, someone who knows what they’re doing can do in 10 minutes.

In spite of some touchy responses from other loyal Sketchup devotees, (sorry, guys), I find that it is NOT an especially intuitively-designed program, unlike many others I’ve used for decades. An example of this is the seemingly crucial STYLES menu option (“by axis”) that is buried in the 5th or 6th FILE-level tab, 8 or 9 items down from the top.

But hey, fanboys, if no one ever complains, why would the developers bother to fix stuff? It’s a software tool, not a religion. But let’s leave that for another whiny topic some other time.

Now that I know a layer isn’t really a layer, that certainly clarifies a few things that, coming from a heavy Photoshop background, I could never never get to work the way I thought it should.

So my next question is, do people favor an additive method or a subtractive one to design in Sketchup? Should one create basic building block shapes and remove bits to refine the shape, or build up smaller elements into big ones? Like for a house: start with the exterior mass and remove chunks to form walls and roof by leaving them behind, or do the opposite, adding solids together?

And exactly how should this all feed into Layout? It almost seems like Layout should go before Sketchup, since the drawing tools seem more precise and controllable. (Unless the commands to fine-tune a Sketchup entity are buried somewhere I can’t find. I didn’t know it was even called an entity until you used the word.)

Sorry for the long-winded response. I do appreciate your help and patience. If you want to learn typography or 2D design, let me know.


So don’t respond. Sheesh.


Some old time SketchUp users are quite sensitive fellows, and even if a post is mildly contentious they may reply harshly. Referring to their favorite program using pseudo swearing would certainly be enough to incur some wrath!

You might think about posting different topics to cover just one subject, this post has so many questions in it.

On the question about Styles, do you mean Window/Styles? That isn’t any more buried than say Window/Materials, and you’ll be using different materials a lot more than you’ll be using different styles.


After 35 years as a professional software developer and longer than that as a computer used, I’ve come to not care too much about “intuitive” interfaces. Very little is intuitive the first time you see it. SketchUp has a learning curve, not super steep, but moderately long because the tool is remarkably flexible and capable, with short-cuts available for many operations that might seem super complicated or tedious. OK, enough generalities. :slight_smile:

Regarding additive vs. subtractive my approach depends on the shape to be modeled. Almost always I use some of both on a given item. As an example the push/pull tool is super useful, and works both ways. If the item has geometry that is close to being an extrusion of some 2D shape, then I’ll draw the 2D shape in-place (on one end of where the extrusion will span) and then pull the 2D shape into the third dimension. (The initial 2D shape can be on any arbitrary plane, tilted for example; the push/pull tool will operate perpendicularly to whatever plane the initial shape is on.) You can also use the push/pull tool to remove things, by drawing the 2D shape of a hole or an edge chamfer, and then pushing it into the surface or along the edge. (The follow-me tool can do similar edge alterations in a more flexible manner that works around corners and arbitrary 3D paths.)

I also frequently use lines and arcs to draw individual edges of an item, connecting them gradually to build up flat 2D surfaces and then a solid shape, if the item being modeled does not lend itself to other approaches. For my engineering-type work the fact that SketchUp allows exact and trivially-easy numeric control over the length or spacing of such features is critical.

By the way I use guide lines all the time! If you were to see a working drawing of mine, there would usually be dozens of guide lines (and some guide points) all over the place, so many that often I forget what the older ones were for! Here is a screen capture of an item in an early stage when laying out where the elements of a curved outline will go:

And here is a cleaned-up version:

The next steps were to delete the over-size hexagon working surface I was drawing this shape onto, and then to pull the shape into a specific thickness. Lots of other additions were made to the item; the final component is the large black object seen in the context of many other parts:

On the subject of raw geometry, There is the benefit and danger that raw lines, arcs, etc. will merge together wherever they may intersect or overlap. This is definitely a great feature because it allows the gradual definition of a complex shape. But there are times when you don’t want a new line to have any effect on existing geometry, they should be independent. This is what groups and components are for - they segregate the chosen entities (lines, arcs, etc.) into their own safe domain. I use components and groups all the time, for everything. There is no raw geometry just laying around in any of my models. I will usually draw a few initial entities of a shape as raw geometry in the open model domain, then convert them into a component (I use components far more often than groups). I’ll open that component (double-click on a part of it) and then continue editing.

Components have the super-powerful characteristic that if you copy a component, the copy and the original are linked by auto-magically sharing the same internal content. If you open any of the copies and edit it, the edits will instantly appear in all the copies. Even if you scale up one of the copies by some factor, or rotate it, etc., edits made to any copy will be appropriately reflected in all the other un-scaled or un-rotated copies. Groups do not share this automatic consistency feature. A group simply serves to isolate its internal content from all other content, preventing the merging of lines, arcs, etc. if and when they overlap with other entities that are not in the group.


Hi Sdotkling,

I am an architectural designer and I use Sketchup for my work. My first approach is actually to start with a hand drawn plan on paper! A house has to work in plan if it is going to work in 3D. I don’t really start from the outside-in for single houses, though it is useful to do so for larger blocks of flats.

I think when you model in SketchUp, it’s a good idea to know what you are modelling before you start it, if you see what I mean. That’s because it can take a lot of time to “amend” a bit of a model. Hence draw a 2D plan first with a scale rule. Sometimes, it can be less time consuming to start again with a load of geometry than amend what is there.

That brings me on to the next point: Groups and Components are your friend. Break your project down to manageable, organised nested groups. For example:

  • different building elements should be in its own group (floor/roof/wall/window/door/furniture/fittings). Feel free to have further nested groups in these element groups if it makes your job easier (stops geometry from sticking). Understand the power of “View > Component Edit > Hide Rest of Model”, which let’s you choose whether to edit a group in isolation (easier to navigate around it), or in context (allows you to see how it fits in with everything else).
  • all groups/components on a floor should be grouped together. Then you can apply a layer to the floor, and turn it off while you are working on the floor below.

Once you have a structured, organised model, you will find it much easier to manage.

Just a few tips to get you started.


Yes, I see what you mean. Of course, as an architect, you have an innate sense of what “works” as a flat drawing. The amateur wanna-be (me) needs to learn that. Sketchup is such a wonder to me largely because of the “walk-through” ability of being inside a space that only exists in imagination, to see the actual ramifications of a hallway here or a slanted ceiling there.

My project (and likely the only project I’ll ever do in the foreseeable future) is a house addition for myself and my family in our soon-to-be old age. I’ve drawn the thing many times by now, each time applying the few crumbs of additional knowledge I’ve acquired. I’m sure I’ll be drawing it many more times, each time from scratch, hoping that maybe some day I’ll get it right.

I’ve learned more in the 4 or 5 responses from users than I ever gleaned from the documentation or videos.

Thanks again for your time and kind reply.

—Stephen Kling


Hi TDahl:

Your engineering drawing is stunning, and I must bow my head in deference to your obvious mastery.

While your project is vastly more complex than my own, rather pedestrian one, you’ve certainly enlightened me with your reliance (sometimes) on extruding 2D shapes, where, it I understand you correctly, it is simpler to alter a flat shape than modify a dimensional shape.

I also understand that to the experienced user, “intuition” may be overemphasized, but I guess I’ve become accustomed to using my 2D design programs, where it’s usually possible to figure out what the next steps are just by the way the controls are laid out. Sketchup, by comparison, is—to me, at least—rather opaque at times. Sometimes tools work, sometimes they don’t; (I suspect my ignorance of “solids” vs. “RAW” geometry is at the root of this problem.) “Push-pull” works sometimes to punch holes in walls, sometimes not. Installing a window on a wall sometimes makes it’s own hole, sometimes not. The pencil tool can draw a line on a surface, dividing it, but sometimes not. These are the baffling parts of the program. if I could only see a pattern!

Thanks for taking the time to instruct. I do appreciate your kindness.

—Stephen Kling


Hi Stephen, I will indeed often begin by creating a flat shape, and then pulling it into 3D. But once that has been done, the original 2D shape often cannot be easily modified to re-do the pull. With few exceptions in SketchUp, after some geometry has been modified you can’t alter the underlying nature of the geometry and preserve the later modifications. In contrast many dedicated CAD programs operate by keeping various 3D primitives “intact” and allow you to combine and subtract them. You can modify one of those primitives (increasing the diameter of a cylinder for example), and the interaction between that primitive and others is re-done on the fly (perhaps enlarging a cut-out). With SketchUp, after you have combined some geometry you usually cannot easily tweak the dimensions of underlying shapes and re-do the combination action.

One place you can make changes is to alter the diameter of circles - if the circle remains fully intact semantically as a circle to SketchUp (which generally means no other geometry has touched it within the same editing context (group, component, or raw at the open “world” level). To change the diameter of an existing circle, select it and then type a new radius dimension and press RETURN. The value you type will appear in the Value Control Box (VCB), the little text field in the lower-right corner of the window. You can also change the number of sides or segments of a circle in this way, by typing a value such as “32s” for thirty two sides. (NOTE: when using the VCB you never point and click at the box with the mouse, it never gets keyboard focus. Just type away and if SketchUp is in a mode to listen to you, your typing will be echoed automatically in the VCB.)

Regarding the behavior where sometimes the pencil tool draws lines that sub-divide existing intersected lines and sometimes not, this is probably the effect of groups and components. If you are drawing the new line within the same editing context (e.g., an opened group or an opened component) then the new line will intersect and merge with the existing geometry. On the other hand, if you are in a different editing context when drawing a new line, there will be no interaction between the new line and the existing geometry that lives in a separate context (group or component). This behavior is hugely important to using SketchUp! Put geometry that you want to self-interact within the same group or component. Put geometry that you do not want to interact into separate groups or components. (You can shuffle things around from group to group to component etc. by using cut and paste-in-place.)

A major reason I almost always use components rather than groups is what I mentioned in my first reply: a particular instance of a component can be scaled up and modified at a large scale, with those edits automatically applying to the original small-scale component instances. SketchUp has limitations at very small sizes (e.g., edges shorter than 0.001 inches say). In my work I encounter this limitation very frequently (e.g., when intersecting two “curved” surfaces that are actually composed of dozens of little facets). The common technique to deal with this is to put the geometry into a component, make a copy of the component, and scale up the component copy by a factor of 100 or so. Then do the editing/creation in the large-scale component copy. More often than not, any resulting small geometry will survive. (The Save operation by default runs a verification analysis on the model looking for tiny geometry and merging or deleting it, grrr!) When done editing just delete the large-scale component instance. If you need to make further edits, create a new copy of the instance, scale it up, and edit that one.

On the subject of layers: I don’t use them very much, and they confused me a lot when I first tried. I had used layers in PhotoShop quite a lot, and SketchUp behaves very differently. Here is how I think of layers in SketchUp: they control visibility. End of story. They have nothing to do with editing interactions, or “stacking.” Just visibility. Each entity in SketchUp (line, arc, guide-line, section-plane, etc.) has a property for what layer it belongs to. Say you create a circle. It has some edges, and a face filling the space between the edges. You could put the edges in one layer, and the face in another layer. Turn off visibility of the layer that is associated with the face, and the face disappears. You could even explode the circle’s edges into separate single edge entities, then select a few of the little edges and put them into yet a different layer. Toggle that layer off, and those scattered edge bits will disappear. You could put the entire circle (edges and face) into a group, and associate that group with its own layer. In order to see the circle’s face, both the layer associated with the group and the layer associated with the face would need to be made visible. Layers are just a visibility property that can be applied to arbitrary entities.

I suppose I could/should use layers for visibility control during editing more than I do. Instead, I just reply on SketchUp’s ability to directly hide and unhide bits and pieces of a model as I work on it.


Other than knowing in advance that this is how SketchUp works—the best that can happen to overcome it is to re-select the original face and it’s bounding edges (via double clicking) and make a copy of them.

From there use the ‘Paste in Place’ function to drop a new instance of it back into your model with the same orientation and positioning that it originally had.

More often than not, this will mean copying the face/edges from inside a groups edit box, and then using paste in place outside of the group wrapper… to avoid the inherent sticky tendencies of SU.

Also using the Move tool along with it’s modified copy function (alt/opt)—you can shift the position of that same copied face away from the other geometry and your back to having your original shape to work with for the next steps.

There’s been, and can be even more, said about how SU uses Layers. And I really used to Hate how this all worked when I first started using SU.

But in practice, in all fairness I can also say… that using groups/components properly significantly reduces the need for Adobe style layers in the first place.

The 3D model space has minimal need for layer stacking which controls overlapping and the likes. Thickness and spacial positioning govern all this in SU. …And when considering that 3D modeling relies so heavily on orbiting, and panning (and traditional zooming)… its nice that you can easily assign groups from within the model space, and essential avoid having to rely so heavily on layers for any protection and isolation of your models geometry.

Layer are indeed almost unnecessary, which is why I think they have such a small level of functionality. Though what they do have is important, and even essential… and perhaps better implemented in a different manner.


Hi Jim, the Paste in Place function is one of the best things since sliced bread, I use it a lot. The scenario I was trying to describe in the quote is something like the following. Start with a push/pull extrusion (maybe a simple cross-section, maybe complex). Then “drill” a hole into or through the extrusion from the side (using the intersect-with tool, say). If you later realize that your extrusion’s cross-sectional shape should have been a little different, you may have a hard time modifying the cut-into extrusion, depending on where the cut was done. If you want to modify the extrusion’s cross section within an angular extent that was not affected by the cut then you can probably tweak the top or bottom edge of the extrusion and re-push/pull that portion of the cross-section’s “rim.” On the other hand if the modification to the cross-sectional shape would hit the cut-away hole up in the middle of the side somewhere, then you’ve probably got a more complex editing task in SketchUp.


Hi Tom,

I thought twice about using your comments as a quote because I didn’t want anything that I said to come off critical in any way towards the points you were making.

It’s just that you did such a nice job of setting up a scenario, I figured I’d use it to mention the often over looked ‘Paste in Place’ function.

I discovered this tool myself far too late in my early days of learning SketchUp.


Paste in place is very useful, and is used in a lot of other programs too. I wish the SketchUp team would assign it Command-shift-v, which is what other programs use. It’s not possible to add that as a shortcut.


works on my mac…



I don’t get that at all from the OP. If someone’s post annoys you, ignore it and let those who are so inclined provide some useful advice.



Thanks a very succinct explanation about SU and layers. I never have done much with that. But groups is a really critical capability I have learned to use a lot. Especially when I am creating a 3D solid, all the sub-parts of the object stay in their own groups in an original baseline drawing. Then in a copy of the baseline drawing file, I make print versions of the object where I merge all the groups into one (more or less) large group as a 3D solid for printing. I am a hobbyist so I only use the free version of SU, without the extra solid tools which must make that process easier.

I will start using layers for some things it is made for now that it makes more sense.

Thanks again!
Charles Sloane


A couple quick comments (though this is probably a mostly dead topic by now)…

The original question mentioned workflow in the subject. SU does not prescribe a workflow any more than MS Word or Excel does. They are all just tools, though very powerful & complex ones. A hammer or screwdriver does not prescribe the workflow for how to build a house or a cabinet. This is a useful comparison, because the workflow for building a house would be quite different than that for building a cabinet. And SU can be used for either (and many more things). One of the fertile topics of conversation both in the forums & in the videos is the various workflows that people have worked out in their various contexts.

As for additive or subtractive modeling, it really depends on what you’re making. I use both.

Don’t miss the importance of components and groups. When you watch the videos, you may get the impression that these are just more tools at your disposal. I would say that these are required elements. You can do a lot of modeling without ever drawing a circle, but you can’t do much without a component. If in doubt about which to use, make it a component, for the reasons given above. I rarely use groups - usually when I want to combine a set of components into a larger structure that will never by copied.

Layers - I have watched videos about this and read many posts in this forum about layers and so far have found no compelling reason to start using them. As mentioned above, it’s primarily about visibility - or to put it differently, it’s about how you want to present your model to others. If you are a professional architect / designer, you may find layers indispensable. If this is just your hobby (as it is mine), you may find that using scenes gets you everything you need for visibility and layers are unneeded.

Layout - I haven’t yet found occasion to use this. Depends on what you’re doing. I suspect that layout will be more useful when designing a building than when designing a cabinet. (Correct me, if I’m wrong.)

Intuition - this comes from experience. Like you, I was initially frustrated at a UI that seemed so intuitive up to a point and then suddenly became inscrutable when stuff didn’t work out the way I wanted. I have had to develop new intuitions about how to work with SU, which has come with much practice and much reading what the sages write in response to these forum posts. For sure, they have developed a unique way of looking at problems that often surprises me.

Because many years ago I studied a little of computer graphics, I know some of the lingo & the concepts (eg. What is an extrusion?). It seems like the SU developers had that as a background. But then they had lots of interactions with architects and designers, which has shaped the way that more advanced features were developed. So those things may be much more intuitive for people with that training than it is for me.

One kind of intuition you will need to develop has to do with working around SU’s limitations. It is a very powerful & useful program. But it still has limitations. You pick this up when you read about scaling things up to make some edit then scaling it back down again. Or about only modeling the detail on a portion of your model and not maintaining the same level of detail throughout.

I once had an idea for a community. I started with a basic apartment block & some retail space at the end. I wanted to give it a certain style, so the facade had a good bit of detail. I copied these ‘modules’ to make city blocks, then copied those blocks to create neighborhoods around a central community gathering point. But the facade details were duplicated so many times, that SU was getting sooo sloooow rendering it all. It was unusable. From the forum I picked up the idea to take my apartment block into a separate SU file with all the facade detail maintained. Then in the overall community view, I removed that detail & replaced it with a texture to approximate it. That helped a lot, but it was still sluggish. You end up playing games like this just to get around SU’s limitations in what it can feasibly render, and that depends a lot on your machine.

So, yes, I get your confusion & frustration. If you wanted a piece of software that you could learn in a weekend & immediately become an expert, sorry… SU is way too powerful for that. But I have spent many enjoyable hours working with it over the years (since 2008). I hope you will enjoy the time you spend, as well.