Jeff Branch is a woodworker and blogger. In the pre-SketchUp years, the majority of Jeff’s furniture design was via pencil and graph paper. Jeff now designs furniture projects using SketchUp Pro, which he also uses as an illustration tool in the project plans he creates.
As a hobbyist woodworker, I go to what some would call extreme measures to make a design idea accurate from a construction standpoint as well as a visual one. To that end, I like to give my models realistic wood textures and finishes. I favor a more illustrative look versus a photorealistic rendering, which I can achieve through SketchUp’s native materials function: no rendering required!
Obtaining the look/feel in my workbench model isn’t a difficult process; it’s just a matter of finding a suitable image texture and knowing how to apply it to your components.
Finding usable materials
There are a few ways I find wood materials for my SketchUp models such as my own photography, through an Internet image search, or simply curating quality textures from 3D Warehouse.
Photography: The bedside table model below is an example of building the furniture piece first, and then making the model afterwards. To match the look of the original, I simply took a photo of the side panel, cropped the image, and imported it into SketchUp. A good technique for getting a seamless texture around corners and moldings is by using the eyedropper icon in the Materials browser.
Image search: Another source for materials is a simple image search on the Internet. For my Pennsylvania Secretary SketchUp model, I sourced three images which helped make the design look even better.
I used a walnut image for the bulk of the project, a second image with a broad wood figure seen in the upper panel doors, and a highly figured image for the little door in the gallery. The pine used on the drawer sides is the same pine I used in the drawers of my bedside table model. It pays to create three libraries; more on that in a minute...
3D Warehouse: When looking for a new material, I’ll often scan models in 3D Warehouse. This is where I found the rust colored material used on the front vise on my workbench model. To get just the materials from this model, click where it says “Materials.”
Additional materials and textures
In addition to the rust material used on the front vise of my workbench, I sourced a realistic pine lumber image. Finding a suitable image isn’t an exact science; often the first image I think will work simply doesn’t. To that end, it’s worthwhile to save a few different images and see which ones work best through trial and error.
Slender, rectangular shaped images are ideal because components in furniture models are typically the same shape; however, images are almost always square or nearly square. This means manipulating the image to fit the component is often required, and also a reasonable task in SketchUp. Two great resources for manipulating textures are this Skill Builder on Texture Tweaker, and Dave Richards’s Fine Woodworking blog on applying materials. Watch these two videos; you’ll learn everything you need to apply materials in a more realistic way.
Applying textures to my workbench
If you take a look at the slider image below, my first attempt at applying a texture to this workbench can be seen on the left. It’s a great start, but the texture image was enlarged and stretched to fill the long workbench top, which makes the texture out of scale.
In the second version to the right, I started by making the top into two components and added a line down the center of one component’s length creating two faces. I found an area of the pine material that had a more nondescript graining and moved it into place, and then I softened the line to hide it from view. I then repeated this process for the second component. This gives the end result a more pleasing and natural look.
To make the rest of the model look as realistic as the top, I also found a maple image that I applied to the drawer fronts. I looked at a number of colors on Adobe’s color site to find the perfect blue color. If I’m looking for a very specific color, I can search for “blue” and try out a wide variety of colors. Plus, each color has RGB numbers (other formats are often available like CMYK and HEX) that can be easily added into SketchUp when creating a new material.
It all sounds like a lot of work, but I’ve found that by building a library of wood materials and following the tutorials mentioned above, I can now easily and quickly create realistic-looking SketchUp models without additional software or rendering tools. That’s the beauty of SketchUp!