SketchUp multi-tool personalities: part one

February 11, 2015 Josh Reilly

Did you know that many SketchUp tools have alter egos? You might think you know your SketchUp tools pretty well, but many have supplemental functions revealed in the status bar at the bottom of the SketchUp window that most folks don’t notice.


What’s that? The Eraser tool leads a secret life as a quick way to hide or soften/smooth geometry! Keep an eye on the status bar for other modifications on standard tools

The information in this status bar changes when different tools are selected. For example, when the Eraser tool is selected, you’ll see two key modifier hints in the status bar: hold Shift to hide edges instead of erasing them, or hold Option(Ctrl on PC) to Soften/Smooth edges. All of sudden, one tool gives you access to three.

However, there are a handful of tool abilities that are not communicated via the SketchUp interface. If you didn’t know about these extra options – it’s kind of like finding a $20 bill at the bottom of your drier. Take a look at the Arc tool, for instance. There’s a useful hidden feature here that was introduced in SketchUp 2015: you can automatically trim corners with the Arc tool by double-clicking immediately after drawing an arc.

Here’s how:

  1. Select the Arc tool and click on one edge of a corner to start drawing an arc.

  2. Hover your cursor over to the adjacent edge; notice the “Tangent to Edge” indicator that appears.

  3. As you continue to hover along the edge, look carefully for the arc to change color from cyan to magenta. The magenta color indicates that you’ve located the point that is equidistant from the corner relative to your initial point (arc is tangent at both edges).

  4. Double-click when you see the arc change to magenta and SketchUp will automatically trim that corner.

  5. If you’d like to continue trimming corners at that same radius – simply double-click near other corners. Need a visual? Check out the animation of this in action below.

Automatically trim corners by drawing a tangent arc at a corner and then double-clicking with the Arc tool. Check out this Knowledge Center article for additional information about these methods

Now let’s explore the Position Camera tool. It may not be used often, but it’s worth taking out of your tool belt once in a while. If desired, you can review this tool in our SketchUp Training Series: Position Camera / Look Around video. When you’re ready, try this in your current SketchUp model:

  1. Select the Position Camera tool; notice status bar informing you to “Select the camera position.”

  2. Click once on a point in your model where you wish to set the camera position.

  3. SketchUp zooms into the viewpoint you chose. The status bar now states, “Drag in direction to turn camera.” Note that your cursor now changes to the icon for the Look Around tool. This allows you to adjust your view as if you’re turning your head; the camera position is stationary, but you can swivel to look around.

  4. In Step 2, we clicked and released the mouse button. If you click and drag, the status bar indicates: “Select a point that the camera is aimed at.” You can now release the mouse button over a location in your model where you wish to look. One use of this is to perform a line-of-sight analysis where you want the vantage point from a specific location and the view aimed at a specific point in your model.

  5. Position Camera lets you pick a vantage point in SketchUp and create a view looking towards a specific location in your model. (Models shown found via 3D Warehouse: Star Trek TOS CrewUSS Enterprise NCC- 1701- G, & 40 Acres "Mayberry" Sets)
  6. We’re sure you’ve noticed that SketchUp will snap to specific inferences as you draw with certain tools. The Arc tool snaps to a half-circle proportion. The Rectangle tool snaps to square proportions as well as the Golden Section (Golden Ratio). A dotted line with a Golden Section tool tip will appear when you’re in a position to create a Golden Section. Try this for yourself by clicking once to start drawing a rectangle – hover slowly – and look for SketchUp to snap to those proportions.

    Looking for Golden Section proportions? Utilize the Golden Section snap-in SketchUp to quickly draw with these proportions

    If you’re curious about what else you may have never noticed about your favorite SketchUp tools, here’s a list of some key modifiers you can find among the tools in the Large Tool Set:

    Select → Shift = extend selection

    Eraser → Shift = Hide, Option (Ctrl) = Soften/Smooth

    Push/Pull → Option (Ctrl) = create new starting face

    Move/Copy → Option (Ctrl) = copy, Shift = lock inference, Command (Alt) = auto-fold

    Rotate → Option (Ctrl) = copy, Shift = align to face

    Tape Measure → Option (Ctrl) = create guides

    Protractor → Option (Ctrl) = create guides, Shift = align to face

    Orbit → Shift = pan, Option (Ctrl) = suspend gravity!

    Zoom → Shift = change field of view

    Walk → Option (Ctrl) = run!, Shift = move vertically or sideways, Command (Alt) = disable collision detection

    Section Plane → Shift = lock to plane

    It’s easy to miss some tool options and key modifiers when you’re cruising along in SketchUp. Don’t forget to occasionally peek at that status bar while you’re modeling; it might just give you the hint you need to proceed.

About the Author

Josh Reilly

Josh originally joined the team for a year with Google as a SketchUp Trainer in 2008 and later rejoined SketchUp with Trimble in 2013. He is a map nerd, enjoys long walks in the mountains, skiing, playing soccer, kickball, disc golf, and... any sport or backyard game out there!

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