Skip to main content

And now for something completely different… The Makelangelo DrawBot!

Today, I would like to introduce you to the Makelangelo. To quote its creator Dan Royer: “The Makelangelo is an open-source art robot that draws posters and murals on paper, wood, glass, or whiteboards.” I was introduced to a version of the Makelangelo at a local Mini Maker Faire and was mesmerized. I didn’t know why I needed one, but I knew it had to happen. The trick was going to be how to make it work with SketchUp.

The Makelangelo is a 2D polargraph -- a fancy word for a machine that draws in two dimensions using a coordinate system -- consisting of a controller (Arduino), a couple of stepper motors, some belts, high-tech counterweights, and a few other misc parts. When assembled and properly calibrated, it can be programmed to draw a picture using G-code. G-code is the same language that 3D printers talk: essentially X, Y, and Z coordinates commanding a robot where to move. When you then attach a marker to that robot it can create amazing drawings:

Basecamp logo to see some textureClick through our Basecamp logo to see some texture examples!

The heart of the Makelangelo is the software that takes an image and uses complex algorithms (translated: I don’t 100% understand how it works) to generate G-code for the Makelangelo. The software sends the instructions to the controller, which uses the Pythagorean theorem to adjust the belt lengths that move the marker location accordingly. The newer versions of the Makelangelo also include a servo motor on the pen head to raise and lower the marker (z-axis) to create separate lines which allows for more complex drawing patterns.

So, why? What is the purpose of the Makelangelo?
My #1 answer is why not? In my opinion, it is (stupid) fun to create intricate drawings with the click of a button (especially for those of us who are artistically-challenged). I was never very talented as an artist, somehow the images in my head never quite translated to the paper. However, now I can order the Makelangelo to do the dirty work and end up with some amazing sketched images.

OwlMarginallyclever.comSample images courtesy of

But it is also a great teaching tool to introduce the concepts and language used in 3D printing at a much lower price point. Once you have the robot your only costs are paper and markers (pretty affordable compared to 3D printer filament). There is even an instructable that upgrades the Makelangelo to a full 3D printer once you are ready to make that jump.

But what does this have to do with SketchUp?
Great question (nice job, me). As a 3D modeling software, it is obvious how SketchUp is related to 3D printing, but what’s the connection to 2D drawing? One awesome application is taking advantage of SketchUp’s perspective and field of view controls to draw “impossible” shapes (think M.C. Escher drawings). It is possible to create these shapes in SketchUp, export a 2D image, and then use the Makelangelo to draw it with a fun and funky  style.

the Makelangelo

Esther Waterfall



Optical Illusions - Impossible Pioneering Project

Optical Illusions - Impossible Pioneering Project

MC Escher 3 Loop

MC Escher 3 Loop

Impossible staircase

Impossible staircase

If you check out these drawings in SketchUp, you’ll see that they use the perspective mode to appear complete, but if you orbit to a different view, they look a little different.

Sounds awesome, right?
Ready to get one of your own? We worked with Dan of to offer a special promotion: use code sketchup2016 at checkout to get 10% off a Makelangelo 3 before November 1, 2017. Unlimited use, so everybody get at least 5!

You can also check out twitter/instagram tag #makelangelo to see what others have done.

Happy drawing!

About the Author

Ty is a member of the Knowledge Team (Tech Support) for SketchUp and spends his days fixing SketchUpper's problems, like a shrink without the degree or the couch. In his free time, he can be found working on his house, exploring the Colorado mountains, or traveling around the world.

Profile Photo of Ty Schalamon