Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Tools to Prepare Google SketchUp Designs for 3D Printing

Over the past few years of monitoring architectural practices, we are seeing more and more interest in 3D printing from Google SketchUp designs. We hear architects tell us that SketchUp is easy to use, especially in the early design stages where multiple iterations are needed to move a project forward.

This is good news and bad news for 3D printing. The good news is that 3D printing adds the most value to a design process by enabling the physical visualization of multiple concepts as early as possible. The bad news is that SketchUp behaves more like a rendering tool, not like a solid modeling system. With a rendering tool, designers must take more care in preparing their model for 3D printing to ensure a water-tight model. To be fair, we have seen enhancements in Google SketchUp v8 which begin to address the solid modeling issue.

In the meantime, a few experienced vendors have stepped in with tools to assist with preparing models for 3D printing. One supplier, LGM Model, has created a SketchUp plug-in called CADspan -  CADspan will resurface your SketchUp design and essentially shrink-wrap it to create a single water-tight model for 3D printing.

Another well-known vendor, Materialise, has formed a business unit called iMaterialise. They offer an i.materialise service which will 3D print your model. They also developed a Google SketchUp plugin to assists in the creation and 3D printing of architectural scale models. iMaterialise recently sponsored a design contest using this SketchUp plug-in module. You’ll find pictures of the winning designs here:

Has anybody heard of similar SketchUp tools? Please share your experiences.


  1. It sounds as if this is a similar problem to that on which we have been working with ESRI. We create a model which satisfies more rigorous conditions, being not only watertight but also a piecewise linear complex (PLC), and should therefore be suitable for your requirements. This assumes a triangulated model initially. Does this sound to you like something of interest?
    Ricki Walker, Conwy Valley Systems Limited, UK.

  2. Hi Ricki,

    I would like to learn more about your technology. Please contact me at


  3. Google Sketchup-Google sketchup give more help in Cave Maps.

  4. I have found the quicker and cheap way for 3d printing from Sketchup using the plugin for making the model clean and solid and then using the plugin for export in the stl format.

    I have also tried all sort of free plugins but the process was very slow because of a lot of bugs , limitations and not so user friendly interfaces.