Introduction: Using SketchUp for 3D Printing

About: ProgressTH is a Bangkok-based design lab & media platform focused on developing and promoting opensource technological solutions.

Who we are: ProgressTH is a Bangkok-based makerspace and media platform that focuses on using makerspaces to solve real-world problems. We regularly give workshops on SketchUp for 3D printing and we are working on putting this entire course online for free.

Introduction: This particular Instructable is simply how to take a 3D model you made in SketchUp, and exporting it as an STL file for 3D printing. We've made a video of this entire process to go along with both this Instructable as well as this article here on the process.

What You Need:

  1. SketchUp Make (free to download here)
  2. 3D Slicer Program (i.e. Cura, MakerBot Desktop Software, etc)
  3. SketchUp STL Exporter Plugin (available here, but don't download it yet!

Step 1: Installing and Using SketchUp's STL Export Plugin

First install the STL plugin:

  1. Open SketchUp and go to Window > Extension Warehouse.
  2. Type in STL in the search box and then click on "SketchUp STL by SketchUp Team."
  3. You will need to have a Gmail account and be signed in to download this plugin.
  4. Once you click "Download" and follow the prompts, it will install itself.
  5. Usually you will be able to use it without restarting SketchUp. If not, try restarting.

If you cannot install the plugin inside of SketchUp:

  1. Open your Internet browser and go to SketchUp's Extension Warehouse.
  2. Type in STL export and click on the one by SketchUp Team.
  3. Click Download. (Make sure to note where on your computer it downloads the plugin to).
  4. Go back into SketchUp, then Window > Preferences. In the lower left corner click "Install Extension..."
  5. From here, navigate to where you saved the plugin, click "open" and follow the prompts.

To use the plugin:

  1. Go to File > Export STL...
  2. Usually you want to have the box "Export selected geometry only" checked. Make sure the part of your model you want to export is selected.
  3. Save the file in the directory of your choice and make sure you add .stl after your file name. We used ring.stl.

Using an STL file for 3D printing: Usually if you are using Cura or MakerBot Desktop software you can just drag the STL file from Windows Explorer into the workspace and then prepare it to print.

If you don't have a 3D printer, this STL file is what you will pass on to your local makerspace or friend to print for you.

TIP: When you drop your STL into your 3D slicer program, make sure to ALWAYS! check it in layer view. This will show you exactly what your 3D printer will print.

This is an important step because sometimes what the normal view shows is not what your printer ends up printing due to format issues with some STL files. If you see something strange, you will need to go back to your 3D model in SketchUp and see what you can change geometry-wise to simplify and clean up your model. You can also use programs like NetFabb Basic to automatically repair STL files (we'll cover that in a future Instructable).

It's really just that simple. If you have any trouble doing any of this -- please join our Facebook 3D design and 3D printing group and feel free to ask us for help.

Step 2: SketchUp for 3D Printing

SketchUp is a 3D design program free to download with a large user community and an ever-growing number of plug-ins that make it useful for designers, engineers, artists, and the curious alike.

It is so simple, children can learn it thanks to its many intuitive tools.

Everyone from students and hobbyists to professional designers and engineers use it everyday all over the world.

You can take SketchUp as far as you want to without worrying about running into many limitations. By the time you do decide to move on to a more complex 3D design suite, you will be an experienced designer who will likely pick up another program very quickly.

And because it is so widely used and easy to learn it is probably a good thing that it is also very apt at modeling for 3D printing. Whether you are printing scale models, spare parts, or prototypes for product design, SketchUp allows you to quickly design and redesign models that can then be printed out right before your eyes.

For our 2-3 hour-long workshops, we usually have students design something simple like a keychain. But we have used SketchUp to design 3D printed items such as laboratory equipment, automatic fish feeders, and custom project cases for IoT systems and voltage regulators for solar powered projects.

In future Instructables, we will introduce you to the basics of SketchUp modelling and lead you through step-by-step in creating your first 3D printable 3D model.

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