Basic Workflow for 3D Design in Sketchup and 3D Printing @ Home:


Introduction: Basic Workflow for 3D Design in Sketchup and 3D Printing @ Home:

About: "End of line..."

I have had a few people ask me about my process for 3D printing and thought I would share a high level walk through using Sketchup to design and a MakerBot Thing-O-Matic to physically print my designs at home in my tiny little office, in my tiny little house...  I also work with Autodesk's free 123D app but I'm still in the early stages with it.

Basic workflow for 3D design in Sketchup and 3D printing @ home:

1.       Pull your free copy of Sketchup down at:

2.       Install Sketchup

3.       Download additional ruby scripts that will help you develop solid objects in Sketchup:
a.        Allows you to export .stl files directly from Sketchup -
b.       Solid Inspector helps you track and deal with any lines/surfaces that otherwise invalidate your object being “manifold” which means you have reversed faces or cavity openings in your structure

4.       Drop the above downloaded ruby scripts into your Sketchup installation directory under the “Plugins” folder:  Windows – (P:\Program Files (x86)\Google\Google SketchUp 8\Plugins), Mac – (HD/Library/Application Support/Google Sketchup 8/Plugins)

5.       Startup Sketchup and chose the “Product Design and Woodworking” template that is in millimeters; get creative (about as far as I can go in this write up, good thing Sketchup is very intuitive, start here for help designing: )

6.       Once you think you have something ready for export, make sure you have exploded any groups and run the Solid Inspector from the “Tools” menu.  Look for red circles and evaluate what you need to change/delete in order to acquire an air tight manifold structure.

7.       Now that your “solid” you can export the selected object/group in Sketchup using the “Export to DXF or STL” tool from your “Tools” menu bar.  When prompted chose Millimeters for your export unit and “stl” for your “Export to DXF options” then save to disk.

8.       I take that .stl file and open it in ReplicatorG (free): which is a nice suite that allows you to interface with your printer and generate the code needed for digestion by your printer.

9.       I position the object on the virtual build platform in ReplicatorG and rotate/scale if necessary

10.    I then generate or “slice” my Gcode from my specified Skeinforge settings: (don't let this scare you too much, most 3D printers have templates to utilize and Skeinforge is actually packaged with the ReplicatorG from above)

11.   **Notice that everything above this point can be done without an actual 3D printer!  You could stop here and simply upload your .stl file from step 7 to: and have your object mailed to you (for a fee of course)**

12.    Once I have my Gcode processed I visually review the textual Gcode and then click "build". The instructions are sent via USB to my 3D printer and it begins its extrusion process usually set at 30mm/second

13.    At this point your done, sit back and watch your bot go!  It is very, very rewarding watching your digital design develop right before your eyes.  Be sure to share your designs with others as this community is very open and has tons of shared assets out there for you to utilize!  Here is a video from my 1st run on my bot; it was like 2:AM and I was running completely on Mountain Dew and just had to film my 1st calibration cube print because I was so stoked that I got it all assembled in a day’s time and it didn’t explode in my face!

Make on!



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    19 Discussions

    I received the STL extension. But, to be honest... as excited as I was to find the 3D printing video... the guy flew through with very little explanation. It is a tutorial so, it should be step by step. This allows us to gain understanding from this video which we may have seen in another video, yet possibly may not have comprehended from the other video due to context, skill level at the time, etc.

    Also, stating "3D printing" in the title without covering any slicing whatsoever, does nothing to aid in the "print" process for us NOOBS.

    As a follow-on to my last comment: We used this article as inspiration for a new guide, 3D Printing from SketchUp. In it, we have a short video tutorial that shows some of the same steps as this article. We're collecting feedback as the guide is still a work in progress, so we'd love to hear if there's anything you'd add or change. 

    Thank you for sharing mate. I appreciate particularly the bit about the Gcode. It was the part I was wondering about

    Good deal!

    I am now also using the free version of Sketchup for model creation, then exporting to .dxf via ruby script, import to CAMBam for profiling then export to Gcode and ran through Mach3 on my CNC machine. If you can juggle the extensions Sketchup can be used pretty extensively.

    I also use mach3 with CNC router and 3d printing and used same method with CNC router ( Sketchup -> cambam -> mach3), but now it is possoble with 3d printing too. Great!

    Thanks so much for laying out your process. I'm super curious about 3D printing but, up to now, had not seen it described so well and effectively. I've used SketchUp extensively for architectural interior work...ready to push it to the many other ideas in my sketch book. Thank you!

    11 replies

    No sweat Free, glad you liked it. Once you select a printer and start playing you will find a rhythm in no time! I built my printer from a kit and it was very fun and informative as well as cost effective however; fully assembled units are not too much more now less than a year later!


    You bet it is:

    And I suspend my hacked electrical reels over my bot with these:

    Awesome hack of the Depot reel, thanks! What's the axle diameter of your spindle? I just bought a bunch of 1kg spools that have ~32mm holes. Trying to decide if I want to have each color on its own stand like yours, or just put them all onto a 6-foot piece of pipe...

    I'm not near them currently for exact diameter but I have run both 2lbs and 5lbs spools on them. The diameter of the printed shaft perfectly fits the Ultimachine ( 5lbs rolls and a MakerBot ( 2lbs roll fits with extra diameter slack as the holes are larger. I didn't' have the option to go big and fling multiple spools on a bar but if I was running multiple bots or multi filament extrusion I would opt for a large bar overhead with media at the ready.

    Don't get me wrong the Depot reel is great and very sturdy indeed!

    I bought a couple of the Depot reels the other day and they do seem perfect! Haven't gotten around to tearing them apart and printing axles yet, though.

    Not to denigrate megaduty's post and workflow, they're fine, but there are far simpler workflows depending on the tools you choose. Tinkercad is way simpler than Sketchup yet amazingly powerful, and the Up! Start Plus printer comes with integrated slicing software that eliminates Skeinforge, ReplicatorG, and all the rest of the open-source patchwork. You just open an STL, click a few checkboxes for a handful of key settings, and print. I was  making good prints within a couple of hours of opening the box. You do sacrifice a little bit of flexibility (you can't turn support structures completely off, for example) but software updates have been pretty frequent. A Macintosh version of the program is now shipping with the printer too, but it's not mentioned on the website.

    I previously posted the manufacturer's website link. Here's the U.S. distributor's site:

    I have no affiliation with the manufacturer or distributor, just a satisfied user.

    A lot of people in the 3D modeling arena don't promote the use of Sketchup for solids since it, well, isn't a true solid modeler... I use it off and on cuz it is super easy to get into and quite a few have used it at work or play at home doing linear layouts. I wrote that basic workflow for those that are veterans at Sketchup already and could augment the application with free scripts to give solid modeling functions.

    Juliadee is correct, there are much simpler overall work-flows pending your comfort levels and initial setup.

    There are lots of 3D applications that you can use when designing for 3D printing; some of which are "scott" free. Check RepRap's link list for a starting point if interested in software evaluation:

    It's so good to see more and more home 3D printer operators out there now!

    I have a strong feeling that the Up! would offer you more usage before maintenance and part replacement than my Thing-O-Matic. I have been riddled with repair over the past 5 months and most of the parts are not carried by the manufacture any more so I have to pull out the solder and make replacement boards and track down components to keep her running solid. To qualify my usage amounts, I have printed 8 2lbs and 4 5lbs spools with tons of actual run time and unit creation. I really got stoked when the Make It Real challenge came about as I need another printer to traverse to pretty quickly...