SketchUp renderings…You Have Options

April 26, 2012 — 32 Comments

One of the most valuable tools used to convey a project to a client is the use of 3d modeling.  You can sit and try to explain something to a client but at the end of the day if they can’t read the plans then they can’t truly understand what’s going on.  3-D models are an excellent way to convey the sense of space through 2-d images…a picture is worth a thousand words.


We have a lot of clients that come in and simply don’t understand 2d drawings even though we think our drawings are pretty clear.

simple plans

This doesn’t look too complicated does it?

Plans, elevations and sections seem to get lost in translation and it is difficult for us (as architects) to  understand how hard it is for our clients to comprehend these drawings.  To us it’s like looking into the Matrix and to our clients it’s like looking into the Matrix (except they don’t have one of those awesome Matrix outlets in the back of their heads or the cool sunglasses either).

Since I work at a small residential firm we do things a little differently than most firms.  Larger firms have the capacity to send their employees through training and are constantly up on the latest technology…whereas we stick to what we know and are hesitant to make big operational changes. As a result we needed modeling software that would allow for an easy transition and something that was relatively inexpensive.

This is where Google SketchUp comes in.  It is easy to learn and essentially anyone in our office can use it to some capacity. Most importantly it’s free (unless you want the pro version that’ll cost you $495).  If you’ve never done any 3-D modeling and you’re scared that it is just too over your head then I suggest you download SketchUp.  Don’t be afraid…it’s really easy to learn and there are tons of tutorials online.

3-D modeling is no longer an “extra” marketing tool for architecture firms, rather, it’s something that most of our clients expect to see after just a few short meetings.

We have been using SketchUp in our office for several years now but just recently have looked into upgrading our 3-D imaging to try to make our renderings a little more realistic.  While a lot of our clients can get the general idea of how a project looks through the sketchy black lines and flat shadows that SketchUp provides there are still some clients that need a little more realism.

sketchup house

There are many rendering plugins for SketchUp – SU Podium, VUE, Piranesi, Shaderlight, etc.- the one that we decided on was V-Ray.   It’s not too terribly difficult to operate and it gives us the flexibility to manipulate lighting, make custom materials and export large files for use in our presentation.

vray house

It’s amazing how you can change a few materials, throw some reflections in, add variations to the shadows and change the rendering completely with very little effort.

The extent of the realism in your modeling will depend on a variety of things (namely knowledge of the program and time spent on the model) and with a little tweaking you will have an exponentially better result then SketchUp’s direct output.  I’ve only been using V-Ray for about a month now and have already seen a tremendous difference in our modeling.

This post was not meant to be a tutorial on rendering nor was it to endorse one rendering engine over another, simply it was aimed to show that YOU HAVE OPTIONS. Up until a few months ago I didn’t  realize that we had any options for realistic renderings through SketchUp besides spending a lot of money buying a seat of 3ds Max, Form-Z or Maya.

Happy rendering,





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  • Rot

    I use Vray(awesome)+maya then renderbuzz an i love this soluton

  • EvilVeggie

    I use Octane Render. The plugin is still beta, cuda/nvidia and windows only, but you’ll be impressed with the results!

  • VRay not difficult to operate? Most expensive software and most
    difficult to learn (*try it first). Worst interface, poorly integrated
    to “Sketchup”, you need to have good understanding in all rendering and
    programing terms to configure it before start (“Boeing” cockpit), then setting up takes lot
    of time, you will have “heavy” Sketchup file that might crash and you
    will not open it again, there are no videos how to learn, poor support. From all of Interiour design graduates two managed to learn how to use it, rest bought works. Thats why all renders are mostly white and red. Artlantis is horrible.
    On Sketchup page check for add-ons.

  • Binz

    Thank you so much for this great information. I have been using sketchp for some time and i was bit confused about which rendering engine i should use. hope your choice will be the best.

  • Mike

    just a note to get rid of the hard shadow lines: the default size of the sun in vray is set to 1, which is a pin light and gives hard shadows only, you can soften these shadows and make them look more realistic by increasing the size of the sun: go to options editor > environment > click on the M button next to GI Color and you will find a dialog box with all the options you need, including sun size. sun intensity and turbidity are other useful options. with sun size i have found 10-15 gives a good result and turbity (polution in atmosphere) should stay between 4-1. sun intensity i rairly change but only between 1-3 if i do.

  • Hi bob, sketcup and vray are a very handy tool for us architects specially me, in our firm (which is also small) using skecthup helps me a lot because its fast to learn, and not complicated rather than 3dmax(but 3dmax is much way better than google sketchup when it comes to more realistic rendering).

  • tinkerbell

    i use v ray.. and i think its good…

  • Dan

    I personally like using SU Podium ($198) for quick and dirty renderings, especially for process work. It doesn’t have many controls so it’s easy to use for beginners, almost the “point-and-shoot” of rendering programs. I then add in people and landscapes with Photoshop, and the overall product isn’t too bad for the time invested.

  • ladan

    Hi Bob, i’m an architect in Italy and let’s just say getting on with the years and I’ve always believed the best way to convey a design is through 3D images, even as a design tool to convince oneself of the design. Anyway, not having ever learned 3D on CAD, this was a great tip you shared. Thank you.

  • Adiwija

    hello I’m from Indonesia I just saw on this blog and my partner is interested in what you describe in this blog and I have a suggestion can you find the article or anything about 3d animation to architectural engineering. because I am very interested in that in Indonesia because it is very expensive! : ‘) and I was a student there

  • Shuellmi

    scott, I found a website a couple years ago, which really improved my renderings.  he shows a variety of photoshop techniques which allow a basic sketchup rendering to become something pretty special.

    • Spalding23

      I agree with shuellmi. This site is amazing and has really approved my skills. Definitely check it out.

  • moq

    Chief Architect is a good alternative to Revit or ArchiCAD for an office that is predominantly residential.

  • shtrum

    SketchUp is a great/intuitive tool.  I was learning it at the last firm i was with, but didn’t keep up with it afterwards (and wish i had).  Contractors are even using it to figure out complicated framing connections.

    Although i’m no longer in that field, i worked with an early BIM program (Archicad) for 4 years.  I liked the program, but was never sold on the BIM part.  Sections never completely matched plans or elevations, requiring people to explode links and revise them in 2d (which ruined the BIM advantage).  It makes one wonder whether Revit is simply the next ‘big shiny thing’ . . . although i profess no knowledge of it.  It appears to be the current sea-change in architecture though, similar to when hand drafting was euthenized by CADD.

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  • SketchUp is awesome as is V-Ray.

    We’re another option, particularly if you’re on a deadline 🙂  We specialize in 3D renderings for smaller clients and have great rates:

  • EdemSays

    I discovered Artlantis is much easier than V-Ray. Gets the job done pretty fast for my school work. With a little photoshopping, results can be pretty awesome 🙂

  • SkylerJFike

    These are great programs. I would encourage anyone looking into these programs to also check out Maxwell for Sketchup. It works as a plugin within Sketchup (like most) but provides you with a great deal of flexibility in terms of its collaboration with the Sketchup interface. Super easy to use AND it’s only $95 for the full version (cheapest out there). There is also a free version with more limited capabilities. It works with/renders the shadows adjusted within sketchup so there’s little need to hassle with sun settings like in other programs. You also have the ability to insert (and very easily) sun and sky settings with one-click, not to mention to vast expanse of free materials that Maxwell offers.

    It is worth checking out.

    Happy rendering.

  • Andrew Poeppel

    Your mention of how great Sketchup is couldn’t be more timely. They just announced that Sketchup is leaving the Googleverse for some company called Trimble. Lets hope they keep this great product free and easy to use.

    • Paul Tracey

      The problem here is that some companies download six free copies, then buy one professional. While I can see why they do it, you can’t really expect a company to sustain offices, a development team and a network of resellers around the world to give something away for free. SketchUp is really cheap anyway, go buy a copy, in that way you’ll be doing your bit to help keep it growing.

  • Mikheil

     It’s really pity that such a high professional office as yours with brilliant Bob Borson, uses such non professional software like is Sketchup. I strongly recommend to start using Revit. Anyway you have to embrace it in very near future.V-Ray is the best rendering plug-in for Architectural visualization, but it works best with 3ds max.

    • Clark

       Some “high professional offices” still make physical models, so it’s irrelevant as to weather one uses Sketchup or Revit.  Besides, Sketchup is better as a design study program than Revit. 

    • Barabbas

      Sketchup is a communication tool. Revit is a documentation tool.
      Want proof? Try modelling a double helixed tower with boolean subtractions in Revit. Call me in a week when you’re done.

  • Gordon

    So Bob, no plans to ever dive in a BIM program like Revit or ArchiCAD? Having all the tools right there in one. Just curious. 

    • Scott Taylor

      We have briefly looked into Revit…it seems to make sense from a modeling to drawing standpoint but the cost and training seems to be too big of a hurdle at this point.

  • Donna Vining

    Didn’t know Google had a 3D program. I have recently been introduced Olioboard, which is free 2D & 3D program.  I haven’t tried it yet either.  Thanks for sharing!!

  • Wade

    I’m a Kerkythea and Photoshop man myself.

    • Kerkythea and Photoshop definitely gets the job done. Kerkythea to me is very user friendly. It only took a matter of minutes before I was turning out my own renderings. 

  • Kaśka

    What I learnt through my practice is that in majority people haven’t problem with reading plans. The one you showed is difficult because it has insane amount of information to digest all at once, but give it a bit of time and most people will crawl through it. What is problematic is reading sections and aligning them accordingly to all the plans. This is a skill that needs to be trained, so a person can see the space from a flat drawing. And it’s exactly where the 3d modelling comes in handy.

    Though, honestly, so far in my whole career I had to create renderings only once, for some advertising purposes, but in the end they were never used. Usually when I work in 3D environment, it’s in CAD programs like ArchiCAD and similar, where I can do sections and 3D simultaneously. Saves so much time.

  • Namrata Patnaik

    thnk u..this is truly awesumm!

  • Cheryl

    We love sketch up also Scott and have the pro version. The ability to “walk” a client through a house is invaluable. And as a design firm also we love being able to import fabrics and other materials. It has been wonderful. Far better than the days of years past when I would “trick” Planit into doing some pretty cool stuff ( for the time that is!)