SketchUp Guide: 3 Ways to Supercharge Your Model Renderings

SketchUp is one of the most versatile programs out there for 3D modeling. This post is part of an on-going series that will provide you with a closer look into its inner workings and teach you a few new tricks along the way so that you can maximize your efficiency and enjoy working in SketchUp.

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Sometimes SketchUp just isn’t enough for what you’re trying to create. It’s a great program, for sure, but it has its share of limitations as well.


SketchUp is a Model Maker, Not a Rendering Software

Inherently, SketchUp doesn’t ‘render’ the images from your model. Rather, it takes what are effectively ‘screenshots’ of your model and then exports them with very limited control over what you’ll end up with.

Of course you can add styles, shadows, and other tricks to make your model shine with just the out of the box version of SketchUp. But when you need to do more than the limited palette it has to offer, it’s time to call in the big guns.


The Three Ways to Upgrade with Software Integration

Depending on the functionality and results you’re looking for, the program you’ll want to pair with SketchUp may vary. In fact, I’m sure that it will. There’s no ‘one shoe fits all’ type of solution here.

There are three basic levels of intervention you can take - full separation, partial integration, full integration. Each comes with its own advantages and disadvantages, not to mention varying sets of price tags.

Let’s take a look at each and what they mean for your potential workflow.

Level 1 // Full Separation

The most basic way to upgrade your model, and ultimately your output rendering, is to export your model to another program entirely. This effectively allows you to cut ties from SketchUp once you’ve built the majority of your model there in order to leverage the horsepower of another program’s rendering platform.

This can also be one of the most difficult ways to deal with the model, however, because it requires the most significant level of completion prior to the transition.

For example, let’s say that you started a client’s model for their new house in SketchUp. You built it from the ground up on the SketchUp platform and It takes you roughly a week’s worth of billable time to do so.

Once you were fairly sure that the design had been completed, you exported the entire model to another rendering software. You then spend another week tinkering on every setting, developing the model further by using tools that are native to the new program. You’re excited to present the new rendering to the client.

Crash and burn. They’ve asked you to go back and change roughly 40% of the model.

Well, now you’re sort of stuck. You’ve already begun to model several other pieces in the newer program and it would be difficult to bounce back and forth. You can either cut your loses and abandon the newer model entirely and build from the last iteration of the SketchUp model you had or try to create a Frankenstein’s monster out of pieces from both in order to make the changes.

Neither situation is ideal. That’s because of a simple truth - SketchUp works best with geometry created natively in the program itself.

> Example Software

> 3D Studio Max

Publisher: Autodesk

Price: High - $185 / Month

Learning Curve: Steep

Rendering Engine: Iray and/or Mental Ray

Quality of Resulting Rendering: High

Time Commitment: High

> Website

Level 2 // Partial Integration

The next option is sort of the middle of the road option where there are tethers built into a plugin for SketchUp to assist in the blending of the two programs, but you’ll still be exporting the original model to another program entirely.

While the process is a bit easier because you’re using a toolset within SketchUp to actually export the model for you, you still need to be very cognizant of how you’re constructing the model.

There are also no direct links between SketchUp and the other program. It’s not as if you’re referencing the SketchUp file into another program the way you would have references in say AutoCAD. The file structure is such that you’re still fully separating the model from it’s SketchUp interface in order to render it in another program.

Example Software


Publisher: Altair

Price: Free / Open Source

Learning Curve: Moderate

Rendering Engine: Kerkythea

Quality of Resulting Rendering: Moderate

Time Commitment: Moderate


Level 3 // Full Integration

Last, but certainly not least, you could fully integrate your process within SketchUp itself, effectively never leaving SketchUp to render your model.

In a similar way to the plugin interfaces with SketchUp in the ‘partial integration’ setup, plugins within the full integration become inherently a part of the SketchUp tool set as though they always had been.

The real advantage here is being able to shift gears on the fly and continue modeling within the same space that you render.

I’m partial to this method because it frees your mind from dealing with constantly worrying about how the exporting process will affect your model’s geometry when its finally within another program.

Example Software


Publisher: Chaos Group

Price: $695 / seat

Learning Curve: Moderate

Rendering Engine: VRay

Quality of Resulting Rendering: High

Time Commitment: Moderate


As you can see, there are many options out there that can help you take your model’s representation to the next level. SketchUp is a top-notch modeling program for architectural design. It’s an even better program when you connect it with other software that specialize in high-quality rendering.

When you use both, everyone wins.

SkillsMichael LaValley