Sunday, March 31, 2013

Using Sketchup for 3D Printing Design

First, I want to say that I am by no means an expert in the area of 3d printing, having only been doing this for a couple of months.  But since this technology is so interesting, I thought I would keep posting my experiences here, so that others interested in becoming more knowledgeable might learn a thing or two reading about what I am doing.  Or others helping me to learn more from their experiences.

The great part about 3d printing is that it can be free to get started.  I use Sketchup for my designs, which is a free download from Trimble.  There is a huge online community, and plenty of resources available for the newcomer.  Once the design is ready for printing, there are multiple printing services available to print the finished model.  For N scale, however, it seems that the best choice is Shapeways.  Other companies either don't have the "frosted ultra detail" material needed for fine detail, or their print resolution just isn't quite small enough.  Of course, I am very new to this myself, so there could be other alternatives that I am not aware of.  It is also free to upload a design to Shapeways, and then only when you wish to actually purchase a print, do you pay for their services.

So, while it seems straight forward to get an image in your head, onto a computer, and loaded to a printer at Shapeways, it actually takes some experience in design, understanding how to convert 1:1 scale to 1:160 without making detail or parts too small or thin, and modeling within the design specifications defined by Shapeways.  Again, I am still in the "don't know what I don't know" phase, so I am eager to learn more.

Here is an illustration of Sketchup, and a model that I am currently designing.  It is a 53' Wilson spread axle livestock trailer.  N scale desperately needs a modern livestock trailer, and I need a few for a planned industry on the Council Bluffs Sub.  I have high confidence that this will be a successful model like my grain trailer, however, my main concern is whether the printing process and resolution will be able to handle the numerous ventilation holes in the side skins of the trailer.  So, this will be a good test for me.  The belly dump trailer that I designed is much more conservative, and should turn out just fine.  I will know more this week when my first batch arrives.


  1. I just started fiddling with Sketchup. Any tips on how finely detail can be printed?

    1. my advice is to be conservative and use Shapeways requirements as your guide. I have had to make a few adjustments due to my design being too thin for printing.

  2. hello do have the free sketchup or the pay verions

    tom cataldo

  3. Fantastic...I would like to know more about your sketchup experiences with 3D printing of rolling stock. I have been using sketchup for modelling and aquaponics design for about 3 years now. Just moving into photo-realistic rendering.

    Do you have more info?

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  5. Hi, great tips thanks so much. Modeling in SketchUp 2014 and printing with a MakerBot Replicator 2, 5th Gen. The problem I get is inconsistent surfaces. The walls seem to print fine, but the flat surfaces come out very rough and stringy. I notice the store downloads from Thingaverse generate really high quality prints and I want to achieve the same quality in my prints.
    3d architectural rendering