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How to Use the Rotate Tool in Google SketchUp 8

Using SketchUp’s Rotate tool is a lot like moving items. Despite the fact that rotation is pretty straightforward, it has a hitch: The SketchUp Rotate tool has a trick up its sleeve that most new modelers don’t discover until hours after they could’ve used it. First things first, though:

  • It’s better to preselect. As with the Move tool, rotating something you’ve already selected is usually easier.

  • The Rotate tool can make copies, too. Press the Ctrl key (Option on a Mac) to switch between rotating your original or rotating a copy. You can also make several copies at once.

  • You can be precise. Feel free to use your keyboard and the Measurements box to type exact angles while you’re rotating.

The basic way to use rotate in SketchUp

Follow these steps to rotate objects in your model:

  1. Select everything you want to rotate.

  2. Activate the Rotate tool.

    The default keyboard shortcut for Rotate is Q, just in case you’re wondering.

  3. Click once to establish an axis of rotation.

    Your axis of rotation is the theoretical line around which your selected objects will rotate; picture the axle of a wheel. Although it’d be nice if SketchUp drew the axis of rotation in your model, you just have to imagine it.

    As you move the Rotate tool’s big protractor cursor around your screen, notice that the cursor sometimes changes orientation and color. When you hover over a face, the cursor re-aligns itself to create an axis of rotation that’s perpendicular to that face. When the cursor is red, green, or blue, its axis of rotation is currently parallel to that colored axis.

    You can (and should) use inference locking when you’re using the Rotate tool. Just hover over any face in your model that’s perpendicular to the axis of rotation you want, hold down the Shift key to lock in that orientation, and click where you want your axis to be.

  4. Click again to start rotating.

    Clicking part of the thing you’re rotating is helpful, especially if you’re rotating visually instead of numerically (by typing an angle).

  5. Move your mouse; then click again to finish rotating.

    If you like, now is a good time to type a rotation angle and press Enter. As with everything else in SketchUp, you can be as precise as you want or need to be.

The not-so-basic method of using Rotate

The basic method of using Rotate is fine when you need to rotate something on the ground plane, but this method isn’t as useful when your axis of rotation isn’t vertical. Finding a face to use to orient your cursor can be tricky or impossible, and that’s where a lot of SketchUp modelers get hung up.

In version 6 of SketchUp, the software’s designers introduced a feature that pretty much everybody realizes is great: You can establish a precise axis of rotation (the invisible line around which you’re rotating) without having any preexisting faces to use for orientation. This makes rotating things about a million times easier.

In this case, using Rotate goes from being a five-step operation to a seven-step one:

  1. Select everything you want to rotate.

  2. Activate the Rotate tool.

  3. Click once to establish your axis of rotation, but don’t let go — keep your finger on your mouse button.

  4. Drag your cursor around (still holding down the mouse button) until your axis of rotation is where you want it.

    As you drag, notice your Rotate protractor changes orientation; the line from where you clicked to your cursor is the axis of rotation.

  5. Release your mouse button to set your axis of rotation.

  6. Click (but don’t drag) the point at which you want to “pick up” whatever you’re rotating.

  7. Click again to drop the thing you’re rotating where you want it.

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