Do’s and Don’ts of Working with SketchUp’s Layers

By Aidan Chopra

Layers in SketchUp can be a major source of heartache because they can really mess up your model if you’re not careful. Check out the following do’s and don’ts before you start working with layers:

  • Do all your modeling on Layer0. Always make sure that Layer0 is your current layer when you’re working. Keeping all your loose geometry (that’s not part of a group or component) together in one place is the only way to make sure that you don’t end up with edges and faces all over the place.

    SketchUp, unfortunately, lets you put geometry on whatever layer you want, which means that you can end up with a face on one layer, and one or more of the edges that define it on another. When that happens, it’s next to impossible to work out where everything belongs; you’ll spend hours trying to straighten out your model.

    This property of SketchUp’s layers system is a major stumbling point for new SketchUp users; knowing to keep everything on Layer0 can save you a lot of anguish.

  • Don’t move anything but groups and components to other layers. If you’re going to use layers, follow this rule: Never put anything on a layer other than Layer0 unless it’s a group or a component. Doing so ensures that you don’t end up with stray edges and faces on separate layers.

  • Use layers to organize big groups of similar things. More complicated SketchUp models often include things like trees, furniture, cars, and people. These kinds of things are almost always already components, so they’re perfect candidates for being kept on separate layers.

    For example, make a Trees layer and put all your tree components on it. This makes it easy to hide and show all your trees at once. This speeds your workflow by improving your computer’s performance. (Trees are usually big, complicated components with lots of faces.)

  • Don’t use layers to organize interconnected geometry; use the Outliner instead. Interconnected geometry indicates things like building floor levels and staircases. These model parts aren’t meant to be physically separate from other parts in the way that vehicles and people are.

    When you put Level 1 on one layer and Level 2 on another, more often than not, you become confused about what belongs where: Is the staircase part of Level 1 or Level 2? Instead, make a group for Level 1, a group for Level 2, and a group for the staircase — you’ll need less headache medicine at the end of the day.

  • Feel free to use layers to iterate. Iteration is the process of doing multiple versions of the same thing. Lots of designers work this way to figure out problems and present different options to their clients. Using layers is a great way to iterate: You can move each version of the thing you’re working on to a different layer, and then turn them on and off to show each in turn.

    Just remember to follow the rule about using groups and components only on separate layers (mentioned previously), and you’ll be fine.