How to Get the Best View of What You’re Doing in SketchUp

By Aidan Chopra

Using SketchUp without learning how to orbit, zoom, and pan is like trying to build a ship in a bottle. In the dark. With your hands tied behind your back. Using chopsticks. Get the picture?

Fully half of modeling in SketchUp uses the Orbit, Zoom, and Pan tools, which let you change your view so that you can see what you’re doing. Most people who try to figure out SketchUp on their own take too long to understand the importance of these navigation tools and spend hours squinting, grunting, and having an all-around miserable time trying to “get at” what they’re working on.

Going into orbit

Hold a glass of water in your hand. Now twist and turn your wrist around in every direction so that the water’s all over you and the rest of the room. Stop when the glass is completely empty. That’s a pretty memorable way to find out about the Orbit tool.

Just as your wrist helps you twist and turn a glass to see it from every angle, think of using Orbit as the way to fly around your work.


Although you can find the Orbit tool on the Camera menu and an Orbit button on the toolbar, here’s how you should always orbit: Click the scroll wheel of your mouse and hold it down. Now move your mouse around. See your model swiveling around? Release the scroll wheel when you’re done.

Using your mouse to orbit means that you don’t have to switch tools every time you want a better view, which saves you truckloads of time.

Zooming in and out

Hold your empty glass at arm’s length. Close your eyes and then bring the glass rushing toward you, stopping right when it smashes you in the nose. Now throw the glass across the room, noticing how it shrinks as it gets farther away. That, in a nutshell, describes the Zoom tool.

You use Zoom to get closer to (and farther from) your model. If you’re working on something small, you zoom in until it fills your modeling window. To see everything at once, zoom out.


There are a couple of things you need to remember about Zoom:

  • The best way to zoom is to roll your finger on the scroll wheel of your mouse to zoom in and out. Instead of clicking the scroll wheel to orbit, just roll your scroll wheel back and forth to zoom.

    And just like Orbit, you can find a Zoom tool on the Camera menu and a Zoom button on the toolbar, but using your mouse’s scroll wheel to zoom means that you don’t have to switch tools. As soon as you stop scrolling to zoom in or out, you revert to whatever tool you were using before.

  • Use Zoom Extents to see everything. Technically, Zoom Extents is a separate tool altogether, but it’s related enough to mention here. If you want your model to fill your modeling window (which is especially useful when you “get lost” with the navigation tools), just choose Camera→Zoom Extents.

When you’re zooming with the scroll wheel of your mouse, SketchUp zooms in on your cursor; just position it over whatever part of your model you want to zoom in on (or zoom out from). If your cursor isn’t over any of your model’s geometry (faces and edges), zooming doesn’t work very well — you end up zooming either really slowly or really quickly.

Just panning around

Using the Pan tool is a lot like washing windows — you move the paper towel back and forth, but it stays flat and it never gets any closer or farther away from you. The Pan tool is basically for sliding your model view around in your modeling window. To see something that’s to the right, you use Pan to slide your model to the left. It’s as simple as that.

Although you find a Pan tool on the Camera menu and a Pan button on the toolbar, here’s the best way to pan: Hold down your mouse’s scroll wheel button and press the Shift key. When you do both at the same time — basically, Orbit+Shift — your cursor temporarily turns into the Pan tool. When your cursor does so, move your mouse to pan.