Importing a CAD File into SketchUp Pro

By Aidan Chopra

Only SketchUp Pro can import 2D CAD files in DWG and DXF format; SketchUp Make doesn’t include this functionality. There’s a chance that the CAD file you’re dealing with is one you made yourself, but it’s more likely that you’ve received one from someone else.

In that case, the absolute best thing to do is to open it in the same software that created it. If you have an AutoCAD file, open it in AutoCAD and take a look at its layer structure. Make a copy of the file, delete everything you don’t need to bring into SketchUp Pro, and proceed from there.

Simple, right? But what if you don’t have AutoCAD? That’s okay — most folks don’t. You’ll have a fair amount of cleanup work to do in SketchUp after you’ve imported the CAD data, but it’s manageable.

SketchUp Pro 2014 can import CAD files in AutoCAD 2013 format and earlier. SketchUp Pro 2013 can import files in AutoCAD 2010 format and earlier. If someone else is sending you a CAD file, be sure to tell that person which version you need.

Actually importing CAD data into SketchUp Pro isn’t very complicated. Follow these steps, and you’ll do just fine:

  1. Open a fresh, new SketchUp file.

    You can’t just open a DWG or DXF file in SketchUp Pro; you have to import the data into an existing model. Start with a new SketchUp file because most CAD files are super complex. Bringing all of that complexity — thousands of edges and tons of layers — into an already-complex SketchUp model is just asking for trouble. Keep things separate and stay sane.

  2. Choose File→Import.

    The File Import dialog box opens.

  3. Select AutoCAD files (*.dwg, *.dxf) from the Formats drop-down list.

    For some reason, you have to tell SketchUp what kinds of files you want to import before it will let you select them on your file system.

  4. Locate the CAD file (DWG or DXF) that you want to import and select it.

    Don’t click Import just yet.

  5. Click Options.

    The DWG Import Options dialog box opens.

  6. Set the Units to match the default measurement units of the CAD file you’re about to import.

    If the CAD file is from someone in the U.S., there’s a good chance the units are Inches or Feet. Other countries (wisely) use the metric system.

  7. Decide what to do about the other three options in the dialog box:

    • Preserve Drawing Origin is useful if you’ll be importing more than one CAD file into the same SketchUp model. You might do this if you’re bringing in multiple floor plans of the same building and you want them to line up.

    • Merge Coplanar Faces tells SketchUp to automatically combine adjacent faces that are coplanar into a single face. This can save you cleanup time if the CAD file you’re importing actually has faces in it. If you select this check box and your import fails (it happens), try deselecting it the next time.

    • Orient Faces Consistently instructs SketchUp to do its best to make sure that the faces in your imported data (if there are any) are all facing the same way. Again, this might save you some cleanup time, but it also might throw a wrench into your import process.

  8. Click OK to close the DWG Import Options dialog box.

  9. Click Import . . . .

    . . . and cross your fingers. If you get a failure message, try again with a different Units setting in the Import Options dialog box (Step 6). If that doesn’t work, the file might have been saved in a CAD format that’s newer than the ones that SketchUp Pro can import. Contact the person who sent you the file and ask her to save another copy for you in an older CAD format.

  10. Take a look at the Import Results dialog box to see where you stand.

    If, after the import progress bar goes all the way to the right and the import itself is successful, SketchUp Pro will present you with a dialog box with statistics about what it imported and what it ignored.

    The simple version is that CAD layers, blocks (which translate to components in SketchUp), and edges of all sorts are importable. Text objects, dimensions, and hatches (of the sort that denote different materials) aren’t. When you’re satisfied, click OK and breathe a sigh of relief.

After you’ve gone through the CAD import process and SketchUp has plunked the resulting geometry into your model, make sure everything went according to plan: Measure a couple of things with the Tape Measure tool to see whether they’re the sizes you expect them to be.

Doorways are a good place to start; if you measure one and it’s many times smaller or bigger than it should be, your Units (in Step 6 of the preceding steps) were set wrong. Close the file, open a new one, and try again.