SketchUp's Outliner - dummies

By Aidan Chopra

Most halfway-complicated SketchUp models consist of dozens, if not hundreds, of groups and components. These groups and components are nested inside each other like Russian dolls, and many are heavy, computer-killing behemoths like three-dimensional trees and shrubs.

Without a list, how are you going to manage all your groups and components? How are you going to keep track of what you have, hide what you don’t want to see, and (more importantly) unhide what you do want to see?

Taking a good look at SketchUp’s Outliner

You can open the Outliner dialog box by choosing Window→Outliner. The figure shows what it looks like when a model consists of a simple room with some furniture in it. Each piece of furniture is a separate component downloaded from the SketchUp 3D Warehouse.


The Outliner dialog box has the following features:

  • Search filter box: If you type a word or phrase into this box, the Outliner shows only the items in your model that include that word or phrase in their names. For example, type coffee, and only the coffee table component is visible.

  • Outliner Options flyout menu: This handy little menu contains three options:

    • Expand All: Choose this option to have the Outliner show all the nested groups and components in your model — every last one of them (provided they’re on visible layers).

      The Outliner shows only groups and components that exist on visible layers in your model. In other words, anything on a hidden layer doesn’t appear in the Outliner, so be extra careful if you’re using both the Outliner and layers to organize your model.

    • Collapse All: This option collapses your Outliner view so that you see only top-level groups and components — ones that aren’t nested inside other groups and components.

    • Sort by Name: Select this option to make the Outliner list the groups and components in your model alphabetically.

  • Outliner List window: All the groups and components in your model are listed here. Groups and components that hold nested groups and components have an Expand/Collapse toggle arrow next to their names. When they’re expanded, the constituent groups and components appear in the list.

Making good use of the Outliner

If you use lots of groups and components (and you should), having the Outliner open onscreen is one of the best things you can do to model efficiently.

Here’s why:

  • Use the Outliner to control visibility. Instead of right-clicking groups and components in your model to hide them, use the Outliner instead. Just right-click the name of any element in the Outliner and choose Hide. When you do, the element is hidden in your modeling window and its name is grayed out and italicized in the Outliner. To unhide it, just right-click its name in the Outliner and choose Unhide.

  • Drag and drop elements in the Outliner to change their nesting order. Don’t like having the component you just created nested inside another component? Simply drag its name in the Outliner to the top of the list. This moves the component to the top level, meaning that it’s not embedded in anything. You can also use the Outliner to drag groups and components into other ones, too.

  • Find and select things using the Outliner. Selecting something in the Outliner highlights that something’s name and selects it in your modeling window. This is a much easier way to select nested groups and components, especially if you’re working with a complex model.