Sketch-Up to 3DS Max does work!

Posted on: Eylül 4, 2008

I constantly hear people say, “Sketch-Up to 3DS Max doesn’t work.” This statement just isn’t true. In fact, this is the process our company uses for 3D modeling and rendering, and it’s a very efficient, clean process on a number of levels. If you want to see some rendering that were modeled in Sketch-Up, check out my renderings on cgsociety. They were all modeled in Sketch-Up. I will go through the nuances of how to do this, and hopefully I can convert some of you to sketch-up modeling. Before I begin, here are some reasons the sketch-up to max process is effective:

• Modeling in Sketch-Up is darn fast. I don’t care how fast of a 3D Max modeler you are, anyone who knows sketch-up well will beat you every time!

• Sketch-Up keeps the mesh very clean. You can push and pull walls all day long, and your mesh is exactly what you see. The geometry is super light.

• Materials transfer from Sketch-Up to Max. There’s no need to reapply materials after importing your geometry. There are great tools (paint bucket + shift / ctrl / alt) for coloring geometry that saves plenty of time and is much faster than changing ID’s or shaders.

I could go on, but look into Sketch-Up. Before you purchase the Pro version, you can download the free version and try it out. The free version has everything the Pro version has, except for the export options (which you will need if you decide you like this method).

Alright enough of the sales pitch, let’s jump into the process. It really all starts with sketch-up and understanding how the materials work. When you create geometry in Sketch-Up, it has a default material. You will notice that the default material is white on one side and purple on the other side. This material is showing the direction of the normals, so white should be the front and purple should be the back. This is very important. When you import your model into max, only the white sides will render. So as you model be sure the faces are white.

To get your faces in the right direction, select the face, then right click and select reverse face. If you have the default material on the geometry, you will notice the purple will change to white and vise versa.

Now that your model is done, let’s take a look at materials. Because our faces are all in the right direction we won’t worry about coloring purple faces (face in the wrong direction). Coloring is as simple as clicking on your faces. When you name a material, be sure it describes the type of material and not what color it is…we can see that it’s red! Also keep the names short. Max will truncate the names, so be sure you can tell what it is with just a few letters. Here are some useful Sketch-Up coloring tips/shortcuts:

Paint bucket + CTRL (colors all of the faces with the same current material touching each other)
Paint bucket + SHFT (colors all of the faces with the current material in that current group with the new material)

After coloring your model, you can always go back to view the normals by changing the face style of the model. This is helpful when a Sketch-Up model is already textured, but you want to flip the faces. Note, you will have to re-apply the material to the newly flipped face.

Now that our scene is modeled and colored let’s talk about exporting. With Sketch-Up Pro, you can export as various formats (3ds, dwg, vrml, obj, etc). I typically export as .3ds format. Before you hit export, let’s look at the options button. Every export format will have different options, but I will only discuss the options for the .3ds format. You can change Export to 4 different types: Full hierarchy, By layer, By material, Single object. The only two that I recommend using are “By material”, and “Single object.” And of those two, I prefer “Single object”.

If you export with “By material” sketch-up will break your model into different meshes according to their material. So you may have one object in Sketch-Up, but when you import the .3ds into Max, there will be a mesh for every material. This doesn’t just make a mesh for each material, but it creates a mesh for each material being surrounded by another material, so even though you only have one brick material, for example, you may have several meshes with that same material. The advantage of this method is that you have one shader for each material. So it keeps your materials simple. The disadvantage is that it may take longer to export to .3ds, and in Max your viewport may be a little sluggish if your scene is large and complex.

If you export with “Single object” Sketch-Up will export your entire scene as one mesh, and with that one mesh it will create a multi / sub-object material with a shader for each material from Sketch-Up. Because there is a limitation in the .3ds format that meshes can only have 65,536 vertices and faces, if this limit is exceeded, more than one mesh will be created with the emphasis on keeping the number of meshes to the minimum amount necessary. Here’s where this one gets a little complex though. Because every mesh has its own sub/object material, you may have some sub shaders that have the same material. A good trick is to clean these up by making them instances of each other, before you start tweeking them. The advantage of this method is that the scene no matter how much geometry there is, is incredibly fast and efficient. This, as I already said, is the method that I prefer. The disadvantage is that it does take some time to go through the mulit / sub-object materials to make sure that there is only one copy of each material, and the rest are all instances. These are the only export functions I will cover now, but the image on the left are the settings that I usually use.

Now let’s talk briefly on importing the .3ds file into Max. Use File-> Import. It will first ask you if you want to Merge with the current scene, or replace the current scene. I always merge with the current scene. I also always uncheck Convert units (I do all of my Sketch-Up modeling in feet and inches). This will keep the real-world scale. It will also ask you if you want to change the animation length. I always say no. Now your Sketch-Up model should be nice and tidy in Max. I think it’s important to state this even though to many max users this may be obvious: Just because your material editor is empty does not mean there aren’t any materials in your scene. There is no correlation. The material editor is just a holding place to tweek your materials. If you open the material map browser, this window will show you what you have in your scene, and you can add that to the material editor. You will notice on the image on the left that there is one multi / sub-object shader, that contains the 4 materials that we created in Sketch-Up. So there is no need to apply the materials…they’re already applied! I usually use Arch&Design materials, and I always add a UVW map modifier to my meshes. I use Real-World Map Size, and adjust the scale of my maps in the shaders accordingly.


That’s it! I know this was very exhaustive, and sounds complex, but the process is truly quick and simple once the understanding sinks in. I hope that now you all know that you can model in Sketch-Up and imported beautifully into Max. Stick a fork in me, I’m done!

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