STL's for 3D printing: in-and-out of SketchUp in two clicks

MakerBot CEO Bre Prettis is a pretty cool customer, so I took it as a good sign when he yelped with excitement at SketchUp's 3D Basecamp 2012 after the announcement of SketchUp’s STL plugin.

Reading and writing STL files from SketchUp is something that users have been able to do for a while with the help of two separate ruby plugins. But as 3D printing has continued to boom, we’ve been thinking of ways to make this file exchange easier. So we emailed the original plugin developers, Jim Foltz, Nathan Bromham, and Konrad Shroeder, and asked if they would be interested in letting us combine their tools into a single open source plugin. All three responded with a resounding “yes!”

But, what’s the big deal with STL, anyway? There are many who believe, and so do I, that we're on the verge of a new age in fabrication and prototyping. You can now take designs and make them a reality in the comfort of your own creative space. We're just scratching the surface with this technology that brings digital back to analog, and for the moment, the STL file format is a lynchpin between 3D models and print-ready objects.

Our very own do-nothing machine; you'd be surprised how addictive this is

At the SketchUp office, we’ve been experimenting with MakerBot Replicators for a while now. Our experiences range from high-five successes to epic failures. One tale that sticks out in my mind, however, is when we helped our friend Omar save $120. Omar owns a vacuum cleaner that had a small, uniquely shaped plastic piece that broke. To repair the piece, he had to replace a whole section of the vacuum (hence, the $120 price tag). He sent me an email and asked if we could try replacing the piece with our 3d printer. I told him to stop by my desk with the broken piece and pair of digital calipers. After about an hour of SketchUp modeling, we had what looked like a perfect replacement. I exported the model to STL, opened the file with Replicator G, exported the file to Alpha (we’ve named our three Replicators Alpha, Bravo, and Charlie) and let the MakerBot do the rest. To my pleasant surprise, the piece worked perfectly.

When it comes to vacuum cleaner maintenance, it turns out that cheap plastic is great for replacing cheap plastic.

While you can bring your custom SketchUp designs to life with the STL plugin and a 3D printer, you can also import pre-made content to modify prior to print. For example, my oldest son wanted to play with an R2D2 last weekend. I found one on MakerBot's Thingiverse database and imported all of the STL files into SketchUp to rearrange the pieces to fit on a single build platform (you can download the model here). I exported to STL and about 7 hours later, I had a complete R2D2. Pro Tip: Run ThomThom’s Cleanup script to reduce triangulated geometry into single coplanar faces.

So how does the plugin work?

With the latest version of SketchUp 8, it's easier than ever to install plugins:

1. Visit STL the project page at https://github.com/SketchUp/sketchup-stl.
2. Click on the link at the top of the page and download the RBZ file to your computer.

3. Open SketchUp. Click Window (Windows) or SketchUp (Mac) > Preferences > Extensions > Install Extension…
4. Browse to the folder that has the RBZ file, select it and click "Open." You will see a warning message that asks if you're *sure* you want to install the plugin. Click "Yes."

So now you’re all set with the STL plugin: you can now export entire SKP files to STL or just specified groups. What about the 3D printer? It turns out that Make magazine released a great issue comparing a broad range of 3D printers so you can find the right one that fits your needs and your budget.

Last but not least, if you're a developer and interested in contributing the SketchUp STL plugin project, feel free to visit the project page to get started. Happy designing and printing!


Posted by Tommy Acierno, SketchUp Team

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20 comments :

Florian Horsch said...

Thank you! Finally :)

Colin Faulkingham said...

I tried installing on OSX 10.8 with the lastest version of Sketchup. I get the following error.

"Unable to install extension" unknown error.

Stephen King said...

It's good to see official rapid prototype support for sketchup. I've been using it for that purpose for a while, but any tools to facilitate the job are greatly appreciated.

robert louis said...
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robert louis said...

Nice to have a idea about about 3D printing.Printing is a process for reproducing text and images, typically with ink on paper using a printing press. It is often carried out as a large-scale industrial process, and is an essential part of publishing and transaction printing.There are many printing Company but one of them is Bacchus Press who provide the services of printing.

Charlie S said...

I can't get the current version for OS X because the download site is only sending me the outdated version 8.0.15157 and I am told there is an update (that I can't download because it is missing from the server links on the download page) The correct download link has been missing since 12/19/2012. So I am stuck with SketchUp 8 - Maintenance 4 until it is fixed. Please fix the broken link

Sweet Fairy said...
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ali naqvi said...
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James Hunter said...
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Atif Ahmed said...
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Aanand said...

I can't install. it says it won't work with the latest SU release. Please can you update the plugin to allow installation through the extension window.

John Bacus said...

Hi Aanand,

The extension is already packaged for install from the "Install Extension..." button in SketchUp's Preferences and should be compatible with all current builds of SketchUp. If you're willing to, a post over in our SketchUp Help Forums will put you in touch with a community of folks who can help troubleshoot your install issues.


john
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Christian Jørgensen said...

Hi, this is great news as I just ordered a 3d printer (printrbot jr) to start playing around.

As I am used to Sketchup this is my preferred tool. While I am eagerly waiting for my printer I have started doing some drawings and trying to export to STL.

I however seem to have some trouble with scaling and having correct measures on the STL.

Can you give some recommendations on best approach to create STLs for 3d print in Sketchup?

As in your vacuume cleaner fix - it´s quite important that e.g. 25mm in your drawing is 25mm in the printed object!

Brgds
Christian

cisneha sahu said...

Thanks for sharing this post as I have learnt a lot about STL plugin from here. Apart from this, there are many townsville printing companies that provides these services.

Unknown said...

I got the same error "Unable to install extension" unknown error." on my Mac OS X 10.8.3.

After some investigation, it's because the plugins folder is owned by root and the installer couldn't write to it.

Here is my workaround:

1. Go to /Library/Application Support/Google SketchUp 8/SketchUp
2. Change the permissions of the plugins folder as root: "sudo chmod 777 plugins"
3. Try installing the extension again

You can change back the permissions of the plugins agn if you want afterwards. For me, it's, "sudo chmod 755 plugins"

Hope this helps!

Sandy


Anthony Martin said...

Is there a file for the do nothing machine...it seems kinda interesting and weirdly fun

Derek said...

"unable to install extension" occured. Using the latest version of mountain lion

Brandon Lee said...

Very interesting...

You mention above that triangulated geometry must be made coplanar. Please elaborate on this. What about meshes created by subdivide and smooth? Can they be printed?

Thom Pson said...

Nice this blog post is very beneficial thank for sharing it. rapid prototyping is a best technology in china this company many types offer rapid tolling, 3d rapid prototype at affordable rate.

htt//www.rapidprototyping-china.com

april said...

Hi, I'm having problems with scaling. The exported STL is much larger than the original model