SketchUp Introduction to Site Grading
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SketchUp Introduction to Site Grading

Feb 04, 2015
Video Length:  1:02:27
Presented By:  Daniel Tal


SketchUp is a powerful grading program. The SketchUp Sandbox and Extension Tools are able to generate organic modeling surfaces with relative ease. The tools can be adapted to most models to create conceptual site terrain. Put on your grading hat, and watch how to grade retaining walls, walks, and objects into even the most basic site plan. Learn how to create grading profiles for accessible ramps, steps, roads, and buildings.


The webinar will walk you through the step-by-step process of creating organic surfaces that represent grades and terrain. The tutorial builds on each step and demonstrates different grading typologies and approaches. The method explores the big picture approach to completing a site down to grading details that allow users to incorporate varying site elements, like steps, walls, and ramps, into an overall conceptual grading model for an entire project.


For more tutorials on SketchUp from Daniel Tal, visit his website,

Webinar Contents:

Note: The following catalog of content covered in this webinar is time stamped to allow you to follow along or skip to sections of the video that are relevant to your questions. You can also search for content on this page using the FIND command in your browser (CTRL + F in Windows, Command + F in Mac OS.)


0:00 –19:49:  Introduction to Grading

The Sandbox tools (2:41)


Selecting the contour lines on a site and connecting them via a triangular irregular network using the From Contour tool (3:05)


Demonstration of Sandbox tools incorporating the design of a simple curb ramp (3:46)


Selecting the edges of a surface (4:30)


Selecting and using the From Contour tool (5:24)

(Note: From Contour is not a “smart” tool, so you may need to do some cleanup after using it.)


The “Profile Modeling Method” for Terrain (7:00)

Extruding a surface (7:02)


Creating a grading profile with the From Contour tool (7:18)


Cleaning up after using From Contour and turning Hidden Geometry on/off (8:20)


The Soapskin Bubble tool (9:00)

Unlike From ContourSoapskin Bubble requires you to connect a “closed loop system”. It then creates a grid that you can select and subject to “pressure,” which inflates the surface up or down to create a nicer-looking grade. It gives you more control over your grade.


The Arc tool (11:10)

(Note: You’ll need to “stick” arcs to vertical surfaces.)


Using Soapskin Bubble with arcs to create a grade (12:00)


Hiding the grid lines using the Selection Toys extension (13:40)


Coloring the grade using the Paint Bucket tool (13:54)


The Contours extensions (14:10)


Another example of grading with From Contour, using sloped walls, stairs, and a landing (14:39)

Note: You’ll grade your site in small areas, then connect them using objects such as walls.


Using Soapskin Bubble for the same process (17:50)


Side-by-side comparison of grading with From Contour and Soapskin Bubble (19:15)


19:50 – 23:18: The Extension Warehouse

Extensions are essentially apps for SketchUp (available from the Extension Warehouse, which is like an app store). (20:00)


Daniel’s Top 5 Extensions (as of February 2015) (21:30):

1.         Selection Toys

2.         Path copy

3.         Weld

4.         Repeat Copy

5.         Profile Builder


Accessing the Extension Warehouse and downloading an extension (example: Soapskin Bubble) (22:00)


23:19 – 45:49: Grading from Flat Site Models

Extruding surfaces (24:05)


Removing flat surfaces (Daniel usually copies and elevates them above the model for use later) (25:17)


Putting in the grades and turning on Hidden Geometry (25:49)


Putting the graded site into context using Google Earth (27:50)


Another example of grading from a flat site plan (30:50)


Side-by-side comparison: pre-grading vs. graded design (33:50)


Snapping an arc to the Hidden Geometry (36:45)


Selecting a line and copying it using Copy and Paste in Place (37:20)


Creating a grid using Soapskin Bubble, then adding the “pressure” for grading (38:40)


Connecting a graded site to a pond (40:00)


Grading a pond using an offset line (43:10)


The Contours tool (not available in extensions – available on Sketchucation) (45:10)


45:50 – 48:50: Grading a Site Design Imported from CAD

Note: Grading also works with existing surveys.


48:51 – end: Resources and Questions

A few of Daniel’s resources (48:51)


Question: How to pull in Google Earth terrain? (52:40)

Answer:Go to View > Toolbars and select the Google toolset.


Then click Add Location. You can adjust the white border to determine the site area. Click Grab.


Clicking Toggle Terrain will turn on the elevation and contours.


Question: Is it best to apply elevations in CAD first and then bring them into SketchUp? (55:20)

Answer:First, note that if you’re not using SketchUp Pro, you will not be able to import DWGs or export to CAD.


Second, Daniel does not recommend setting elevations in SketchUp. It’s much better to do it in CAD if possible and import the surveys into SketchUp.


Note: Daniel predicts that we’ll see tools in the future that will sidestep CAD.


Question:What is the name of the tool you use to cut out part of the terrain model? (59:30)

Answer:Tools on Surface (available from Sketchucation) (demonstration in Webinar)


Daniel also likes the Artisan tool (in particular, the Sculpt Brush feature, which allows you to sculpt terrain) (1:01:36)

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