3D Printing School: Color Printing with SketchUp

11 Sep


This has eluded me for a long time. But as you can see from the photo above, I’ve finally figured out how to print in color on Shapeways from SketchUp! I’ve read several “Color Printing with SketchUp” tutorials but I always seemed to have strange issues. I’ve finally managed to solve all my problems by mashing up the many tutorials I’ve read and troubleshooting my issues. I have a feeling other people out there are struggling with some of the things I was so I thought I’d share my own “Color Printing with SketchUp” tutorial.

And I know… You may be saying, Chris, why are you using SketchUp to make color prints? Well, SketchUp is the tool I know and love right now, and until I find the time to learn all new software, making SketchUp work for me is my best option. So here we go!

It’s a pretty simple process but there are a few rules that need to be followed for this to work.

Regardless of whether you are using a flat color, or texture, you need to make sure you’re coloring the actual faces of your model, not an entire group. If you use the Paint Can to color a model that you have already grouped Shapeways will not see the faces as colored. You need to either explode the group, or edit inside of the group when coloring faces. If you open the “Entity Info” (Window → Entity Info) your group should show it’s color set as the default white/grey. If the Entity info shows a color swatch Shapeways is going to get confused. If you can’t figure out why you’re seeing a color swatch I’d use the Plugin “Material Tools” to remove all the materials from your group and start over.


When working with photo textures, I’ve run into additional problems. In SketchUp there are many repeating textures that can be used to color large faces. Things like grasses, siding, stones. These all look great in SketchUp, but they do not transfer well to print, and unless you want your textures cut off and repeating in random places, you don’t want to apply them with the Paint Can.

Instead, all of your textures need to be non-tiling textures that fit your surfaces exactly. So as an example, this face is 27 x 45 mm. I created a new document in Pixelmator with those exact dimensions and saved my texture form there. Then when it came time to import it into SketchUp, I was able to apply it to my model without any resizing.


After you’ve made your texture file at the correct size, import in into SketchUp using File → Import and make sure you have “All Support Image Types” and “Use As Texture” selected.

If after you’ve applied your texture you find that you mis-measured a surface go back and fix the original texture file. The resizing and stretching texture tools in SketchUp are another thing that look great, but don’t actually translate to print. DO NOT USE THEM FOR PRINT! If you use these tools, none of the alterations you make to the texture will make it trough the export/upload process so it’s really important to get your textures sized correctly from the beginning (I had a lot of trouble with this, just don’t do it).


When it comes to mixing texture files and flat color, I like to make small color swatches using the background colors I selected in Pixelmator for coloring my model. It seems to make the colors matchup closer than simply using RGB values. I just make a small square texture with my desired color, import it into SketchUp,  and use it to paint my model the same way I would using the paint can tool (in this case, you do want the texture to tile).

When you’re ready to export your full color model from SketchUp I recommend analyzing it with Solid Inspector2 before exporting. This plugin will identify, and help solve any issues you may have with your model. It can remove internal geometry and anything else that’s keeping your model from being a “solid” manifold mesh.


Next export your SketchUp file as a COLLADA file (.dae). This can be found in the File → Export → 3D Model… menu, I use the  default settings when exporting. If you’ve changed your settings in the past here are the settings I’m using (which I believe are defaults).


When you export your .dae file from SketchUp a folder containing your texture files will be created automatically. Move all your textures and your .dae into the same location.

Screen Shot 2015-08-06 at 1.29.19 PM

Next you’ll need to do a little editing of your .dae file. Open it in a text editor (Sublime Text 2 is my editor of choice), scroll to the bottom of the file, and remove any folder names or path before the texture image file. Here is an example of the changes I made.


Almost there! You just need a neat package for Shapeways. Highlight your edited .dae file and all your texture images and zip them into one file. From there you can upload your .zip file to Shapeways with (hopefully) no errors.


I use millimeters as my unit of measurement in SketchUp. Either the .dea format or Shapeways doesn’t seem happy with that. As you can see in the picture above the scale of the model is way too tiny when imported as mm. Selecting “meters” when uploading the .dae seems to fix this. Otherwise you can use the “SCALE” button on the upload page to correct the size of your mode.

So now the post I’ve wanted to read for the past couple of years exists on the internet. Hopefully it will help people like me that were stumbling to get their models uploaded and rendering correctly in color (and hopefully, it works for you!).