Color by layer for alternative material assignments

Matt Donley News, Sketchup Tutorials 7 Comments

Did you know that there’s a way to assign an alternate material to the SAME object in SketchUp? In this article, I’ll show you how to use Color By Layer to display materials according to the layer an object is assigned to.

When applying textures to your model, most people take the approach of assigning realistic textures that represent the look of the object in real life. But there are other ways you can approach material selection to provide visual information about the objects in your model. With Color By Layer, you can have the best of both worlds by assigning a second set of materials to your model, according to the layer objects are assigned to.

Alternative approach to materials?

  • Most people take the approach of assigning realistic looking textures to their model. Architects like Nick Sonder have mastered this approach, all the way through the documentation process into LayOut.
  • Woodworkers like Jay Bates from like to color each component a unique color in order to easily identify similar parts. He could use Color By Layer to provide an alternate material assignment to show the woodgrain of the cabinet.
  • When bringing designs into LayOut for floor plans and elevations, sometimes the best approach is a black & white version. Although you can simply choose a Hidden Line style, you can further enhance the look of your model by assigning hatch patterns to layers to define different material types.
  • Architect, Mike Brightman from uses Color By Layer as an alternative coloring scheme to quickly distinguish new construction,  from demo and existing.


Color by Layer

We all know how to assign materials and colors to faces, or to groups/components. But there is a lesser known way to assign color to your model, and it’s by using the Color by Layer feature in SketchUp styles. By turning on this feature, the materials assigned directly to your model will be ignored, and the materials assigned to their layer will be shown instead.

From Color, to Black & White

In order to use Color by Layer effectively, you must have a model that is organized onto different layers. I rarely used to use layers, but if you’re working with LayOut and need to create scenes to export to viewports, layers are necessary/required/most important in order to control the visibility of your model.

By default, SketchUp will assign a random color to each layer you create. But, you can change these to any color, or texture image from within the Layers Window.

To use Color by Layer, follow these steps:

    1. Open the Layers Window. (Go to Window -> Layers)
    2. Click on the color swatch of the layer you want to change the color of.

Layer Color Selection

    1. Use the color picker to select a color for the layer. Or, click on the browse button to search for a PNG image to use for a textured material. Unfortunately, there’s no way to pick from the existing SketchUp material library, so you’re forced to browse for images on your computer.

Use Texture on layer

    1. Open the Styles Window. (Go to Window -> Styles) We’re going to edit a style to tell SketchUp that we want to display materials according to their layer color.
    2. Click the Edit tab to edit the current style.
    3. Click the Modeling Settings icon. modeling(It’s the blue icon on the right, under the Edit tab.)
    4. Check the “Color by Layer” checkbox.
    5. To save this style in the model, click the Update model iconupdate, or click the “Create new Style” icon addnewto save it under a new name. (Again, this only saves the style in the current model. If you want to save it for future use, you need to go back to the Select tab, open the secondary selection panesecondary, and drag the style into one of the Style folders.)


You should now see the faces in your model are painted according to the layer they are assigned to. Keep in mind that the color picked for a certain object is according to its hierarchy of layer assignments. If you have an object nested within multiple groups/components that are each assigned to different layers, SketchUp will search for the first layer an object is assigned to, and display that layer color for the object.

For example, if you have a house model with exterior walls in a group assigned to a “walls” layer, and that is nested in a group assigned to the “First_floor” layer, and that group is finally nested in a parent group assigned to the “house” layer, SketchUp will display the walls to show the color assigned to the “walls” layer. (The only exception to this is “Layer0”. You will only see objects painted the color of Layer0 if no other layers are assigned to that object.)

Color by layer tips

  • White – If you’re going for a black & white look, you can set most of your layer colors to white. When you come across something you want to have stand out, such as walls, select a dark grey or black color so they stand out.
  • Opacity – Try playing around with the color opacity. Setting some of your layer colors as semi-transparent will create an almost “Hidden Line” effect. It will allow you to see through the object, and any objects behind it will be slightly visible.
  • Temporary – You can temporarily turn on Color by Layer, without messing up your current style settings by clicking the fly-out menu in the Layers window -> Click Color by Layer. This will turn on Color by layer until you change a style, or activate the Paint Bucket tool. This is useful if you’re looking for a visual aide to help you determine if there are any objects assigned to the wrong layer.
  • Keep Layer0 bright – It’s a good idea to keep layer0 a bright color. That way, you’ll have a visual cue letting you know that you have an object that isn’t assigned to a layer.

Comments 7

  1. Great post, Matt. I have never used color-by-layer before – actually I hadn’t understood it properly from your book, Sketchup to LayOut. But this post got me going. Thanks – keep on with the good work – David

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