SketchUp External References

Matt Donley News, Sketchup Tutorials 9 Comments

Did you know that you can split up a SketchUp file into multiple smaller files? They can be referenced and updated in a master SketchUp file, which is useful when working on a project with multiple team members. It’s also helpful for managing a large number of scenes in a project.

XREF in SketchUp?

If you’re familiar with AutoCAD, you might know that you can link multiple drawings together using an XREF. It’s useful when you need to take drawings produced from multiple different sources and integrate them into a master drawing set. SketchUp has a similar capability, and is even more powerful in some respects.

Importing into SketchUp

Importing files into SketchUp works differently than an XREF in AutoCAD. In SketchUp, you’re actually placing a copy of the imported file into your SketchUp model. In AutoCAD, the XREF isn’t copied into your drawing, it’s just linked to it. (You can Bind or insert an XREF into a drawing if you want, however.)

Although you’re placing a copy of the imported file into SketchUp, you have the ability to update it. Let’s say you have a model of a barn and a silo, and you’re having someone else model the silo while you work on the barn. You can import the silo into the main model, and if there are any changes made to the garage at a later point, you just right click the silo and select “Reload”.

Reloading a file will update it with any changes. As long as the axes origin hasn’t moved from the original location, the model will update and stay in the location it was originally placed.

Why Use Externally References Models?

There are many benefits to using externally referenced models. But it goes without saying that it does add an additional level of complexity to your project, so you need to determine if it’s really necessary, and you need to stay organized.

Here are some example uses for externally referenced models:

  • Increase Performance – Break your model into smaller, more manageable files so your computer doesn’t have to processes the entire model at once. Import the smaller files into one master file for final production. (An alternative method would be to organize your model using layers, and hide the layers of your model that you are not currently working on.) 
  • Collaboration – Assign parts of a project to different people to allow multiple people to work on a project at the same time or from remote locations. Reload the different files into the master model to complete the project.
  • Scene Management – When you import a model, the scenes DO NOT come with it. This is a great feature because it allows you to have multiple versions of the same model, but with different scene configurations. So you might have one model with scenes set up for an animation fly-through video. Another model might have all your scenes set up for viewports in LayOut. The two models are identical, with exception to the scenes.
  • Section Plane Management – If you are overwhelmed with the number of section planes in your master model, create a new model, import your master model, and add section planes there.
  • Version Control – When you reload a model reference, you have the ability to select a different model than the one originally imported. This can be used to replace different versions of an imported model. (On smaller projects, it might make more sense to have multiple versions of parts within your model be managed using layers.)
  • Template Objects – If you have objects that you use in your models over and over again, save them to your computer in a custom component collection. This will allow you to quickly pick and place them in your models from the Component window. If you ever update the source component, any models that have previously imported that component won’t change unless you manually reload the model reference.

Watch the Video Tutorial

How To Import And Update An Externally Referenced Model

Importing a model is very easy. You can actually import a number of different file types into SketchUp, but for this example, we’re only going to be talking about import SketchUp models.

  1. Go to the File menu -> Select Import.
    File Import
  2. In the window that pops up, make sure the “Files of type” drop down menu reads “SketchUp Files (*.skp). (You can actually do this with ANY type of importable file, but this article is specifically about using other SketchUp files )
  3. Select the SketchUp Model you’d like to import, click Open.
    Select Model to Upload
  4. The Move tool will then activate, allowing you to locate the imported model into your active model in relationship to its origin. Simply click to place the imported model.

Models will import as components into your main model. Components have a ton of additional features aside from being able to place identical copies of themselves throughout your model. It’s these additional features of components that give you the power to update imported models.

If you’ve made changes to a model that you’ve imported into your main model, you can go into your main model and reload the import in order to show all the changes.

Changes made to models that have been imported into other models are not automatically updated. You need to update them manually.

How to update a component in your model

  1. Right click the component you’d like to update -> Click “Reload”. (Remember, you can do this with ANY component in SketchUp, not just imported ones.)Reload
  2. In the window that pops up, select the file you’d like to update the component with -> click Open.
  3. The imported model will be replaced by the file you selected, and located in relationship to its origin.

The most critical part is how to locate the referenced models in your main model. You can take a number of different approaches to this, and it all depends on the type of objects you’re referencing and how they relate to one another in 3D space.

Examples of Locating Imported Models

There are many different ways to approach this. You can start out with one model, then export different objects to work on them individually and import them back in at a later time. Or you can import models that have already been created into your main model. Here are some examples of different approaches you might take:

  • All models are drawn referencing the same absolute axis origin. When they are imported into a master model, their origins are all located at the axis origin of the master model.
  • Models are drawn independently, with no significance placed on origin location. The models are later assembled into a master model file, where they are manually moved and located where they need to be.
  • The entire project starts out as one master model. At a certain point in the design, individual components are exported by right clicking them and selecting “Save As”, where they can then be sent to another team member to be worked on and re-imported at a later time.
  • A rough “reference model” is created that is sent out to various team members. They use that reference model to help them locate and model specific objects inside of it. When they are ready, they export the objects they created, leaving the reference model behind. Those objects are then imported into the master model.For example, you may create a shell model of a building, and send it out to an interior designer who fills the building with furniture objects. The interior designer then exports only the furniture, so you can import it into the final version of the master model.

 Using External References For Scenes And Section Planes

Another great way to use external references is to provide greater flexibility with creating scenes and section planes.

Create a new model, and import your master model into it. Now, add section planes to the model without opening the component. You also have a fresh palette for scenes as well.  This just adds another dimension of flexibility with scenes and section planes.

Don’t get too carried away with this, because it’s easy to make a project much more complex than it needs to be. But if you’re able to stay well organized, and keep track of the different versions of referenced models and remember when to update the references, this is a great method to give you more control over your model.


Comments 9

  1. Thanks Matt, I’ll implement this work flow method into a large project I’ve been developing.
    And thank you for sending me your book ‘Sketchup to Layout’. It’s made using Sketchup / Layout a real pleasure to use.
    Keep up the good work.

  2. This is an enlightening article. I have been a SketchUp user since version 3 and had no idea that it was possible to significantly conserve computer resources by importing SU files into other models. I just now used this procedure to complete a large modeling project and was very pleasantly surprised to discover that the resulting model file is roughly 50% of the size of the original base model. This information should have been prominently included in SketchUp’s introductory tutorials and videos, but I am really glad you decided to highlight it. Importing portions of the base model to recreate the full project also has helped reduce the number of “Not Responding” messages from occurring and has all but eliminated a spate of recent “Bugsplats”.

  3. Hey Matt,

    When I use “Save As” from a right click directly from a component in a model it does not save
    the file as a component. So it is not ref the original in the model. What am I missing?

  4. hi, do not konw if i am doing something wrong.
    ?When you make changes in the model ( after save the reference), how this changes are reflected in the reference that somebody in my time is working on?

    It seems that you can reload the chance only in the original model, i ca not update or reload the changes in the refence model.


    1. Post

      The external reference is a one way system. If you’re importing a model into your main model, you can’t make changes to the imported model unless you open the original, then reload it into your main model.

  5. This is a sweet feature, now they just need to to do the same with Layout. I need to be able to create schedules that are shared across multiple Layout Files, any ideas or solutions to utilizing a scrapbook item that can be updated in the document setup management menu? Having to reinsert a scrapbook item like this in it’s current form would be a hassle. Right clicking on it to reload it would be fantastic.

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