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Thinking Outside the Box

Frankieleon on Flickr

SketchUp is a free and fun program for 3D modeling. You can use SketchUp to design just about anything, from furniture to a dream bedroom to an entire city. We’ll be doing a bit more simple in this project – modeling a box of Cheerios (or whatever type of box suits you).

There is a downloadable version called SketchUp Make, which you can get at www.sketchup.com. But they also have a web-based version which works right in your Internet browser. This version is called my.sketchup, and to use it just go to www.my.sketchup.com.

All you need for this project is a photo or two of the box you want to model. You can use Google Images to find your photos, or just take the photos yourself. You also need to take measurements of your box.

I took two pictures of a box of Honey Nut Cheerios. This picture gives a pretty good view of the front and top of the box:

And I’ll use this picture for the side of the box:

For your project, if you use your own photos, be sure to save them in a folder you’ll remember. If you want to download photos, right-click on them and use one of the saving options.

Here are the measurements of my Cheerios box:

13” tall, 9-1/2” wide, and 2-5/8” deep.

Now let’s get all of this in my.sketchup!

First, I want to make sure I’m starting out with the correct units (inches). Click the Folder icon at the top left and choose New.

Choose the units template that’s right for you. I’m choosing “Feet and Inches.”

The file opens, with Josh standing in the center. We don’t need him in our cereal box model, so use the Eraser to get rid of him.

Now we’ll start on the box, using its measurements. Start with the Rectangle tool (shortcut: R, or use the icon).

To start the rectangle, click the origin – the point where the red, green, and blue axes meet. Release the mouse button (no dragging!), then move the mouse to where you think the other corner should be. Make sure one side is longer than the other side. You can click to complete the rectangle (even though it’s not the right size yet) or just leave it as a preview.

This is when we make the rectangle the correct size. Look in the Dimensions field in the lower right corner. You’ll see two numbers: one larger than the other. What my rectangle should measure is 13-1/2” in the longer direction, and 2-5/8” in the shorter direction. In this example, the shorter dimension is listed first (about 1’-1”) and the longer dimension listed second (about 2’-5”).

To keep the long and short directions the same, I’m entering the short length first, then a comma, then the long length. SketchUp provides several ways for entering feet, inches, and fractions. In my example, I’m typing 2 5/8, 9.5. But I could enter 2.625, 9 1/2. I don’t have to type the “ symbol, because the model units are already inches.

This is important: when you need to enter numbers in SketchUp, you never have to click in the Dimensions field. (In fact, if you do click in this field, you’ll end whatever operation you’re working on.) So just type, and the numbers will appear. Then press Enter.

Now my first rectangle – the base of the cereal box – is exactly right. The next step is to pull up this rectangle to complete the box. This is done with the Push/Pull tool (shortcut: P)

To pull up, click the rectangle, don’t keep the mouse button pressed, and move the mouse up. Like before, you can click to complete the pull at any height, or just leave it hanging.

The box height should be 13”. So type 13 (or type 1’1) and press Enter.

Now we have our “blank” cereal box, and we’re ready to paint it with the photos. I’m going to paint the front of the cereal box first, using the photo that shows both the front and top of the box.

Click the same folder icon we used before, and choose Insert.

Click the computer icon, to browse for the photo.

Browse to find your photo and click Open or press Enter.

There are two ways to insert a photo: as an image (a stand-alone, painted rectangle), or as a material. We want to directly paint a face with this photo, so choose Material.

The photo becomes attached to the cursor. Click anywhere on the front face of the box to start the material placement. Remember, don’t keep the mouse button pressed.

Move the mouse to size the photo to take up most of the face. We’ll fix the exact size later.

As soon as you click the second corner to complete the material placement, the photo gets painted onto the face. And it tiles – it repeats left to right, up and down.

To fix the photo to match the front of the box, right-click on the face and choose Texture / Position.

Here’s what you’ll probably see: a set of four pins surrounding one image, and each pin is a different color. These are “fixed pins,” which are useful for repeating materials like stone or brick, but not so helpful for a photo like this one.

Right-click on the face again, and choose Fixed Pins, in order to turn those off.

When fixed pins are turned off, they’re replaced with “Free Pins” – four identical white pins. One by one, click each pin to “lift” it off the image, and drop each pin at one corner of the box in the photo. The little circle at the lower left of each pin is the point you want to match to the photo.

Now click and drag each free pin to the correct corner of the box.

If you need to adjust your photo’s position, you can click to move a pin slightly, then drag it again. When all looks good, right-click again and choose Done.

This ends the texture positioning for the front face. Looks good so far.

The photo I used just now also shows the top of the box. So rather than painting that face from scratch with the same photo, I’m going to start with the photo that’s already positioned on the front face. To “sample” the positioned photo, open the Paint fly-out icon and click the eyedropper.

Click the painted front face to pick up its material…

…then click the top face to paint it with the same photo. Where the two faces meet, the photo is already positioned correctly.

But the top of the photo needs some adjusting. Enter texture positioning like we did before, and this time the two lower pins are already in place.

So move the higher two pins into place on the photo…

…and drag those pins into place.

Right-click and choose Done, and now two faces are painted.

For the side face, I’m inserting the other photo…

…and positioning into place.

What about the back face? I don’t have a picture of the back, but I can cheat and copy the front face to the back. Use the eyedropper to sample the front photo and click the back face to paint the same image…

…which comes out backwards. Not to worry, this is an easy fix.

Right-click on the backward photo to position it, then right-click again and choose Flip / Left/Right.

This flips the photo to face the right way, but it’s probably moved out of position. This is another easy fix.

The pins are already in the right spots on the photo. But instead of dragging each pin to its corner, just drag to slide the entire image over to fit its rectangle.

Right-click and choose Done, and here you go!

Try this technique with any sort of box you can find. You can even use the Free-Pin positioning to create a TV screen…

…or even an aquarium!

Learn More

SketchUp Help Center: Adding Colors and Textures with Materials


SketchUp: Images, Textures, Fixed and Free Pins


SketchUp Tutorial: Aligning Textures Using the Fixed Pins


SketchUp Textures