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Circus Ball in SketchUp

Jon Evans 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.

The free, web-based version of SketchUp can be found online here.

For lack of a better description for this project, let’s call it a circus ball. (Though it would also make for a neat Christmas ornament, or maybe a beach ball?)

There are three main steps to this project:

  1. Making a hexagon tower.
  2. Placing a sphere at the top of the tower.
  3. Intersecting and painting.

Create the Hexagon Tower

When you start modeling in SketchUp, you start in this view, with Helen standing on the ground. She isn’t needed in this model, so press E for the Eraser, and click on any of Helen’s edges.

From the Circle flyout toolbar on the left, activate the Polygon tool.

We want to make a hexagon: a six-sided shape. So before you do anything, type 6 and press Enter. This number appears in the Sides field in the lower right corner.

Start the hexagon at the origin, and click the second point along the red axis.

To make more hexagons from this one, activate the Offset tool.

Click anywhere inside the hexagon, then move your mouse a small distance inward. Click again to create the first offset hexagon.

Before creating another offset, move your mouse to the center of the hexagon. Double-click (click twice quickly) as many times as you need (leave a bit of time between double-clicks) to fill the hexagon with smaller and smaller hexagons, all spaced the same distance.

Now we’ll make these hexagons into a tower. Press P for the Push/Pull tool, and tap the Ctrl key (PC) or the Option key (Mac). This adds a plus sign to the cursor. Move your mouse to the very center hexagon.

Move your mouse pretty far down, and click to complete the first part of the tower.

(Why down instead of up? So that it will be easier later to place a sphere on the top of the tower. And why use the Ctrl / Option key? Because without it, you’ll end up with just an empty hexagon shell, and won’t have all of the vertical walls we’ll need later.)

Now we’ll pull down the rest of the hexagons the same distance. Orbit so that you can see the underside of the hexagons, move your mouse to the hexagon next to the one you just pulled down, and tap Ctrl / Option.

Double-click this face, to pull it down by the same distance as the first hexagon. Then do the same for the rest of the faces, tapping Ctrl / Option each time, until the whole tower is created.

When you have the whole hexagon tower completed, press the Spacebar to activate the Select tool. Press Ctrl + A or Cmd + A to select the whole tower. Then right-click on the tower and choose Make Group.

As a group, the tower will be easy to erase later, and also won’t interfere with the sphere we’re about to create.

Create the Sphere

Spheres are created using two circles. Press C for the Circle tool, but don’t click anywhere yet.

Look in the Sides box. Circles are usually made with 24 sides, which is usually fine. Most of the time, you can’t really see the individual sides of a circle, unless you zoom in very closely. But for this project, we need a smoother circle, which means our circle should have a higher number of sides. So type 120 and press Enter. (Making this number a multiple of six will mean that the intersection edges will be exactly the same on each side of the hexagons.)

The first circle will be horizontal, along the top of the tower. Zoom in closely to the smallest hexagon at the top of the tower, and place the center of the circle at the origin, which is also the center of the hexagons.

Click along the red axis to complete the circle, making it larger than the tower.

For the next circle, tap the Right arrow to keep the circle perpendicular to the red direction. Place the center at the origin, then move the mouse out (don’t click yet) and stop at the midpoint at the edge of the tower.

Move the mouse a tiny bit past that midpoint, then click to complete the circle.

To start the sphere, activate the Select tool (Spacebar) and select the larger circle.

The selected, larger circle will be used as the path for the smaller circle. Activate the Follow Me tool.

Now click the smaller circle. Because both circles have a high number of sides, it will probably take SketchUp a few moments to finish the sphere, so be patient. If you get a time-out warning from your browser, choose the option to wait.

Erase the larger circle. You should see the sphere peeking out a bit past the tower on all sides.

Select the sphere and activate the Move tool (M key). Click anywhere to start the move, and move your mouse straight down, sticking to the blue direction. Stop when the entire sphere is inside the tower, and sticking out evenly on all six sides.

Right-click on the sphere and choose Intersect Faces / With Model. (This might also take a couple minutes to complete.)

You should now see intersection edges where the sphere sticks out. There are also intersections along all of the tower walls, which you can’t see at the moment.

Erase the hexagon tower, which is easy because it’s a group. This is what you should have: a sphere with a curvy pattern of edges on it.

Now comes the fun part of painting the faces. To open the Materials window, click the icon shown below, along the right side of the window. Click the Magnifying Glass icon to open the categories of materials, and open Colors (or whatever set of materials you’d like to use).

This example uses the six rainbow colors, and has one set of faces using each color.

To reuse colors, click the House icon. (The colors you see here that aren’t used on your sphere are the ones that came with Helen, who was erased at the very beginning.)

Keep going with your pattern, until the entire sphere is painted.

Like this project and want to try it again with a slightly different pattern? Instead of a hexagon, try starting with a polygon that has a different number of sides.

Learn More

Crazy Shapes Sketchup projects


Modeling specific shapes in Sketchup


Modeling Terrain and Rounded Shapes


Lines, Shapes and 3D objects