Skoolie converters are generally people who like to make things. A lot of us have experience with some kind of manufacturing trade—woodworking, metal fabricating, welding, etc—or just happen to be handy with tools. A smaller subset is people who have experience with virtual modeling or CAD software.
In an effort to assist those of us with limited exposure to this powerful, yet intimidating tool, this thread will discuss tips for using Trimble's
(formerly Google's) SketchUp software
The single best reason to use SketchUp is price: It's free. There is a Pro version
that sells for close to $600, but unless you're a professional architect, the basic version (called SketchUp Make) is all you'll ever need. For skoolies, it's perfect.
While SketchUp is relatively simple for CAD software, it does have a learning curve. And so we come to the first tip:
Play with the software before you attempt to model your bus. I suggest watching any of the dozens of tutorial videos produced by Trimble on YouTube
and, in another window, work with the software, trying the techniques discussed in the videos. There are lots of tricks that will help immensely when it comes to building your own model. Maybe try modeling something you have around the house; something with curves and varied surfaces. Try to get the measurements as close to the real thing as you can.
A three-button mouse, while not a requirement, does make using the software easier. (I don't use one and I've been able to work around it. There are keyboard shortcuts for the tools you'll use regularly and knowing them helps if your mouse has only one or two buttons.)
Measure your physical bus as accurately as possible
. This will make it so
much easier to get good results and prevent having to redo lots of modeling. You'd be surprised how an error as small as an inch will cause problems with placing components in your virtual model. It could be the difference between making beds fit or scrapping plans and starting over. I suggest measuring the inside
dimensions so you get an idea of how much room you'll have after you've finished the wall insulation and structure. If you measure the outside, be absolutely sure you subtract the thickness of the walls before you start to add virtual components to your model. (If you're designing a bus build before you find your "perfect bus," accurate measurements are, obviously, unnecessary, but accurate practice is good training for when you get started later.)
Take advantage of the 3D Warehouse
, an extensive collection of ready-made modeling components that you can download directly into your model. You'll find everything from windows to stoves to refrigerators to chairs. A lot of real-world manufacturers have gone to great length to create models of their products and make them available in the 3D Warehouse. Want to know if that KitchenAid fridge will fit between the IKEA base cabinets? There's probably an accurate virtual model available for both of them. If it hasn't been professionally created, there's a good chance a regular user of the software needed a copy for himself, so he built it and then shared it to the Warehouse for anyone else to use.
I'll try to think of more tips, but I encourage anyone with SketchUp experience to share any helpful tips and tricks they've learned. Also, please share any renders that you're especially proud of. Here's a few of mine (still haven't finished all the details), to show what can be accomplished:
Exterior, with outer skin and roof deck:
Skin and roof deck hidden, showing interior walls and subfloor structure, including chassis frame rails (and I just noticed something I need to fix, LOL):
Interior, driver's side shown using a section plane to cut straight through the entire vehicle and hide everything to one side of the plane:
Elevation view using another section plane to cut through and expose surfaces for a clearer image:
Interior, standing on top of the water tanks and looking to the rear of the bus: