This post is adapted from an exercise that appeared in the first edition of Architectural Design with SketchUp (Chapter 5) but that I have since removed from the book. I hope you find it useful.

For this (clearly non-architectural) example, let’s assume you want to preview a T-shirt design that you created in SketchUp using an image of a T-shirt model. This example uses SketchUp’s styles and especially the watermarking feature and can be adapted for many other (non-clothing) uses, too. It even works with the web version of the program. So, without further ado, here are the steps you can take to create and preview a T-shirt design in SketchUp:

Tutorial Steps

  1. Let’s start with a simple SketchUp model—a sphere within a rectangular box. Of course, you may pick whatever design you like. Let’s just assume that we wanted to make a sketchy-looking T-shirt with this design, and that we needed to preview how it will look.
  1. Open the Styles panel and select the Edit tab. The icons at the top of the tab provide access to the various style settings. Click on the fourth icon (the Watermark settings). After you click on the plus symbol to add a new watermark, find and select the background image that will appear behind our SketchUp model. Because this is a design sample for a T-shirt, I used a torso picture of a male figure in a white shirt onto which I will layer my design.
  1. In the set of dialogs that appear during this process, make sure you place this image as a “background” watermark and not as an “overlay”. Leave all other settings as defaults. This is what you should see now:
  1. Let’s now work on fixing the appearance of the edges in the model. In the same Edit tab in the Styles panel, click on the first icon (the Edge settings). Then change the settings for Edges and Profiles as shown here. To get the sketchy line appearance, click on the “Mix” tab and find a sketchy edge style that you like. Then click and drag that style onto the “Edge Settings” box to apply it to our model.
  1. Under the last icon on the Edit tab (the Modeling settings), deselect the display of the model axes and any other distracting elements. You should now see the following completed model in SketchUp’s viewport.
  1. At this point, the graphic is overlaid on the image, which is good for pre-viewing the design but not useful if you want to actually print this on a T-shirt. To create a printable graphic, hide the watermarks by unchecking “Display watermarks” (again under the Edit tab) and then zoom so that the graphic fills the viewport. You can now export the image as a file by going to File > Export > 2D Graphic…. In the export options, it is best if you choose PNG as the file format, turn on transparency, and then select a reasonably high image resolution. You may need to try out several line scale multipliers until the lines show the thickness you are expecting. Here is the final export of my design:

You can now print this onto a shirt using any of the custom T-shirt services out there.

While this might be quite an uncommon use of Styles—let alone SketchUp—it showed you the settings you can modify in the Styles window. Feel free to save the style for future use (right-click on the style icon in the Styles window and select “Save As”).

Some Tips

  • If your design extends beyond the available T-shirt space (as shown in the left image below), then you need to do some additional work. Using Photoshop (or any other capable software), create a cutout overlay from the base image where you make the area of the T-shirt transparent. This can be done with Photoshop tools like “object selection” and “create mask from selection.” Once created, apply the cutout image as an overlay watermark as shown below. You could even add a copy of the original image as a blended overlay to meld everything together visually.
  • Raster image formats like JPG or PNG cannot be scaled up too much without appearing grainy. Therefore, make sure you set the resolution of the exported image reasonably high, especially if you intend to print the image quite large on the shirt. Vector image formats like PDF or EPS are much more scalable (i.e. they will deliver crisp lines at any size), but you cannot use those with sketchy lines. You can, however, import those into vector art software like Illustrator and then assign custom linework there.

Interactive Model

If you want to experiment with this, then you can find my SketchUp file on the 3D Warehouse or simply interact with it by clicking on the image below.

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