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Google Earth: Making 3D models

Ever wonder how designers make models in 3D? Check out this free program from Google that lets you create, view and edit 3D plans quickly and easily.

Jessica Dolcourt Editorial Director, Content Operations
Jessica Dolcourt's career with CNET began in 2006, and spans reviews, reporting, analysis and commentary for desktop software; mobile software, including the very first Android and iPhone apps and operating systems; and mobile hardware, with an emphasis on iPhone and Samsung. Jessica was one of the first people in the world to test, review and report on foldable phones and 5G wireless speeds. Jessica began leading CNET's How-To section for tips and FAQs in 2019, guiding coverage of practical advice on expansive topics ranging from personal finance to phones and home. She holds an MA with Distinction from the University of Warwick (UK).
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Jessica Dolcourt
3 min read

Fly over almost any famous building in Google Earth 4 with your 3D layer turned on, and you'll be rewarded with accurate representations textured in brick, glass and stone. These models were created in Google SketchUp, many of them by members of the modelling community. If you're feeling like Frank Gehry or Frank Lloyd Wright, your models, too, can dot the landscape in Google Earth. Here are three ways your skilful constructions can appear.

Be sure to also check out how Google Sketchup's new Photo Match feature lets you make models more quickly. For a preview of everything Google Earth 4 has to offer, tune in to Neha Tiwari's video.

Method 1: Publish to Google Earth

If you have a Google account, you can upload an accurate model of a real-world structure using the Google SketchUp interface. With your finished model open, select the 3D Warehouse option from the File menu and click "Share model." After logging in to Google, you'll be able to label your model with an official name, description and location. If the model adheres to Google's submission guidelines, you can select the Google Earth Ready box and upload the image for consideration.

Method 2: Publish to your own private Earth

Maybe you don't want to publish your piece for everyone to see. If your development is a model of your dream house, or an exemplar to demonstrate a zoning issue, you're not trying to make a permanent contribution to Google Earth. However, there's still value in seeing your structure perched on terrain in the "real world." To that end, users can publish any model to their local version of Google Earth, also using Google SketchUp.

When your model is ready, launch Google Earth and fly to the location where you would like to place it. It's important to view the terrain from directly overhead, or else your model won't import correctly. Zoom in close to the surface and switch back to SketchUp.

In SketchUp, select the toolbar button that looks like a globe with a yellow arrow on its face. This will import a snapshot of your selected terrain from Google Earth. Click the "Toggle terrain" button (it looks like a flat sheet of paper) and orbit your model to make sure it's flush with the topography. After making any adjustments (you may need to raise or lower your structure), click the toolbar button of a globe with an orange arrow. This will place the model into your version of Google Earth.

Your structure will automatically load as a "temporary place" that you can rename and then save by dragging it into "My places" on the left sidebar. Your mountaintop cafe may not yet exist in the real world, but it can live on forever in your version of this app.

Method 3: Publish via the 3D Warehouse

Let's say your structure is a full artistic rendering of a now-ruined castle or a smokin' futuristic desk lamp. Your work is not a lifelike replica for Google Earth, but it's too cool not to share. You'll want to publish it to the 3D Warehouse -- a repository for add-on items such as tables and lamps, as well as full-fledged structures such as stadiums, famous buildings and homes. Anyone can import elements from the 3D Warehouse into designs or export creations for public use.

Adding a model to the 3D Warehouse is simple. Upload it following the same steps as in Method 1 above, but do not check the Google Earth Ready box.