Preferences and Tray Panel in SketchUp

Sketchup preferences and trays

In this part of SketchUp tutorial series, I’m going to talk about two places in SketchUp that you need to know about, before even starting to draw anything.

The first one is the “Preferences” window which contains some of settings for the SketchUp program and then, the “Trays” which holds the most important dialog boxes or rather, windows you will need to see the details about your structure.

The Preferences Window

I’m sure you already know that every piece of software has some sort of presets or settings that apply globally to the software’s environment, tools, to the look and feel of the interface etc.

In SketchUp, we have “Preferences” dialog box under the Window menu. So if you go ahead and click “window” on the main menu, and then select Preferences, you’ll see a dialog box pop up on the screen which looks like the following image:

There are four area in this dialog box that I want to draw your attention to because it holds some settings you need to know about when you are drawing shapes, working with edges of the shapes and so on:


If you look at the left side of Preferences dialog box, you’ll see a list which is a category of different settings. If you click Accessibility (which is the first item on this list) you’ll see some color boxes on the main section of the dialog box.

sketchup preferences dialog box

As you should remember from “3d-coordinates-in-sketchup”, I mentioned that you can change the colors for coordinate axes in SketchUp. This is where I was talking about. Here, you can set the X, Y or Z axis to whatever color you want to be.

Under the color for axes, there are two other color boxes in Magenta and Cyan. These are the colors that SketchUp will use to instruct you when you want to draw a line, perpendicular to another line or face. We’ll get into that later, when we start drawing shapes.


There’s one important setting you want to make sure is enabled. That’s to set the “Automatic Backup” for SketchUp. This is for not losing all the work you’ve done if something goes wrong with your computer, operating system or may be by a sudden power outage.

Sketchup general dialog box

Make sure all four checkboxes are checked and set the backup interval on “every 1 minute”. If you don’t want SketchUp to nag you every time an update is available, you can uncheck the last checkbox in this section which says “allow checking for updates”.


Since you’ve chosen a template once, when you ran the SketchUp program, SketchUp always remembers your choice for the next time but if by chance, you want to go ahead and change your current template, you can find the templates in this section.

Sketchup templates dialog box

From now on, when you create a new file, SketchUp will use the template your recently chose.


The last thing you might need to change in the “Preferences” dialog box is the size of the toolbox icons. If you click on Workspace in the Preferences dialog box, there’s one checkbox there which says “Use large tool buttons”.

Sketchup workspace dialog box

By default, SketchUp shows the small icons on the toolbox but if you have a poor sight or you are using a big monitor with a very high resolution, enabling this option might provide a better view of the toolbox on the screen.

Now that we are done with Preferences dialog box, let’s go to the next section of SketchUp which is absolutely vital for you to be familiar with.

Trays panel

As you know, every 3D design program has a lot of windows and sub windows which are necessary for us to see or edit an object’s properties, color, textures, layers and so on after creating them. SketchUp has tried to keep the work environment neat and clean by putting all windows for all these things into a single panel.

Sketchup tray pin

As you see, this panel keeps all the windows mentioned above in a panel called “Default Tray” which has a button sticking to the upper right side of the workspace. If by chance you don’t see this panel, you can activate it through the following path:

Click on “window” in the main menu, go to “Default Trays” and then select “Show Tray”.

Sketchup tray panel

Now by default, SketchUp hides the tray when you move your cursor off the tray, but if you need to keep the tray always present on the workspace, you can “pin” the tray by clicking the small black Pin button at the upper right side of the tray panel.

All together, there are 12 sub-panels inside the default tray but five of them are the most important ones we’re going to work with, when designing inside SketchUp:

  • Entity info
  • Outliner
  • Materials
  • Components
  • Layers

Notice that each sub-panel or rather, window will open by clicking once on its title in the Tray panel. Once you open a window, the panel adjust its height accordingly and you see all of the open panels by scrolling your mouse wheel down inside the Tray panel.

By the way, if you don’t want a window to show up inside the Tray panel, there’s a small close button at the right side of each window. You can hide that particular window from inside the Tray panel by clicking the close button but you can always bring it back by going to Window menu > default Tray and clicking on the name of your desired windows which put a checkmark beside it. This will activate the missing window any time you need it.

Now let’s go briefly through each of the five windows mentioned above to see what they do and what we’re going to use them for.

Entity info

The “Entity info” windows shows information specific to the object you’ve chosen on the workspace. These information will change depending on what you’ve selected. For example, I’ve chosen our lovely figure on the screen. A blue bounding box around the object shows that it’s already selected.

sketchup entity info

As you can see, The Entity info window shows that her name is Stacy (we’ve already met), she’s on layer 0 (we’ll talk about layers later), she’s visible, unlocked and is able to both cast and also receive shadows onto or from other objects around her.

As I said, if you choose a box or a line, the information here will be different and we’ll get into that later but as for now, you can see that you can already change four options for the selected object here. Either make the selected object invisible, lock or unlock it, or enable/disable the shadow settings, by clicking the related icons on “Entity info”.

You can also change the layer that the object is currently in by opening the “Layer” drop-down menu at the top of the Entity info. We’ll talk about layers in detail later.


This is where SketchUp shows you a complete list of all the objects you build. If you open the Outliner window, you’ll see it’s only showing Stacy. As you continue creating more objects, this list will grow. There’s a “Filter” textbox at top which allows you to search for a specific item inside the Outliner objects’ list. This is very helpful when you have a lot of items in your drawing and you’re looking for it to change its property, texture or edit it.

Outliner needs a lot more explanation than this which we’ll get into later but for now, we’ll just leave it there.


As the name of this windows suggests, this is where we choose materials that we want to apply to the faces of our objects.

The Materials window has lots of settings but for now, it’s enough to know that there’s a preview box which shows a preview of the texture and down below, there’s a list which is full of different categories of textures we’re going to need to apply to different parts of a construction. Textures like wall, roof, grass, carpet, metal, glass etc.

Under each category, there are many textures. Once you choose a material and apply it on a surface, you can change all the properties of that material, like density of the pattern, color, opacity and so on by going to the “Edit” tab inside the material window.

When we get into using materials in our projects, I’ll go much deeper into the material panel and explain all the details about the options inside.

Sketchup materials window


I’ll explain the “Components” windows later in due time but the last windows I’m going to talk about is the “Layers” window in the Tray panel. This windows is one of the most frequent windows we’re going to refere to. Every shape, object or line we build, we’re going to put it on a certain layer, just like you put movies in a different folder that the music files in your computer hard drive. So layers are just a way of organizing the object in order to avoid clutter and confusion in finding things.

Sketchup layers window

By default we only have one layer present in a new SketchUp file but imagine if you’re going to design a very complex building and you put everything in just one single layer. I assure you that would become a hassle.

You can add a new layer by clicking sign and delete an existing layer by clicking sign in Layers window. Every layer has also a radio button on the left side of each layer’s name so that you can make it the “current” layer. Keep in mind that when a layer is “current” every new object, shape or line you draw will automatically be drawn in that layer.

Also, on the right side, there’s a checkbox for each layer which is by default enabled (checked) upon creating the layer. By unchecking this checkbox for every layer, you can hide all object inside that layer.

In the next lesson, we’re going to roll up our sleeves and start drawing basic shapes in SketchUp.

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