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Sketchlife beta

What is Sketchlife?

Sketchlife is a system which allows you to build for Second Life using SketchUp.

The in-world building tools in Second Life must have the friendliest learning curve of all the 3D environments I've seen, but they are stone age compared to the 3D modelling power tool that is SketchUp. SketchUp is free. (Thank you Google!) Though now that SketchUp has been sold, and its licence terms clarified :) you might have to use the old version that seems to have been free for commercial use.

The achievement of Second Life was in establishing an immersive environment for creativity that ignited motivation in young and old to start building: it removed all sorts of barriers to entry and gently made you aware that the tools are on your screen and you are one click away from conjuring a little cube of your own.
The achievement of SketchUp was to bring the first hints of common sense to software that helped you draw 3D on a 2D screen by guessing what you mean. It is by far the best tool for those who don't work in 3D modelling ten hours a day, but even full-time architects use it heavily. (I know from my cousin, who works at a large architecture firm.)

When we were faced with a demanding project — which was to build several iconic buildings of our university in Second Life, based on our existing Google Earth models — I decided that it will be simpler and more fun to partially automate the process, as the prospect of doing something serious with existing Second Life tools seemed too much of a chore. Sketchlife was the result of that effort, and is now available to everyone.

Sketchlife Hello World video — start here

This video shows a very simple model of the words "Hello World" being built and uploaded using Sketchlife tools. It demonstrates the process: press "Export", copy and paste the model key, drop the textures into the texture box, and, finally, copy and paste the build key. The process is the same for all models.

(If the video does not appear here, you can find it on YouTube.)


The most complicated model imported to date is St. Basil's Cathedral, originally modelled by Arrigo Silva and featured on Google Earth.

Teleport: click here (this is an SL-URL).

St. Basil's Cathedral

There are more screenshots on the Examples page.


1. The most important part of Sketchlife is the SketchUp extension. It is a Ruby script which uses the API provided by SketchUp to add several tools on a toolbar (inside SketchUp).

Sketchlife toolbar in SketchUp

From left to right:

  1. Box primitive tool.
  2. General cylinder primitive tool.
  3. Simple cylinder primitive tool.
  4. Arch tool.
  5. Sketchlife bucket.
  6. Select All Sketchlife primitives.
  7. Remove non-Sketchlife-primitives from current selection.
  8. Export selected primitives to Second Life.

2. The second most important element of Sketchlife is the Sketchlife Importer. It is an object in Second Life which looks like this:

The Sketchlife Importer

It builds the object that you import.


The main strengths of using Sketchlife rather than the conventional building tools in Second Life are:


Per primitive:L$1
A model containing only one prim with at most one textured face can be imported for free.

For large, fully-textured models we have imported, the price of using Sketchlife was approximately the same as the price of uploading the textures. This combined cost is in all cases much smaller than the time investment required to build any given model. Also, the ongoing cost of land hire greatly outweighs this cost, even if everything on a parcel was to be constructed with Sketchlife.

The free option allows hassle-free experimentation.

Demonstration video

This video shows another simple, but this time useful, example of how to use Sketchlife. In this example I make a tile, replicate it and then stretch a texture over it. This application may be useful in itself, but the video is also there for getting to know Sketchlife, as it shows the whole process of getting a model done, from start to finish.

(If the video does not appear here, you can find it on YouTube.)

If you would like to do something like what is shown in the video, here is a (zipped up) SketchUp file, with 26×26 tiles covering a 256 metre square, with some overlap. That covers a whole island exactly, so you will probably want to delete some of the tiles. The overlap and transparent sides of the tiles are intentional, as otherwise you will get flickering pixels as you move the viewpoint. (The UWA crest from the video was updated to have overlap and transparent sides.)

Process (briefly)

From here, follow the prompts of the web dialog, and the Sketchlife Importer. Below is a summary of what will take place.

The above description is expanded in the Details section.

How do I get it?

  1. If you don't have SketchUp installed, download and install SketchUp. (If you're planning to use it commercially, you may wish to consider the older SketchUp 8.)
  2. Download the file sketchlife.zip and unzip it directly into the SketchUp/Plugins/ directory (which can be different for different users, for example C:\Program Files\Google\Google SketchUp 7\Plugins\ on Windows, and Macintosh HD/Library/Application Support/Google SketchUp 7/SketchUp/plugins/ on Mac).
    The contents of the ZIP file should go into this plugins directory. This is a file called sketchlife.rb and a folder called Sketchlife.
    (If you need more help with this step, see this page for Windows users, or this page for Mac users.)
  3. (Re-start SketchUp.)
  4. In Second Life, ask someone called Jayjay Zifanwe (the architect of the University of Western Australia in Second Life project) for a (free) copy of the Sketchlife Importer.
  5. Now you have everything you need.

More information

On the Tools page, we have a description of how to draw prims and use other tools.

The export process (from when the Export button is clicked) is fully described on the Details page.

More information about how Sketchlife has been implemented can be found on the Inside page.

What's on the other pages here?


Evgeni Sergeev
2009 — created
2015 — latest update