Best Practices for Lights in SketchUp

People who know me for my Revit books and presentations are often surprised to hear that I have also written books on hand sketching and SketchUp. This post takes a break from Revit and focuses on Enscape’s support for SketchUp. This post will walk you through some best practices for lighting in SketchUp with Enscape. Simply placing special ‘Enscape Objects’ such as light sources, one can quickly turn a SketchUp model into a work of art!

SketchUp model rendered in Enscape

How to put lights in SketchUp

Unlike Revit, SketchUp does not have a way to facilitate light sources. So, to enable us to put lights in SketchUp, the Enscape team created a tool to add special objects which are recognized in Enscape; light sources, sound sources and Linked Models (i.e. proxy objects). In this post, I will focus on the light sources.

The next image simply shows the exhibit model in the native SketchUp application. This is a private residence sample project developed by the Enscape team. Take a minute to notice the various light fixtures and materials employed.

Sample model viewed in SketchUp

The first image above jumps ahead and shows the results of adding lighting sources; in the SketchUp image, they are defined by the orange-colored cones. It is easy to see the added effect of the additional light sources.

To place a light source from within SketchUp, select Extensions -> Enscape -> Enscape Objects, or click the same command on the Enscape toolbar, as shown in the image below.

Starting the Enscape Objects command

The Enscape Objects dialog appears. From here, you can place new objects and edit the previously placed ones.

In this example, a Spot object is placed relative to the modeled lighting fixtures in the ceiling. Simply click the Spot tool, and then start by clicking in the center of the light fixture. Two additional points are selected to aim the light source. Notice, the light source cone follows the cursor during placement.

Placing a light source object

Once placed, and when selected, we can adjust the Luminous Intensity and Beam Angle… another option is to assign a photometric IES file to get a more accurate product-based light distribution; these files are provided by the light fixture manufacturers.

 

Notice the representative cone size changes when the Beam Angle is adjusted. This will have an impact on the way light falls on adjacent surfaces, such as walls.

Adjusting the light source's beam angle

Selecting a light fixture’s photometric definition via the manufacturer’s provided IES file is the best way to get the most realistic results. Since the IES file fully defines the light distribution from the source, the Beam Angle option is removed. Also, as a visual cue that the light source is defined by photometry, Enscape changes the cone graphic in SketchUp, as shown below.

IES file selected to define light source

Simply use the regular SketchUp Move and Copy tools on the Enscape light sources.

Tip: Check out this Enscape provided Web Standalone link highlighting the many results possible when IES files are used to define the lighting source for the same lighting fixture geometry: click here to open the web-based model.

Enscape provided IES sample file examples

The recessed light against the wall can easily be defined with a Line or Rectangular light source.

Artificial light brightness

It is helpful to know that in Enscape, the electric lights (aka artificial) lights are on all the time. However, due to Enscape’s automatic exposure feature, they sometimes appear to be off. In the example below, I moved the lights closer to the wall to dramatize the lights hotspot on the wall, on two planes which each have a different material.

Example of light hotspot on wall due to proximity of fixture to wall

In this case, we can downplay the light intensity without having to directly edit the Enscape defined light source at each location. Enscape provides a mater override within the Enscape Visual Settings on the Atmosphere tab. In the example below, the Artificial Light Brightness slider is adjusted to about half the original brightness (54%).

Lowering the overall artificial light brightness setting

If the light fixtures were further away from the wall, but we still wanted our client to better understand the impact of the lighting at various times of day, we might increase the Artificial Light Brightness.

Increasing the overall artificial light brightness setting

The following example is rendered at nighttime to highlight the lighting from the fixtures in the scene.

Nighttime rendering highlighting interior lighting

Enscape also provides a Color Temperature setting for the entire scene via the Image tab within the Visual Settings dialog.

Adjusting Color Temperature for entire scene

With an Enscape light source selected, changing the material assigned to the component via SketchUp’s entity info, the color temperature may be adjusted for each lighting fixture. Notice the color difference in the two Sphere light sources added next to the wall.

Adjusting Color Temperature for individual lights

Finally, properly defined electric lighting affords beautiful exterior nighttime views of the design, as shown in the example below.

Exterior nighttime render

Conclusion

The images in this post speak for themselves for the most part. If you use SketchUp and would like to quickly take your design visualization to the next level in terms of graphic realism, then Enscape is the tool for you! Download the free trial and kick the tires yourself to see just how easy it is.