Create A 3d Model From 2d Data

You can use Google SketchUp to model your 2D data into 3D.

The charts and graph options that are often packaged into desktop spreadsheet applications, such as Microsoft Excel and Apple’s Numbers, are ways to quickly display the relationships between sets of numbers or other types of information. To really wow your audience, though, you can take that two-dimensional data and transform it into a three-dimensional model, allowing you to orbit around the information in real time and making the data truly feel “hands-on.”


1. Download and install Google SketchUp on to your computer, and then double-click on the program to open it.

2. Decide what type of model you need to draw to best represent your data, such as a bar or stacked bar chart, pie chart or other form. If you have already graphed your data in a 2D graph then you can use that graph as the basis for your model.

3. Create a new document in SketchUp by selecting “File” in the menu bar and then “New.”

4. Change the units of your drawing by selecting “View” in the menu bar, then “Animation” and then “Settings” to open up the “Model Info” window. Navigate down to the selection titled “Units,” on the left-hand side of the window and change the format to be “Decimal,” “Feet,” and the precision to be “0′.” This will make every foot in the model represent one point of data from your spreadsheet.

5. Close the “Model Info” window and select the “Rectangle” tool from the tool bar. For this exercise you’ll be creating a bar graph, but you can use the technique for any form of 3D graphing model. Click at the origin point of the drawing, where the blue, green and red axes meet, and drag to begin drawing a rectangle. Then type in “1,1” to finish creating a rectangle that is 1 by 1 in size.

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6. Select the “Push/Pull” tool from the tool bar, click on the face of your rectangle and move the cursor upwards. Refer back to your spreadsheet data to determine how tall your bar should be, remembering that each point of data, whether a percent or a year or a value, represent 1 foot in the model.

7. With your first bar created, use the same method to create each additional bar. You can even use the “Move/Copy” tool, located in the tool bar, to copy one bar into a new position and then adjust its height using the “Push/Pull” tool.

8. Return back to the first bar you created, at the drawing’s origin point, and choose the “Select” tool from the tool bar. Click on the line segment of the bar that lies along the red axis. Clicking on it will turn it blue. Then select the “Move/Copy” tool from the tool bar, hold the “Option” key on your keyboard to toggle “Copy” and drag a copy of the line segment 1 foot away from the bar, along the green line.

9. Use the “Copy” ability of the “Move/Copy” tool again to make a copy of your new line segment 1 foot in the vertical direction, along the blue axis.

10. Immediately after creating this copy, type an asterisk using your keyboard, followed by the number of vertical points in the graph your data requires. For example, if your chart was showing percentages, it is likely you would have 100 lines, one for each percent. Type in the number of points you need, subtracted by one (as you already have one point created), and hit the “Enter” key on your keyboard.

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11. Use the same method to create the points for your horizontal axis.

12. Select “Tools” from the menu bar and choose “3D Text.” Enter the label of one of your axis, choose the font and size and then click “Place” to create a model of that text. Repeat for the label of the other axis. Once created, use the “Move/Copy,” “Scale” and “Rotate” tools, all found in the tool bar, to position the labels as you see fit.

13. Choose “Materials” from under “Window” in the menu bar to open the “Colors” palette. Selecting colors in this palette and then clicking on portions of your model gives you the opportunity to add color to each of your bars and text, making them visually stand out.

14. Select “Window” in the menu bar and then “Shadows” to open up the “Shadows Settings” palette. Click the check box labeled “Display Shadows” and then alter the settings found in the palette to adjust the brightness, location and length of the shadows cast by your model.

15. Choose “Save As…” under “File” in the menu bar to save your model. Whenever you open this model on your computer you can now use the “Orbit” tool to pan and zoom around, illustrating your data in 3D.