SolidWorks: Learn The Basics In 1 Hour

Updated Nov 6, 2022
Solidworks Learn The Basics - Laptop and Notepad on Desk

SolidWorks is by far one of the most prominent Computer-Aided Design (CAD) programs out there—we’ve certainly spoken about it enough on our blog! Developed in the 1990s, SolidWorks has only increased in popularity and reputation over the years. In fact, the software currently boasts a user base of more than 6 million people drawn from different professions, including designers, engineers, manufacturers/makers, entrepreneurs, and students, according to a SolidWorks blog. (It is used across industries spanning from aerospace, marketing and sales, and data management to design, engineering and construction, and simulation.)

Needless to say, a program that’s lasted this long and has such a massive customer base across multiple industries must have a lot to offer in terms of its capabilities and applications. It is, in fact, one of the top 10 best 3D CAD software on the market today. However, if you’ve never used it before, you might struggle getting to grips with the SolidWorks basics—even if you’re accustomed to other CAD software. To make things easier for you, Scan2CAD has put together an essential guide to learning SolidWorks basics in 1 hour. We’ll cover what to expect from the interface, its drawing and editing tools, extra resources and much more. 


About SolidWorks

History of SolidWorks

SolidWorks history traces back to December 1993 when founder Jon Hirschtick assembled a team of developers to create 3D CAD software. At that time, Jon had made $1 million from his participation as a player and instructor on the MIT Blackjack Team.

The software development process took about two years, with the team Jon had assembled releasing SolidWorks in 1995 on Windows OS. This program breathed life into the CAD industry by adding 3D modeling capabilities in a market where AutoCAD had already created a name for itself by facilitating 2D drafting. SolidWorks’ introduction shook the foundations of CAD, changing how engineers and designers turned their ideas into visual but virtual creations.

SolidWorks continued making an impression on scores of people. It even sparked the interest of Dassault Systèmes, a company best known for CATIA. In 1997, Dassault Systèmes acquired SolidWorks in a transaction valued at about $310 million. At that time, SolidWorks already had offices worldwide, distributed its products in 43 nations, and had over 3,000 customers. Presently, SolidWorks is developed and sold by Dassault Systèmes SolidWorks Corporation, a subsidiary of Dassault Systèmes.

What is SolidWorks Used For?

SolidWorks is a leading 3D CAD and Computer-Aided Engineering (CAE) design software. In addition to enabling 2D drawing and 3D modeling, SolidWorks facilitates access to the 3DExperience® cloud platform, allowing users to use powerful cloud-based tools that cover the entire product development lifecycle. These include data management, advanced simulation, collaboration, manufacturing, and production. (SolidWorks offers products for each of these segments.) This article shall, however, focus on SolidWorks 3D CAD software.

SolidWorks 3D CAD is desktop software for design and engineering currently available only on Windows computers. It offers an extensive suite of 2D design, 3D modeling, and product development tools that enable you to conceptualize, create, validate, communicate, manage, and convert your ideas into designs. It achieves this through the following tools:

  • 2D drawing and 3D modeling tools that support the creation of accurate 2D designs as well as complex parts and assemblies
  • Cost estimation tools and manufacturability checks that enable you to design for manufacturing and cost
  • Standardized data management tools
  • Integrated motion and stress analysis tools

SolidWorks Basics

How to Download SolidWorks

There are two main approaches you can use to download SolidWorks:

Approach 1: Buy SolidWorks

SolidWorks offers several ways using which you can buy the product. These different options differ based on the use case you have in mind. For instance, if you want to use it for commercial purposes, you can elect to ‘Get a demo’ or ‘Get a quote,’ while in if you are in Academia, SolidWorks requires you to ‘Contact Sales.’ Regardless of the approach you choose, you have to provide the SolidWorks team with some details, including your email address.

How to Buy SolidWorks

How to Buy SolidWorks (source)

To request a quote, follow the procedure below:

  1. Click on the call-to-action button based on your intended use case
  2. Key in your (professional) email address and hit ‘Next.’
  3. Select your ‘Level of Interest’ from the drop-down menu
    The options include: Browsing/General Interest, Beginning Investigation, Evaluating Products, and Ready to Purchase. In addition, you can toggle a switch to agree to receive marketing communication. (You can click on submit agreeing to this option.)
  4. Click on ‘Submit’
  5. You will receive further communication from SolidWorks representatives on how to proceed

Do note, however, that this process can be slow as you must await feedback from SolidWorks’ representatives before you can download the software.

Approach 2: Download

To use this second approach, you must have a SolidWorks account and be logged in. To download the software, follow the steps below:

  1. Search ‘Download SolidWorks’ on the search engine’s search bar and click on the ‘Download | Support’ result. Alternatively, simply click this link
  2. Log in with your SolidWorks ID
  3. Select the SolidWorks version from the ‘Select Version’ drop-down menu
    Here, you can choose SolidWorks 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022, or 2023 versions. In some cases, however, the download links may not be available. Instead, the website will display this statement: ‘Login or full access to the latest SolidWorks release and updates.’ If that is the case, contact your local reseller or SolidWorks support/representative.
  4. Click on the link titled ‘SolidWorks Products’
    The various options displayed herein will all be based on the version you will have selected in step 3 above
  5. Accept the license agreement by clicking on ‘Accept License & Continue.’
  6. Hit the ‘Download’ button, which downloads the setup application

How to Install SolidWorks

To install SolidWorks 3D CAD desktop software, ensure your computer is connected to the internet. Next, follow this procedure:

  1. Open the downloaded setup application, which automatically unzips about 150 files. Next, click on ‘OK.’
  2. Select the ‘Install on this computer’ option on the SolidWorks Installation Manager and hit ‘Next.’
    Installation Options on SolidWorks Installation Manager

    Installation Options on SolidWorks Installation Manager

  3. Enter your serial number for each of the SolidWorks products you want to use
    As this article focuses on SolidWorks 3D CAD, ensure you have checked the ‘SolidWorks’ box under the ‘3D Design’ section. If you do not have a serial number, you can simply click on ‘Next’ to begin your 30-day free trial, known as a grace period. Clicking ‘Next’ connects to SolidWorks servers and updates the downloader.
    SolidWorks Installation Manager

    SolidWorks Installation Manager

  4. Accept the terms of SolidWorks and hit ‘Download and Install.’
    Once the SolidWorks Installation Manager downloads the software, it will ask you whether you want to ‘Pause installation’ or ‘Install Now.’
  5. Click on ‘Install Now’ to begin the installation
  6. Hit ‘Finish’ to complete the installation
    You can choose to join SolidWorks’ customer experience improvement program by checking the appropriate circle.

As you can see from the procedures and discussions above, SolidWorks’ website does not contain a direct download link. Instead, you must go through its representatives or resellers to download the software. Of course, you can get access to the application via unauthorized channels. But we recommend against this practice as it can expose you to malware and ransomware.

SolidWorks Free Trial

You can trial the application by accessing it online via Amazon Appstream 2.0. (The online product’s interface is similar to the desktop software’s.) Do note, however, that this trial is timed – SolidWorks gives you about two hours per session. You can, however, extend the free trial by another two hours should the need arise. To begin your free trial, follow the procedure below:

  1. Create an account with My SolidWorks free trial page and log in to your account
  2. Click on the ‘Try SolidWorks’ tab
  3. Agree to the terms and conditions stipulated on the page and click launch

How to Set Up SolidWorks

Once the SolidWorks Installation Manager has completed the installation, you can open the SolidWorks 3D CAD software by double-clicking its icon on your desktop. Upon initialization, you will observe that the software will open the Product Activation window that prompts you to activate it ‘now’ or ‘later.’ If you do not have a serial number, you can choose the second option (later) and hit ‘Finish.’ This section will contain information on the days left in your grace period.

SolidWorks 2022 Product Activation Window

SolidWorks 2022 Product Activation Window (source)

Nonetheless, if you have the serial number, you can simply choose that option, follow the prompts on the resulting window, and hit ‘Finish.’ The software will again display the license agreement. Finally, hit ‘Accept’ to proceed. This opens the SolidWorks welcome page shown in the image below.

Welcome to SolidWorks 2022 Window

Welcome to SolidWorks 2022 Window

If you want to create a new ‘Part,’ ‘Assembly,’ or ‘Drawing,’ click on the respective icons. Clicking one of these options will open the ‘Units and Dimension Standards’ window that, as the name suggests, prompts you to choose the default units and dimension standards. (You can also change these parameters later, as detailed below.) Finally, click on ‘OK.’

Units and Dimension Standard Window on SolidWorks

If you selected ‘Drawing,’ SolidWorks will require you to set the sheet size.

Sheet Format/Size Window on SolidWorks

Sheet Format/Size Window on SolidWorks

Orientation

As you would with any other new program, you need to give yourself time to look over the SolidWorks interface. This will give you the chance to figure out where certain tools are located and how you can activate commands. You could just throw yourself into the deep end with SolidWorks, but if you’ve not got the time to wing it, we recommend just giving yourself 10 to 15 minutes to look everything over. 

SolidWorks Online User Interface

SolidWorks Online User Interface

User Interface

As we have highlighted above, the user interface is the same regardless of whether you are using the online product (during the free trial) or the desktop software. That said, the interface changes based on what you are creating: a part, assembly, or drawing. The changes are, however, not significant. They mainly relate to the tabs, ribbons, and menus. For instance, if you are creating a part (as in the interface screenshot above), the interface will have the following tabs: Features, Sketch, Surfaces, Direct Editing, Evaluate, and SolidWorks Add-Ins. If you are working on an assembly, you will be provided with the following tabs: Assembly, Layout, Sketch, Markup, Evaluate, SolidWorks Add-Ins, and MBD (Model-Based Definition).

Assembly Tabs on SolidWorks

Assembly Tabs on SolidWorks

Lastly, if you are creating a 2D drawing, the tabs will include: Drawing, Annotation, Sketch, MarkUp, Evaluate, Solidworks Add-Ins, and Sheet Format. Moreover, in the event you are creating a 2D drawing from a part or assembly, the tabs will include: View Layout, Annotation, Sketch, Solidworks Add-Ins, Sheet Format, and SolidWorks Inspection.

Drawing Tabs on SolidWorks

Drawing Tabs on SolidWorks

Screenshot of the Design Tree in SolidWorks

Image source: SolidWorks

Menus

To start things off, you’ll be able to find the standard menu bar directly at the top of the screen. This will be familiar to almost all users—it’s just like the menu you’d find on any Windows program. Here you’ll find options like File, Open, Save, Print, Undo and so on. Just below this bar is the CommandManager section. This gives users access to Part, Assembly, Drawing and Editing tools. If you look closely, you’ll see it broken down further into sub-sections including Features, Sketches, Sheet Metal, Evaluate, DimXpert and Office Products.

The CommandManager updates based on the tools you want to access. For example, if you click on the Sketches tab, the sketch toolbar then appears. Want to make it more individualized? Just right-click a tab and select Customize CommandManager, select a category to see the tool buttons you can add or right-click the new tab to rename it.

On the left-hand side of your window, you’ll see a box which contains the FeatureManager Design Tree. This box gives you an overview of how your part, assembly or drawing is constructed. Using it, you can select items in your model by name or even filter the design tree. And that’s not all—you could use it to identify and change the order in which your features are created. Other uses include viewing parent/child relations by right-clicking a feature and selecting Parent/Child. At the bottom of the window, you’ll see the status bar. As the name suggests, it gives you live information on aspects like mouse movements, sketch status and coordinates information.

Commands

If you’re an AutoCAD user, you’re probably wondering why you can’t see a command line at the very bottom of the window. Don’t worry—SolidWorks has commands, they’re just activated with a search bar. Look at the top ribbon on the right-hand side and you’ll see a search function for SolidWorks Help. Click the drop down arrow next to it and select Commands to activate the command search. Once you’ve done so, you can then start typing in the commands you’re after. Want to know where a command’s located? Just click the glasses icon to the right of the command.


Before You Start Drawing

Before you get stuck into the real fun of this guide—drawing and editing—you might want to make a few changes to your user interface just to make things a bit easier and more accessible for you. Seeing as you’ll probably be spending a large chunk of your time staring at your SolidWorks window—if you want to be a pro, anyway—you might want to make some changes to the default background settings. To change the background brightness—and make it easier on your eyes—simply click Options > System Options > Colors. You can then pick from options including Light (default), Medium Light, Medium or Dark. You can even choose colors for the text in your FeatureManager Design Tree by selecting FeatureManager Design Tree Text under Color Scheme settings.

Screenshot of FeatureManager in SolidWorks

Image source: SolidWorks

As we like to remind readers in all of our basics guides, it’s always a good idea to check your unit system. If you like to use a specific unit or dimension for all of your drawings, you can set a standard for default templates. The dialog box typically pops up when your first open a document template. There you can choose from the following unit options:

  • IPS: inch, pound, second
  • MMGS: millimeter, gram, second
  • CGS: centimeter, gram, second
  • MKS: meter, kilogram, second

You can also choose your dimension standards from ANSI, ISO, DIN, JIS, BSI, GOST and GB. If you’d rather stick to the default settings but change the units or dimensions for individual drawings, it couldn’t be simpler. To change the unit system, just head to Tools > Options > Document Properties > Units. To change the dimension standards, select Detailing instead.

Interested in Customizing Your Tools and Workspace? 

One of the main things that differentiates beginners and experts in SolidWorks is customization ability. With SolidWorks, there’s plenty of situations in which you can take advantage and customize. If you’re interested, simply head to top tips and tricks for SolidWorks newbies. There you’ll find tips on customizing mouse gestures, toolbars and menus. We’ve even included tips for using multiple display and the Copy Settings Wizard.


Drawing, Editing, and Saving

Once you’ve got the ‘difficult’ parts out of the way, you can finally take a stab at the actual drawing and editing capabilities in SolidWorks. Arguably this is the easiest—and most fun—part of this whole guide. There’s a huge assortment of tools on offer with SolidWorks.

Drawing and Editing Tools

If you’ve worked with other CAD software like AutoCAD or DraftSight, you’ll be familiar with the geometric shapes on offer. Moving beyond common shapes like lines, circles and rectangles, other sketching entities include:

  • Centerpoint arc: creates arcs from a center point, start point and end point.
  • Corner rectangle: creates a rectangle using opposite corners as a guide
  • Straight slot: creates a straight slot using three mouse clicks, which define the starting point, length of the slot, and the width
  • Midpoint line: creates a line symmetrical from the midpoint of the line.
  • Conic: sketches conic curves driven by endpoints and a Rho value.
  • Polygons: creates equilateral polygons with any number of sides between 3 and 40.

Of course, it’s not all about the drawing tools—you also need to take advantage of the extensive modification tools on offer. Examples include:

  • Trim: trims down objects to a selected cutting edge.
  • Fillet: changes sharp edges into round edges.
  • Mirror: creates a mirror image of your object.
  • Chamfer: creates an angled corner between two lines.
  • Offset: offsets the sketch entities a specific distance

We’re just scraping the surface here—SolidWorks has a massive range of tools that enable users to create almost everything imaginable. So take the time to try it all out. It doesn’t matter if you just take an afternoon to click through all the icons or an entire week. The more familiar you are with the drawing and editing tools, the better off you’ll be in the long run.

As a beginner, you may not have the prowess to create 3D models right off the bat. But that is not to say that you cannot practice; after all, practice makes perfect. To help you in that journey, we compiled an article listing 13 sites where you can access free SolidWorks models. The main benefit of these sites is that you do not have to spend a cent on any of the models, meaning you can download and work on an infinite number of them.

SolidWorks Keyboard Shortcuts

Furthermore, SolidWorks also enables you to speed up your flow by using its default keyboard shortcuts. In fact, you can customize the shortcuts to better improve the user experience. To do this, simply click Tools > Customize and select the Keyboard tab. Generally, however, using SolidWorks becomes a breeze once you get used to the default shortcuts.

SolidWorks features the following universal shortcuts (summarized in the table below):

Shortcut

Command

Ctrl + W

Close

Ctrl + S

Save

Ctrl + P

Print

Ctrl + Z

Undo

Ctrl + Y

Redo

Ctrl + X

Cut

Ctrl + C

Copy

Ctrl + V

Paste

The software also has some in-house shortcuts, summarized in the table below:

Shortcut

Command

Ctrl + B

Rebuild

Ctrl + Shift + B

Rebuild all configurations

Ctrl + Shift + C

Copy appearance

Ctrl + Shift + V

Paste appearance

Ctrl + R

Redraw

SpaceBar

Orientation

F

Zoom to fit

Ctrl + Shift + Z

Previous view

F3

Quick snaps

F9

FeatureManager Tree Area

F10

Toolbars

Ctrl + F1

Task pane

F11

Fullscreen

G

Magnified selection

T

Select over geometry

Ctrl + A

Select all

L

Line

Ctrl + F2

Welcome to the SolidWorks window

H

Help

W

Search commands

I

Files and models

You can check out our article on SolidWorks keyboard shortcuts for a more comprehensive list.

Saving Files

To save an assembly, part, or drawing, click File > Save As. On the Save As window, enter the file name. SolidWorks uses a different file extension for each of these options:

  • A part is saved as .prt or .sldprt
  • An assembly is saved as .asm or .sldasm
  • A drawing is saved as .drw or slddrw

Extra Resources

SolidWorks logo

Well, there you have it—we’ve covered the basics of SolidWorks. Want to impress your friends with your SolidWorks skills? Looking to become a SolidWorks expert? You can only really get so far with our basics guide by yourself. While it is worthwhile testing everything out by yourself, you will eventually need to invest some time—and possibly money—in additional tuition. Why? As we’ve said, SolidWorks has a huge number of capabilities and advanced features. So, if you’re fully committed to learning, you’ll have to put in some effort. Worry not—we’ve compiled a few top resources to get you started.

Official ResourcesSolidWorks TutorialsYouTube Channels
SolidWorks provides all types of users with a wide variety of resources to take advantage of. Below we’ve listed official blogs, tutorials—including webinars—and guides.

Moving beyond official SolidWorks resources, there’s a realm of tutorials on offer out there. Written by SolidWorks experts, you’re sure to learn a lot.

Prefer a more hands-on approach for learning how to use software? That’s fine—there’s a wide range of YouTube channels dedicated to helping people master SolidWorks.


SolidWorks Alternatives

If you are undecided on whether SolidWorks is the best choice for your design work, you could benefit from resources that compare the capabilities of various 3D CAD software with SolidWorks. We have, for one, discussed the top 5 affordable SolidWorks alternatives. Moreover, our team has compared SolidWorks vs. a number of these CAD applications, including:


More of an AutoCAD user? Check out how to learn AutoCAD basics in 1 hour or tips and tricks for AutoCAD newbies. To stay updated on all things CAD-related, keep an eye on Scan2CAD’s blog

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