Top Tips and Tricks For SolidWorks Newbies

Updated Jun 24, 2019
Solidworks Tips and Tricks

SolidWorks is one of the most prominent CAD programs used across industries and disciplines worldwide. Most jobs in the design industry, and many colleges, make use of SolidWorks—making skills in this program highly valued. The advantages to using such a powerful 2D and 3D parametric modeler are practically endless, but where exactly do you start if you’re a complete beginner? 

There’s a lot to learn when it comes to SolidWorks—but thankfully, Scan2CAD has created a complete guide for SolidWorks newbies. In this guide, you’ll find everything you need to get started on your SolidWorks journey—from basics, to shortcuts, to ultimate customization tips. We’ve even included the best resources to take complete advantage of. If you’re interested in becoming a SolidWorks expert, you’ve come to the right place! 

Table of Contents

Summary of SolidWorks

SolidWorks logoSolidWorks is a renowned solid modeling CAD program used by people across the world. The SolidWorks Corporation was founded in December 1993 by Jon Hirschtick. Hirschtick recruited a team of engineers with one goal in mind: to build a 3D CAD software that was easy to use and affordable. In 1995, SolidWorks was released as the first significant 3D modeler for Windows, which proved to be a huge landmark in the evolution of CAD. It was so successful that in 1997, only 2 years after its launch, it was acquired by Dassault Systèmes for $310 million in stock. It’s estimated that by 2013, over 2 million engineers and designers in over 165,000 companies were using SolidWorks—and it has only increased in popularity since.

SolidWorks is a parametric feature-based 3D modeling software. It can be used for advanced 3D modeling and auto-generated 2D drawings. It also gives designers the ability to perform simulations and analyses. The entire software is based around designing products faster, better and more cost-effectively. It has seen 25 versions as of 2017. It is used across a range of industries including aerospace, construction, electronics and product design—giving people access to a multitude of careers

In short, SolidWorks is a complex program. However, with the right guidance, a newbie can become an expert in no time at all. So if you’re looking for a few tips and shortcuts, you’ve come to the right place!


Before You Start

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As we have mentioned, SolidWorks is a complex program to get to grips with. You can use it for years and still not move past the tip of the iceberg—there are countless features and tools that even the most experienced pros won’t have ever used. As you can imagine, this makes the journey to becoming an expert seem quite terrifying. But don’t worry—we’re going to walk you through the entire process! Before we get started, however, there are a few things you need to bear in mind while you’re familiarizing yourself with SolidWorks. 

Don’t Forget To Explore! 

Before you get stuck into SolidWorks tutorials, take the time to familiarize yourself with the interface and toolsets. Make a point of clicking on every single icon there is—if you don’t know what it is, try it out or check the Help tab. Open a blank project and just take the time to go through the insert menu to try out all of the tools at your disposal. With SolidWorks constantly updating itself and introducing new tools, you can never say you’ve completely mastered everything. 

New Is Good

If you’re already familiar with the interface, why not try something new? We all have our habits—whether it’s with CAD software, or something else entirely. If you have a routine when you’re creating 2D or 3D drawings, why not do things differently? Go out of your way to change things up. The more tools you know, the better your design process will be in the long run. After all, it’s never a bad thing to try something new once in a while. 

Practice Makes Perfect

Start yourself off with a mini-project—something easy. With a simple project, you can take the time to try out each tool—after all, it’s much better to make mistakes with a practice project than a complex one. Keep testing yourself, and aim for something a bit more challenging each time. It’s not about having a complete knowledge of what each tool does, it’s about knowing how they work and how you can apply them to various projects.

Want to challenge yourself? Check out Scan2CAD’s top 3D CAD models to try out

SolidWorks Basics

Screenshots of SolidWorks screenshotsYou can’t go from newbie to expert overnight, no matter how much you wish it was just that simple. So where exactly do you begin with SolidWorks? It’s the million dollar question with CAD software—with its many uses, you often wonder how to approach it. 

Luckily, we’ve found a lesson plan from none other than SolidWorks! These lessons will help you get to grips with SolidWorks. You shouldn’t rush these lessons, after all, basic skills are the building blocks of all great CAD users. 

Check out the SolidWorks lesson plan below!

Before You Start Basics

Before you actually start following tutorials and lessons, you might find it useful to try out SolidWorks first. Our advice is to open a new drawing in SolidWorks, and try out everything. 

The great thing about most CAD software is that they try to be as accessible as possible, and SolidWorks is no different. When you take a look at SolidWorks, you’ll see a standard menu bar containing tabs, quite like every other menu bar you’ll have used previously:

Green arrow pointing rightFile Menu: contains standard options like New, Open and Save. It also has additional options like 3D Print which allows users to print their design as a 3D model using a 3D printer. 

Green arrow pointing rightEdit Menu: includes options like Suppress/Unsuppress, Design Table and Bend Table.

Green arrow pointing rightView Menu: contains user interface tools like Redraw, Lights & Camera, and Screen Capture.

Green arrow pointing rightInsert Menu: contains features like Boss/Base, Pattern/Mirror, Reference Geometry and Weldments.

Green arrow pointing rightTools Menu: this includes sketch tools like Line, Circle and Arc. It also contains Sketch Settings, Blocks, Spline Tools and Dimensions.

Green arrow pointing right SolidWorks Search: is used to search for SolidWorks commands, e.g. typing line for the Line command. It makes use of automatic suggestions in case you don’t know the full name for what you’re looking for. You can also use this feature to search for files, or the Community forum.

Mouse Gestures

If you think that your mouse is only good for pointing, you’d be very wrong. SolidWorks allows you to use certain mouse gestures as a shortcut to execute a command or macro quickly—it’s essentially like a keyboard shortcut. For example, you might use a right-drag to the upper left of your drawing to activate the Line command. 

You can use mouse gestures by right clicking, and dragging your mouse in a certain direction to start a pre-assigned tool from a drawing, part, assembly or sketch. These mouse gestures are enabled by default, and display four gestures. If you want to enable or disable mouse gestures, go to ‘Tools‘ > ‘Customize‘ and on the Mouse Gestures tab select or clear ‘Enable mouse gestures’. 

You can reassign tools to your mouse gestures by heading to the Mouse Gestures tab. You can choose between four gestures and eight gestures. All you need is to find the row for the tool you want to assign a mouse gesture to—select the mouse gesture you want and off you go!

SolidWorks mouse gestures

Image source: SolidWorks

SolidWorks Community

If you want to fully immerse yourself in the SolidWorks experience, you might want to join the SolidWorks community. As a SolidWorks user, you automatically have the opportunity to join the software’s active community by visiting the Customer Portal. Here you can find quick links to help you stay up to speed and become more productive. You can watch videos, be involved in User Group meetings, find training and get certified by taking the CSWP and CSWA for free. All you need to sign up for a customer account is your serial number, and off you go! 

Alternatively, if you’re having difficulty with SolidWorks you can take advantage of exclusive SolidWorks tutorials. Simply go to ‘Help‘ > ‘SolidWorks Tutorials‘. 

Shortcuts 101

The next step for SolidWorks newbies is keyboard shortcuts. These shortcuts allow you to access a feature or tool in just a couple of keys. By using them, you can increase your productivity and cut your work process in half. Instead of using a series of icons, you can simply press a few key combinations to complete many tasks.

Windows & SolidWorks View Commands

Windows commands are pre-assigned commands that you’ll no doubt have seen and used in other Windows programs. For example, to open a file you can use the command ‘Ctrl + O‘. SolidWorks view commands are pre-assigned commands that relate to how you can view your designs and models in SolidWorks. For example, you can view the front of your design with ‘Ctrl + 1‘, or zoom in with ‘Shift + Z‘. 

New……….Ctrl + N Front……….Ctrl + 1
Open……….Ctrl + O Back……….Ctrl + 2
Close Window……….Ctrl + W Left……….Ctrl + 3
Close File……….Ctrl + F4 Right……….Ctrl + 4
Close SolidWorks……….Alt + F4 Top……….Ctrl + 5
Swap Windows……….Ctrl + Tab Bottom……….Ctrl + 6
Save……….Ctrl + S Isometric……….Ctrl + 7
Print……….Ctrl + P Normal to……….Ctrl + 8
Find/Replace……….Ctrl + F Orientation……….Spacebar
Select All……….Ctrl + A View Cube……….Ctrl + Spacebar
Cut……….Ctrl + X Undo View Change……….Ctrl + Shift + Z
Copy……….Ctrl + C Zoom In……….Shift + Z
Paste……….Ctrl + V Zoom Out……….Z
Undo……….Ctrl + Z Zoom To Fit……….F
Redo……….Ctrl + Y Area Magnify……….G


SolidWorks Commands

SolidWorks commands are relatively basic, involving processes like ‘Spell Check‘ and ‘Command Search‘. While these commands might not seem to do much, they can make things a bit easier for you. Instead of spending minutes navigating through your many toolbars, you can just press a couple of keys to enact a process. 

Shortcut Bar……….S
Browse Recent Documents……….R
Command Search……….W
Rebuild……….Ctrl + B
Force Regen……….Ctrl + Q
Repeat Last Command……….Enter
Task Pane……….Ctrl + F1
Toggle Selection Filter Toolbar……….F5
Toggle Selection Filter Type……….F6
Spell Check……….F7
Full Screen……….F11
Hide Component Under Mouse……….Tab
Show Component Under Mouse……….Shift + Tab
Dimension to Arc Min/Max……….Shift +LMB
Tangent Arc Toggle……….A

Customize Your Own Shortcuts

If you’re anything like us, you probably love to personalize your software a little. There’s no better way to do this than by customizing your own keyboard shortcuts. Simply head to ‘Tools‘ > ‘Customize‘ > ‘Keyboard‘. Here you have a list of all of the commands at your disposal in SolidWorks. You simply have to search for a particular command, and type the shortcut you want to use. For example, you might want to use ‘Ctrl + L‘ for the line command. You can use any combination of keys for a command, as long as they’re not already allocated. If you want to move an allocated shortcut to a different command, you first need to delete it from the existing command. 

From Newbie To Expert

Once you’ve gotten to grips with SolidWorks basics, you might be wondering—where to next? Well, after becoming accustomed to the user interface, you’ll start to notice what types of tools and commands you use the most. The next logical step, therefore, is customization. The great thing about SolidWorks is that you can customize everything—from your keyboard shortcuts to your toolbars. While it might be time-consuming, it does pay off in the long run. If you take the time, you can create your own personalized SolidWorks which is completely catered to your own individual preferences. Here are a few customization tips to take you from newbie to expert. 


You’ve already gotten a glimpse at the customization capabilities of SolidWorks through mouse gestures and keyboard shortcuts. Here we’re going to briefly go over those capabilities again, along with a couple extra customization tips. 


Go to ‘Tools‘ > ‘Customize‘ to start off your customization journey. Here you’ll find seven tabs: Toolbars, Shortcuts, Commands, Menus, Keyboard, Mouse Gestures and Customization. 

SolidWorks customization tab

Image source: Cati

Green arrow pointing right Toolbars: this tab allows you to turn on or off any toolbar in SolidWorks. All you have to do is tick the box next to the relevant toolbar. It’s just that simple! This allows you to get rid of toolbars you don’t use much, and include ones that you use regularly. 

Green arrow pointing right Shortcuts and Commands: these tabs contain a list of all your existing toolbars and commands. You can use both tabs to add tools to your existing toolbars. Simply select the category of the tool you’re searching for, drag it, and then drop it to the toolbar/command manager.

Green arrow pointing right Menus: this lists every menu available in SolidWorks. You can change where each item is located in your menus, the position of each menu, and even name commands. 

Green arrow pointing right Keyboard: as we have already discussed, you can use this feature to customize your own keyboard shortcuts. You just need to find the command you want to attach a shortcut to, and use any combination you want. You can even print this list so you can memorize all of your commands.

Green arrow pointing right Mouse Gestures: as we noted earlier, it’s possible to attach four or eight commands to your mouse. In this tab, you can choose the commands you want, and attach a gesture direction to them.

Green arrow pointing right Customization: this tab allows you to reset the default selections for shortcuts and menus.

The S Shortcut

Customizing the shortcut bar

Image source: SolidWorks

If you’re looking for a quick way to speed up your overall productivity and working process, look no further than the ‘S Shortcut‘. Simply press ‘S‘ on your keyboard, and the shortcut box will pop up.

This handy box contains a bunch of relevant features relating to what you’re doing at that particular time. It’s essentially the program’s way of working out what processes or tools you might want to perform. To customize this shortcut box, just right click on the box and press ‘customize‘. You can use the menu to select your toolbars, and the features you’d like to use in them. 

System Settings

If you go to ‘Tools‘ > ‘Options‘, you’ll find two available tabs. The first tab, ‘System Options‘, contains registry settings—any changes you make will be saved when you close SolidWorks. The second tab, ‘Document Properties‘, contains settings that are specifically attached to your current open file. It is possible to save particular settings for every new file you open—you just need to save these settings as a template. 

Extra Tips

Use Multiple Displays

Example of span display in SolidWorks

Image source: SolidWorks

Are you a fan of multitasking? Do you have multiple displays? If the answer is yes for either, then you should be taking advantage of span displays.

This handy tool lets you span two displays without having to resize the SolidWorks window. This ability to move from monitor to monitor might help you increase your overall productivity—it can reduce moving between SolidWorks and other software, and it can expand your overall work area. 

Interested in more management tips? Check out Scan2CAD’s top file management tips

Make Use Of The Feature Tree

You can find the feature manager design tree on the left side of the SolidWorks window. It provides a view of the active part, assembly or drawing. With it, you can see how your model or assembly is constructed, and even examine the various sheets and views in your drawing. There’s no real limit to what you can do with the feature tree. You can display the features of your drawing in the order they were created and you can even view feature relationships. You can filter the tree to search for specific parts, or even group features in favorite folders. Take the time to review exactly what you can do with the feature tree in SolidWorks, and it will really pay off. 

Copy Settings Wizard

If you’ve created your own customized version of SolidWorks, you’ll want to ensure that it stays that way. You might even want to copy your settings onto a different computer—if this is the case, you should make use of Copy Settings Wizard

Example of Copy Settings Wizard in SolidWorks

Image source: Javelin Tech

Go to ‘Tools‘ > ‘Save/Restore Settings‘, or go to your computer’s ‘Start menu‘ > ‘SolidWorks Tools‘ > ‘Copy Settings Wizard‘. Once there, you can save your settings. You can opt to save your keyboard shortcuts, menu customization, toolbar layout and so on. Once you’ve made your choices, you can press ‘Finish‘. You can find these settings in a *.sldreg file. You can share this file with your colleagues, or keep it in case you upgrade your SolidWorks system or you need a system restore. It’s also possible to specify whether these settings are available for one user, or a network of computers. 

Top Resources

If you’re looking to become a SolidWorks master, then you’d better prepare yourself for some serious work. Learning is a constant process, so you can’t be lazy about it. To help you out, we’ve put together a list of top resources that you can take advantage of. 

To fully immerse yourself in the world of SolidWorks, you should consider following SolidWorks blogs. Many of these blogs post regular tutorials, tips and news on everything related to SolidWorks. You could even subscribe to these blogs to receive frequent email updates. 

Examples of SolidWorks blog logos

If you prefer a more hands-on approach, you might find it useful to scour the Internet for SolidWorks tutorial videos. We’ve already done half of the work for you by compiling a list of the top YouTube channels that upload SolidWorks tutorials, ranging from beginner lessons to intermediate 3D models

If you want personal tuition, you might want to check out services like elance or solidprofessor. Alternatively, you could check out the official SolidWorks blogs, or the official SolidWorks forum

Is SolidWorks too expensive for you? That’s not a problem—you can get it for free if you’re a student. Alternatively, you could try out CAD freeware

Using AutoCAD instead? Check out Top Tips and Tricks for AutoCAD Newbies. If you want to stay updated on all things CAD-related, check out Scan2CAD’s blog for the latest news, tips and freebies

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