SolidWorks is by far one of the most prominent 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. Needless to say, a program that’s lasted this long has a lot of capabilities and applications—it’s used across industries spanning from aerospace to engineering and construction. 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.
SolidWorks basics: 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.
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.
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.
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 and editing
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. 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.
- 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.
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. Looking to speed up your workflow? Head on over to SolidWorks’ keyboard shortcuts—simply click Tools > Customize and select the Keyboard tab. Here, you can print a list of the current shortcuts or even change them to better suit you.
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.