Are the 3DEXPERIENCE CAD Capabilities the same as SOLIDWORKS Desktop?

By Ben Colley on

With the advent of the 3DEXPERIENCE platform, 3D designers now have options for day in day out full 3D CAD under the flag of Dassault Systèmes. For Windows-based desktop modeling, SOLIDWORKS 3D CAD provides powerful, easy-to-use modeling tools in a clean, dedicated CAD environment. For browser-based modeling, the 3DEXPERIENCE platform offers familiar tools in a broader environment optimized for collaboration and cloud data management. But how does the cloud CAD experience compare to the desktop experience? How similar are the tools? How easy or feasible would it be to transition from one medium to the other?

The short answer: the 3D modeling tools are essentially the same. If you’re versed in the parametric language of SOLIDWORKS desktop, you’ll find that most of the tools look and act similarly to what you are accustomed to.

The long answer: since the CAD tools on the 3DEXPERIENCE platform are built to serve a collaborative, mobile environment, the tools are often streamlined or segmented to offer a less cluttered UI for the user. There won’t be a single standalone application on the 3DEXPERIENCE platform that gives you all the robust capabilities of SOLIDWORKS Desktop, but you can tailor your library of tools to serve the modeling needs that you are accustomed to having.

How do the environments compare?

To understand the difference in the tools, it is first important to get some insight into the structure of the 3DEXPERIENCE platform. The 3D modeling tools on the 3DEXPERIENCE platform are sometimes referred to as SOLIDWORKS Cloud. However, this does not mean that the platform provides a 1:1 cloud-based program that looks just like SOLIDWORKS. Instead, the platform provides a suite of applications that each carry out a different modeling function. These xApps are analogous to the modeling tabs that we are accustomed to seeing across the top of the SOLIDWORKS user interface (see diagram):


  • The Sketch, Features, and Surfaces tabs, and assembly tools, are built into the xDesign app[1]
  • The Sheet Metal tab is reflected in the xSheetMetal app[2]
  • The Weldments tab corresponds to the xFrame app[3]
  • Mold Tools is covered by the xMold app[4]
  • MBD capabilities are built into the xDefine app[5]
  • Also included among the 3DEXPERIENCE CAD tools is the xShape app, which provides freeform subdivision modeling capabilities[6]

This division of modeling spaces allows companies to concentrate their financial resources on the specific tools that best serve their business needs. It also gives CAD users an environment that’s always optimized for their modeling application in the moment. For example, if someone is designing a sheet metal product, they will only see tools that are applicable to sheet metal design; the environment will not be cluttered by other tools like surfacing, weldments, etc.


Those other tools are only a keystroke away. Even though each application may look like a standalone program, it actually lives in an interconnected state with all of the other modeling apps. By simply pressing X or clicking on the “Switch App” button, you may switch to a different modeling environment without closing your current project.

switch app

The same file remains open when you switch from one xApp to another. The only thing that changes is the toolset that’s visible.

Is the 3DEXPERIENCE Platform Plug and Play? >>

How do the modeling tools compare?

The primary modeling app on the 3DEXPERIENCE platform is xDesign. It provides baseline feature modeling, surfacing, and assembly tools.

bent pipe coupling

To test xDesign against SOLIDWORKS, I modeled a 45° bent pipe coupling that morphs from a rectangular profile to a circular profile.


To create the coupling in xDesign, my intent was to use one loft, two extrusions, and one shell feature. The loft would be constructed using three profile sketches and four guide curves, transitioning from a large rectangular profile to a slightly smaller rectangular profile, then to a circular profile.



Sketch Perks: During the sketching phase, 5 things stood out to me:

  1. On-the-fly unit control. I forgot to change from millimeters to inches before starting to define my sketch, but I was able to switch the system settings instantly just by clicking the units button at the top right of the graphics area. Unlike SOLIDWORKS, it remained on the active sketch, and converted the dimension values appropriately.
  2. A functional set of mouse-gestures, a familiar S-key shortcut bar, and an in-context toolbar, stocked with many of the same tools that show up in the SOLIDWORKS in-context toolbars.
  3. I noticed a ghost dimension that appears on any selected, undefined geometry. Single-clicking that ghost dimension prompted for a numeric input, making it unnecessary to access the smart dimension tool.
    ghost dimension
  4. Predefined key-mapping for commonly used tools. “D” for Smart Dimension. “L” for line. “C” for circle. “O” for offset. “N” for Normal-To. This greatly enhanced the Sketching experience for me, as someone who utilizes a full range of key-mapping in SOLIDWORKS Desktop.
  5. “Power fillet”. In SOLIDWORKS, when I fillet all the corners of a sketch, I typically box-select around sketch geometry instead of picking corners individually. In xDesign, when I started to click and drag in the graphics area, what came up instead of a selection box was a scribble select tool very similar to Power Trim in SOLIDWORKS. (Note, Power Trim is the default trim setting in xDesign.) It’s a different mechanic than what I’m used to in SOLIDWORKS, but it worked very effectively.

Sketch Limitations:

  1. No 3D Sketch. In SOLIDWORKS, I created two of my guide curves using 3-point arcs in a 3D Sketch. xDesign doesn’t have that option, but I was able to generate the same curves by creating planes that passed through the same 3 points that the arcs would pass through. Just an extra step.
  2. No UI customization. xDesign’s shortcut actions (S-key, mouse gestures, in-context toolbars) are set up to provide the most common modeling commands for the environment… and that’s all. The good news is that – because xDesign is streamlined for geometry creation only – all the functionality in xDesign is highly visible. You don’t have to root through menus or do command searches to find any commands, because they are all accessible directly from the appropriate tool pallet.



Feature Perks: While creating the 3D geometry, three things stood out to me:

  1. Familiarity. The command names, the symbols, and the logic are all the same. And like SOLIDWORKS, a Feature tree with a rollback bar resides on the left, allowing me to visualize and return to earlier points in my modeling history.
  2. Streamlined commands. Each of the feature tools include functionality that we don’t see in SOLIDWORKS, while at the same time taking up very little real estate on the screen. One button is all that’s needed for Extrude, Extrude Cut, Extrude Thin, or Extrude Surface. The same logic applies for Loft, Revolve, etc. And most of the advanced options you’re accustomed-to are available when you need them, but they don’t clutter up the screen when you don’t.
  3. Design Guidance. An intriguing tool in xDesign; Design Guidance allows you to run quick geometry optimization studies without changing over to a simulation environment or setting up any tedious studies. Just apply any relevant constraints such as forces or fixtures, and a goal for mass reduction, and in a matter of minutes, you will be shown what geometry is actually necessary to carry out your design goals. It can be used to optimize existing shapes or to create a new shape from scratch.
    design guidance

Feature Limitations:

  1. Some additional guidance required. The feature solver in SOLIDWORKS is magic. Over the years, I’ve put it through the ringer in making seemingly impossible transitions, and it never disappoints. xDesign is getting there, but I felt like I had to hold its hand a little more. Granted, it was a complex operation transitioning an eight-vertex shape to a circle, around a bend, over a short distance, following very specific curves; but SOLIDWORKS was able to pull it off on the first try. I did manage to create the loft in xDesign; I just had to segment the circular profile to have the same number of vertexes as the profile that came before.
    feature solver
  2. Some advanced features unavailable. On this loft, I would have liked to have set some start/end constraints, but that option wasn’t available. Again, you can accomplish this with the right guide curves, but when you’re used to the program doing it for you, you may miss having the option.

The extrude and shell features worked beautifully, and I was able to finish the Coupling part, using essentially an identical workflow to what I used in SOLIDWORKS. I was now ready for assembly.

extrude and shell features

What is xDesign and How Does it Work? >> 



Assembly Perks: While creating an assembly, four things caught my attention:

  1. Seamless transition from part modeling to assembly. There was no switching to another application, or creation of an assembly file. Once I was ready to start assembling, I just went to the Assembly tab and chose “Insert Component”. You can insert existing components (bottom-up assembling) or create new components that will reference other parts within the assembly (top-down assembling). I did a little bit of both.
  2. Revisions. The xApps are designed to work with a formal PLM system of revisions, lifecycles, approvals, etc. As such, a unique revision structure exists to allow the creation of alternative design branches, existing in the same component file (similar to configurations). Unlike configurations, however, significant changes can be made to the design tree without affecting other revisions. The “Revisions” command brings up a diagram that provides at-a-glance clarity to the full structure of design branches that exist in that file currently.
  3. Multi-body mates. One of my favorite discoveries in assembling was the ability to apply mates like coincident and concentric to more than two bodies at a time. Even with quick mates, by simply picking all the faces that I wanted on the same plane or axis, the appropriate mate was instantly available to apply across all affected components. That’s a functionality I’ve wanted to see in SOLIDWORKS for a long time.
    multi-body mates
  4. PartSupply. With xDesign comes access to an impressive database of downloadable standard CAD models, including hardware, lighting, cabling, etc. You can browse by category, vendor, or you can run a search if you know the part number you’re looking for. You can access the database by simply clicking the PartSupply button. This is especially helpful if you are accustomed to utilizing the Toolbox add-in in SOLIDWORKS.
    part supply

Assembly Limitations:

  1. No “Assembly Features”. Features are carried out at the part-level only. While you could propagate features like holes and cuts to multiple bodies in a multibody part, you do not have the option to include multiple components in a feature scope.
  2. No local “Explosion View” display. Because the xApps are designed to interact with the collaborative apps available to non-CAD users, some redundancy is eliminated by keeping commands such as “Explode” limited to the public viewer. Anyone can create explosion views on-demand by loading the assembly into 3DPlay (the platform’s cloud-based answer to eDrawings). However, I was quickly able to create a permanent explosion view by creating a revision of the assembly with some of the mates deactivated.

Other Modeling Applications

As mentioned before, the 3DEXPERIENCE platform provides an alternative for every corner of SOLIDWORKS, from basic CAD modeling to structure and mold design. So how do the other xApps compare?


Functioning very much like SOLIDWORKS Weldments, xFrame provides the functionality needed to create structures using standard or custom structural members, and generate cut lists. All of your typical profiles are included in US and international databases, but if a non-standard profile is needed, the Structure section manager provides a robust set of tools to define a profile, whether that means setting custom dimensions to an existing profile template, or creating a fully-custom profile from scratch. Again, this is all taken care of without having to leave your open structure file. No going out to separate part files, no dealing with Library feature parts.


Also unique to xFrame is its system for corner treatment. Corners are sorted by the number of members that meet (1-Member, 2-Member, 3+ Member) and the tools are optimized accordingly. This lets you really dig into each corner and get exactly the treatment that you want.

xframe corner treatment

For an in-depth look at xFrame, check out our post by Sawyer Gara, “Designing for Today: 3D Structure Creator ”


Not to be outdone by xFrame, xSheetMetal gives you the tools necessary to construct complex sheet metal parts and generate flat patterns. A familiar workflow is employed, starting with a definition of the thickness, bend radius, k-factor, and standard relief type for your material; then moving on to all of the additions of flanges, bends, corner treatments, cutouts, etc. that you are accustomed to in SOLIDWORKS. Also included are capabilities for tool stamping and converting non-sheet metal models into recognized sheet metal parts through guided feature recognition.


For more information about xSheetMetal, check out our post by Tony Bucchino, “Designing for Today: 3D SheetMetal Creator


I found the mold tools of xMold to be refreshingly similar to SOLIDWORKS Mold Tools. In fact, I found them to be even more intuitive, streamlining some of the setup process that’s required before Mold and Cavity creation. In SOLIDWORKS, I sometimes need to walk a fine line to get everything to function as expected. In xMold, however, I’m finding the tools to be very reliable and user-friendly. If you’re accustomed to the workflow of Mold Tools in SOLIDWORKS, you should feel right at home in xMold.


For an in-depth look at xMold, check out our post by Sawyer Gara, “Cloud-Based 3D Design with xApps – Part 6: 3D Mold Creator


The one tool among the xApps that really has no equivalent in SOLIDWORKS, xShape provides powerful and intuitive freeform modeling tools for organic shapes. While it is, at its core, a push-and-pull sculpting application, it also includes tools that allow for very specific parameterization. You can use dimensioned lines to set specific, sharp bounds, and a scale tool to make sure the shape is exactly the right fit for your needs. And again, it doesn’t require any file separation from your parametrically-defined models. You can effortlessly switch back and forth between traditional Boolean modeling and freeform artistic modeling. This tool may be the biggest motivator for some people to choose the 3DEXPERIENCE Platform over desktop SOLIDWORKS.


For an in-depth look at xShape, check out our webinar by Stephen Choi and Sawyer Gara, “Next-Gen 3D Modeling – Understanding 3D Sculptor and xShape


The xApps solution for part definition is xDefine, which functions much like SOLIDWORKS MBD. Like MBD, you can fully define your 3D model with dimensions, notes, GD&T info, datums, etc.. You can also export your model to 3DXML file, and you can even create annotated views which can be exported to a 2D format on your choice of pre-defined title block, bridging the gap between MBD and traditional technical drawing.


Tools more reminiscent of SOLIDWORKS Drawing Tools are not included in SOLIDWORKS Cloud, but xDefine may provide all the technical definition that your business needs, especially if it’s in the sector of businesses with an MBD initiative.

For more information about xDefine, check out our post by Sawyer Gara, “Designing for Today: Manufacturing Definition Creator

So, which one’s right for me, SOLIDWORKS, or SOLIDWORKS Cloud on the 3DEXPERIENCE Platform?

That depends on your hardware, working style, and business limitations:

  • Do you want access to the full suite of modeling and drawing tools right at your fingertips, while fully leveraging the benefits of that high-performance graphics card on your killer Windows workstation, whether the internet is up or down?
  • Is your company committed to a local data management model?
  • Is your business model dependent on third-party add-ins?

Then SOLIDWORKS Desktop may be your best option.

  • Is your working style more on-the-go, ranging from your work office to your home office, to your shop floor to a client’s shop floor, from your Windows desktop to your iPhone (and everything in-between)?
  • Is traditional parametric CAD too limiting for those free, organic shapes you’re always needing to come up with?

Then the 3DEXPERIENCE Platform may be your best option.

[1] Included with the 3DCreator role

[2] Included with the 3D SheetMetal Creator role

[3] Included with the 3D Structure Creator role

[4] Included with the 3D Mold Creator role

[5] Included with the Manufacturing Definition Creator role

[6] Included with the 3D Sculptor role

Ready to get started with 3DEXPERIENCE? Talk to an expert today and get a quote .