Things I Wish I Knew When I Started Using SOLIDWORKS (Part One)

By Mike Souders on

We all remember the days when we first started using SOLIDWORKS. Many of us didn’t know a sketch from a sweep! There are so many useful tools within SOLIDWORKS and it can be daunting for new users to keep track of them. Whenever I teach our SOLIDWORKS Essentials class, at least one student will inevitably exclaim, “I wish I had known that months ago!” In this blog article, we’ll go over some of those essential tools you might not know about yet.

Fully Define Sketch

Sketching is the foundation of modeling in SOLIDWORKS and without a solid foundation, our entire part can crumble. I always force my students to fully define their sketches so that their design intent is fully captured. For new users, it’s sometimes difficult to determine all the relations and dimensions that are required. SOLIDWORKS has a tool to assist with this process, known as Fully Define Sketch. This tool will take that pesky blue underdefined geometry and add all the relations and dimensions that are required to fully define it and turn that geometry black. The tool allows us to fine-tune which relations are available for the sketch, as well as what reference should be used for both vertical and horizontal dimensions.

Define Sketch in SOLIDWORKS

>> Click here to watch our Video Tech Tip, Quick Sketching Tips and Tricks for SOLIDWORKS

Instant 3D 

Instant3D is another tool that can be very useful for new users. As we’re creating our geometry, it’s sometimes difficult to visualize the size of a feature. Instant3D allows the dynamic creation and modification of 3D features in both parts and assemblies. On-screen rulers allow users to precisely snap to dimensions and geometry can also be snapped to other faces or edges within the model. Existing dimensions can also be dynamically edited by manipulating the drag handles.

Instant 3D in SOLIDWORKSModel Items

Mark Dimension Into Drawings in SOLIDWORKS

Dimensioning drawings can be one of the most tedious and time-consuming aspects of detailing your designs. The Model Items tool aims to reduce that tedium and make the process easier by importing dimensions that were used when creating sketches and features on the model. This is one tool that always seems to elicit cries of “Has this always been here?! How did I not know about this?!” If your sketch and feature dimensions are marked to be imported into a drawing, they can be automatically inserted with Model Items.

Model Items can also import other aspects of your design, such as pattern instance counts, the locations of your Hole Wizard holes and Hole Callouts. As a bonus, any dimension placed on a drawing using Model Items will act as a driving dimension. This allows users to make edits to the model’s dimensions directly from the drawing.

Model Items in SOLIDWORKS
Smart Mates

Smart Mates allow for faster mating within assemblies. The mate tool requires users to select the mate type and choose references. This can be time-consuming, especially on assemblies with many components. Smart Mates allow users to simply hold down the “Alt” key and drag one mate reference to another. For instance, in the case of this crank arm, we can drag the inner face of the hole to the outer face of the shaft, and then simply confirm the automatically chosen concentric mate.

Smart Mates in SOLIDWORKS

Smart Mates also allows for creating multiple mates at once, such as in the case of this crank knob. A “peg-in-a-hole” mate can be created by dragging the upper edge of the peg to the face of the hole. This creates both a concentric and coincident mate at once.

Select Mate in SOLIDWORKS

Alternatively, users can select one mate reference, then hold down “Ctrl” while selecting the second reference. This adds multiple references to the selection, and once “Ctrl” is released, a mate pop-up will show, allowing users to choose a mate type.

Select mate  reference in SOLIDWORKS

>> Click here to watch our Video Tech Tip, SOLIDWORKS Parts and Assemblies Part 3: Copy With Mates


Much like Hansel and Gretel’s breadcrumbs, breadcrumbs in SOLIDWORKS can provide a trail back to your starting point. Whenever you click on a part’s face or edge in SOLIDWORKS, you’ll see the breadcrumbs appear in the upper left corner of the screen.

Breadcrumbs in SOLIDWORKS

Here we can see my face selection, the feature to which that face belongs, the solid body, the component and the assembly. This also reveals the sketch for the feature and the mates for the component. All of these can be selected through the breadcrumbs, which makes it easier to perform actions such as editing the sketch for the revolve or changing the references for the mates. For an even more advanced technique, users can press the “D” key on their keyboard to bring the breadcrumbs right to their mouse pointer!

Tab/Shift-Tab Hide Components

Traditionally, components are hidden by clicking on the component in the assembly tree or the graphics area and choosing the eyeball icon to hide or show the component. When hiding multiple components, this can lead to a lot of clicks. Fortunately, we can also hide components by simply hovering over them with the mouse cursor, and then pressing the “Tab” key on the keyboard. To show a hidden component, hover over its position and press a combination of “Shift+Tab.” Alternatively, if you can’t find the hidden component’s position, you can use “Show Hidden Components” on the Assembly tab of the Command Manager, and then click any components that were hidden. To re-show all hidden components, you can simply box-select all of them or use “Control+A” to select them all.

That wraps up our list of things I wish I knew when I started learning SOLIDWORKS! Hopefully a few of these were new to you. Now you can impress your friends and coworkers with all the new tricks you’ve learned today. I bet many of them will tell you they wish they learned these months ago!

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