Child’s Play: Using SOLIDWORKS for Toy Design

As a 3D product designer, I have worked with CAD to produce ceramic homewares, models for 3D printed designs, architectural screen models—and for the last five years, to design wooden toys. I have worked and freelance designed for a range of U.K.-based toy design companies, but I also create my own toy design concepts for SOLIDWORKS tutorials. For these concepts, I use CAD from start to finish when designing a new wooden toy—from the design and modeling to the assembly and technical drawings of a design, down to the testing of the toy through a motion study analysis and ultimately animating and rendering the final product design.

When designing a new toy, I first use a vector drawing software to roughly outline and sketch out a design. Some people like to do a paper sketch, but I have always jumped straight into digital software. Not only does this make it easy to play around very quickly with different shapes, colors and views but I can also translate these ideas into other file types or software such as SOLIDWORKS. Depending on the client I am designing for, I may use either CorelDraw or Adobe Illustrator for the vector drawings. Within these applications, I can create custom decals, play with different color palettes, think about overall dimensions of the toy and map out the design from different views before moving into 3D software.

Decal artwork with Corel Draw.

Another feature of using a vector software is to create DXF files. I can create complex shapes within the vector software to then bring into SOLIDWORKS using the Insert DXF option. This brings in the DXF file as a sketch, which can be used with SOLIDWORKS 3D features. A gingerbread-themed train set that I designed for a SOLIDWORKS tutorial was primarily designed in Corel Draw to create the decal artwork for the toy, as well as the outlines of the train set accessories. Vectors are simply drawings created with digital software that can be translated into 3D software and used for generating laser cutting files. Complex shapes or parts that need to slot together like puzzle pieces can be laser cut using these file types.

After I have a mapped-out concept design, I move into SOLIDWORKS and start modeling.

In SOLIDWORKS, I usually prefer to design using a multibody part. This is so that I can play with a design quickly within the part file. Once I have a finished design, I use Save Bodies to export all the separate solid bodies and bring them into an assembly. At this point, I can add any smart fastenings and create exploded views for drawing sheets. One SOLIDWORKS tip I would give at this point is that when you export solid bodies from a multi-body part, open the individual saved part files and from there, add any hole wizard features or decals. If these are applied at the solid body level, the information will get lost when the bodies are saved as parts.

Train station assembly in SOLIDWORKS.

A feature I would be lost without in SOLIDWORKS as a toy designer is Configurations. There are many occasions where configurations are necessary. For example, instead of having to model multiple designs that have slight dimension or feature changes, I use configurations instead. Display states can also be used in the same way within SOLIDWORKS. Display states can be linked to the configurations, allowing you to apply different appearances or colors to designs. That makes it easy to show the toy buyer variations of a design and make amendments to features and dimensions quickly, while also giving the buyer options to choose from.

Any decals I create are designed within the vector software and are exported as PNGs or JPEGs depending on the decal application needed. The artwork you see applied to the train model image was applied as a decal in SOLIDWORKS. During the manufacture of a toy, the decals would be applied by screen printing or heat press. Simpler artwork is sometimes hand painted. SOLIDWORKS offers a range of masking options when applying decals, which allow you to add artwork or sticker-like designs onto the toy parts without covering up an appearance. This matters when it comes to rendering or creating visuals of the design. I can ensure my decals fit the SOLIDWORKS models perfectly by either importing my custom DXF sketches from the vector software or by exporting out a sketched profile or face from SOLIDWORKS and working within that DXF in my vector software to create the decal artwork.

Train with decals in SOLIDWORKS.

Once I have a design modeled in 3D, it is time to create the technical drawing sheets for the factories to manufacture a sample of the toy. These drawings must be crystal clear and include every dimension needed to create the design. Before a toy goes into full production, we go through several samples, but the number of samples needs to be kept to a minimum to reduce costs and speed up production time.

This all depends on communication with the factories, so the drawing sheets need to include a bill of materials consisting of a full breakdown of all separate components (parts only) and also a breakdown of the assembled components (top level only). You are essentially giving the factories the assembly instructions of this new toy. The drawing sheets also need to include exploded views of the toy, the part materials, the required finish and quantities needed. Pantone names for paint colors are also added at this stage. Decal artwork is added to the file separately as a PDF from the vector software.

You can include a lot of information within the drawing sheet, and even add custom properties to each individual part file. Within these, I like to add the Pantone colors, which are used by the factories to select paint colors. So, when you are within the SOLIDWORKS drawing sheet, you can add extra columns to a bill of materials, change the column titles to my custom property and all of my toy parts will automatically update with their corresponding Pantone color.


Sometimes there are necessary uses for a motion study for the toy industry. I use motion studies for many different toy designs. These don’t necessarily need to be created, but when I create tutorials for SOLIDWORKS I like to show the full potential of the software. If I’m being honest, this is possibly my favorite part because it is where I can bring something I have thought of, designed and modeled to life on the screen.

But on occasion, there is a demand for a motion study, such as showing a toy buyer or the toy manufacturers how a toy needs to move or work. This is also a way to test how well a design works.

This was especially useful for a design I recently created for a SOLIDWORKS tutorial, which involved a toy ironing board. The board needed to collapse flat to the floor but also stand at two different heights for a child. I used a motion study to demonstrate this, as well as to test that the design, the dimensions and all the parts worked together and that there were no interference or collisions detected. Another use of creating a motion study is to show off how a toy works. Once I have a motion study created, I can export it directly into SOLIDWORKS Visualize and render the animation into a video.

Visualize train animation with SOLIDWORKS.

Renderings of a toy design are so powerful they are used for so many different stages of toy design. I use SOLIDWORKS Visualize to create my renderings to get a final visual of a toy. This is the best marketing tool I could use to present a design to a toy manufacturing client. The toy manufacturers can use these to show a toy buyer to get a green light for production, or get feedback from the buyers such as comments on colors, design tweaks and even negotiate on what can be achieved within a set price range.

Once the toy buyer is happy with the design, the next step is to send the design to a toy factory or manufacturer. Along with the technical drawing files, renderings would also be sent alongside this to give the manufacturer as much information as possible to fully achieve the desired finished product. The rendering can show the compete look which includes showing the true colors, materials, finished assembly of a toy decal placement and a wide range of views around a toy.

Rendering of a train set created with SOLIDWORKS.

Another use of the rendering is as the product listing image for selling the toy online. You will see this on some toy company websites, their catalogs and on Amazon or eBay listings. For most people, these images can be so life-like that they may not even notice that the image is a rendering. This allows a company to start selling a toy before they have the finished product. This practice has proved to be very useful when manufacturing has been delayed and final product images are needed for packaging, catalogs or online sales.

A final note on the advantages of using CAD for toy design is the use of 3D printing: once you have your modeled parts, you can save the parts you want to test out as STL files and 3D print them. It doesn’t need to be anything fancy. A hobbyist printer does the job for most of these tests, especially when you are dealing with wooden toys which are usually quite simple in construction. You can use the printed parts to test out how parts fit together or how a design might work.

An example for this would be a balancing or stacking toy design. For this, you can print out multiples of a part that need to stack or balance on top of one another and play around with the prints. Of course, you could also use a motion study within SOLIDWORKS to test out how a design stacks, and apply gravity and contacts to the study to get a rough idea of whether your design works. But 3D printing the design allows you to physically feel, play with and test out the toy. This is important to do as you are testing the toy from the point of view of a child whose motor skills or dexterity will not be as precise as your computer software.

3D printing tests can save you both time and money as a toy design company. By pre-testing a design, you can avoid those costly mistakes before manufacturing and not waste your time waiting on toy samples from the factories, which can often take weeks to arrive. There is nothing worse than a toy sample arriving on your desk with avoidable errors.

Learn more about SOLIDWORKS with the eBook SOLIDWORKS 2022 Enhancements to Streamline and Accelerate Your Entire Product Development Process.

About the Author

Jade Wilson is a product designer, SOLIDWORKS blog contributor, CSWP and SOLIDWORKS champion from the U.K. In 2015, she became a Queen Elizabeth Scholar for her degree specializing in ceramics and digital design. She is a self-taught SOLIDWORKS user with 10 years of experience and has been using it to inform and create her designs since university to becoming a freelance product designer with her own company. She has her bachelor’s and master’s degree in design and specializes in the design and production of ceramics, homeware accessories and wooden toys. She has worked with a range of companies, including the BBC, Bigjigs, Great Little Trading Company and Granby Workshop. In addition, she has exhibited her own work and held workshops across the U.K. and Europe as well as working in several U.K. universities as a technician and guest tutor. She now creates fun and informative tutorials and blogs for SOLIDWORKS as a blog contributor, sharing her knowledge and ideas with others.

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