Elise’s Favorite Five SOLIDWORKS Tips and Tricks

Even before I started using SOLIDWORKS, I had a mantra that I lived by: If I am going to perform a task more than once, write a macro to make it faster and easier. In SOLIDWORKS, there is a lot of low-hanging fruit for making macros. For example, setting up your templates and customizing your interface to the way you work.

Or you can get serious with these tips.

Tip 1: Use the Copy Settings Wizard

Let’s say you are already a SOLIDWORKS badass, and you have your toolbars and menus customized to the way you work. You may already have messed around with the mouse wheel (more on that later) and just when you have everything exactly the way you like it, your workstation goes south or maybe you change jobs. How much time had you spent getting everything just the way you like it?

Enter the Copy Settings Wizard. This tool gathers up all your system preferences and any customization you have done and saves it to a small file you can upload to the cloud, store on a jump drive or email to yourself. If you are a CAD Manager, you can set up everybody’s system to use the company’s templates, toolbars and tools by creating and deploying this file. The whole operation takes less than five minutes, but saves hours of clicking, searching and trying to remember, “How did I do that?”

You can access the Copy Settings Wizard from the Tools menu or the Help palette on the right side of the display.

Tip 2: Are You Feeling Lucky?

AutoCAD, Word, Excel, cloud files… All these have an Autosave function. SOLIDWORKS does not. The reason for this is that once you perform a Save, you can no longer Undo. A lot of designers like to experiment with different ideas, and they didn’t want an automatic save disrupting their flow. So, SOLIDWORKS has no autosave.

Instead, it has an “auto-nag.” Depending on the setting, you can have SOLIDWORKS prompt you to save your work. I call this the “Are you feeling lucky?” option. Don’t think your workstation is going to crash and lose all your work? No power outages in the near future? In one case, my TA was helping a student on a project and his knee accidentally hit the power button on the front of the workstation chassis.

As we all know, this stuff happens. You don’t want to lose half a day’s work. I ask my students: What’s your pain threshold? How much work are you willing to do over?

To access autosave, go the Tools menu and select Options. Highlight the Backup/Recovery category on the left panel.

I have my auto-nag set for every 30 minutes. You can also have it completely disabled and never be nagged again simply by unchecking the Show Reminder box.

I also have my backups set to 1. This means SOLIDWORKS will save one backup copy of my previous version after every save. It will overwrite that backup copy after every save. This ensures that my drive doesn’t get filled up with backup copies. I have the file I am actively working on, plus one backup of the previous saved version. That’s sufficient for me.

I also have my backups stored to a cloud location…just in case.

Tip 3: Normal Is Better

When you are working in a 3D environment, it is easy to get lost and disoriented. When I am creating a sketch, I want to work on the sketch so that my view is normal or perpendicular to the sketch.

Luckily, SOLIDWORKS has an option for that.

One of the first options I enable when I install a new version of SOLIDWORKS is to have the auto-rotate view normal to sketch plane. This means that when I start a new sketch or edit an existing sketch, SOLIDWORKS will automatically re-orient the view so that I am looking at the sketch as though I am drawing on a sheet of paper, i.e., normal to the view. This saves me mouse clicks and keeps me on task.

To get here, go to Tools → Options and highlight the Sketch category in the left panel.

Tip 4: Arrow Keys Are a Sharp Way to Navigate

Yes, the 3D View cube that SOLIDWORKS has is awesome, but arrow keys can be a quick and easy way to reorient your view of the model. If you set the arrow keys to 90 degrees, then you can use the arrow keys on your keyboard to quickly switch from a top/bottom/left/right view without going near the cube.

To get here, go to Tools → Options and highlight the View category in the left panel.

Tip 5: Make Your Mouse Roar

Many users don’t know that if they hold down their right mouse button and move the mouse in the window, a mouse wheel will come up. The mouse wheel can hold up to 12 tools or shortcuts for your favorite operations. Not only that, it is also based on whether you are in an assembly, part, sketch or drawing. This means that, depending on which environment/mode you are in, the mouse wheel contains different tools.

To customize the mouse wheel, select Customize on the Standard toolbar below Options.

Select the Mouse Gestures tab.

You can define up to 12 gestures or shortcuts for each mouse wheel mode.

SOLIDWORKS provides you with their best guess of which tools you might use in each environment, but I prefer to customize it to the way I work. Luckily, SOLIDWORKS makes it easy for you to swap out the tools you prefer.

Simply search for the desired tool, and then drag and drop it into a slot to replace a tool that you won’t use.

Before you set up your mouse wheel, I suggest you spend a day paying attention to which tools you use as you work. I created a table with each environment. When I used a tool, I would write it down. Then, if I used it again, I would mark a line next to it as a counter. At the end of the day, it was easy for me to see which tools I used the most. Those were the tools I put on the mouse wheel.

I suggest that you spend some time going through the SOLIDWORKS options. Change the settings to your liking. Modify the mouse wheels to the way you work. Then, once you have your system really humming, use the Copy Wizard to capture the customization so you never again have to start customizing from scratch.

I know this will all take some time, but you will end up being more efficient and getting a higher throughput. If your employer sees you as more productive, this translates into higher pay and career success. If you are self-employed, less time completing tasks means you can bill more hours and make more money. Additionally, when it is easier and faster to do the work, that is less stress on you. You can meet your deadlines with a lot less sweat and tears.

Now, go forth and be productive!

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

About the Author

Elise Moss has worked for the past 30 years as a mechanical designer in Silicon Valley.  She has written articles for Autodesk’s Toplines magazine, SolidProfessor, engineering.com, AUGI’s PaperSpace, DigitalCAD.com, Tenlinks.com and EngineersRule.com. She is president of Moss Designs, creating custom applications and designs for corporate clients.  She has taught CAD classes at Laney College, DeAnza College, Silicon Valley College and Autodesk training centers.  Autodesk has named her as a Faculty of Distinction for the curriculum she has developed for Autodesk products, and she is a Certified Autodesk Instructor.  She holds a B.S. in mechanical engineering from San Jose State University. 

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