How to Use Envelopes in SOLIDWORKS

Let’s start with what envelopes are and why you would want to use envelopes.

Envelopes are useful when working in a large assembly. For example, I have a chassis loaded with several printed circuit board assemblies. The PCBAs are causing my assembly to load fairly slowly and causing my workflow to be sluggish. I need to see the PCBAs, and I need their mates to remain intact. I can turn the envelope setting on or off without affecting the assembly.

Click on the sub-assembly in the browser, then click on the Component Properties icon.

Check the box to enable Envelope.

By default, sub-assemblies that are using envelope mode are not included in the bill of materials.

The icon in the browser changes to show that the sub-assembly is in envelope mode and not included in the BOM.

To speed up assembly performance even more, go to Tools > Options.

Highlight Assemblies, and enable “Automatically load lightweight” and “Load read-only” under Envelope Components.

You can control whether envelopes are visible or not visible in your top assembly. Simply right click on the top assembly and select Hide All Envelopes.

In the browser, any subassemblies designated as envelopes are still available, but are shown as hidden.

You can also use envelopes to help you select components.

Let’s say I want to be able to select all the LED lights easily.

Go to Insert Components > New Part.

Click on the panel face, then draw a rectangle and extrude.

Rename the component; in this case, it is called LED Envelope.

Next, use Component Properties to change it to an envelope. Remember that any parts or subassemblies designated as envelopes are not included in the BOM.

As an envelope, the display of the component becomes transparent, so you can see the LEDs contained by the envelope.

Right click on the envelope component and select Envelope > Select Using Envelope.

You can select components that are inside the envelope, outside the envelope or using a crossing envelope.

Another way to leverage envelopes is to the use the Advanced Select tool on the Standard toolbar.

Select Envelope Select – SW Special from the drop-down list. Select the Condition and then which envelope to use for the selection. Then, click Apply.

The selected components will be highlighted in the browser.

If you go to Tools > Performance Evaluation, you can compare the amount of time it takes to open your large assembly with and without using envelopes. And it’s dramatic!

Another use for envelopes is to set up zones in your assembly and assign them to different team members. Each envelope can be named for a zone or team member. Team members can only work on components residing within the designated envelope.

About the Author

Elise Moss has worked in Silicon Valley for the past thirty years as a designer and mechanical engineer. She is currently traveling the United States with her husband and two horses, exploring backroads and historical trails. She is writing about her horse travels on her blog Her professional website is

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