Managing Appearances—Making Your Parts and Assemblies Stand Out

Appearances in SOLIDWORKS can be confusing and frustrating, but with a little bit of time, users can become expert at using appearances to make their assemblies and their parts look cool and make it easier to identify different components and configurations.

My first tip when working with appearances is to expand your browser, so you can see what appearances have been applied to each part.

What do the appearance icons indicate?

When you have an icon that looks like a split ball, the top color indicates the color assigned to the part in the assembly. The bottom color indicates the color of the part in the part file.

When you just see the bottom half of the appearance ball, this is the part color when no appearance overrides are set in the assembly.

If you aren’t clear on which colors have been assigned in the part file and which colors have been assigned in the assembly, you can switch the browser to the Appearances tab and change the Sort order to Hierarchy. Notice there are two folders, one called Components and one called Part. The Components folder indicates colors assigned inside the assembly, and the Part folder indicates colors assigned inside the part.

For example, if you look at the SMA connector, you see the appearance ball is split with an orange color on top and a white plastic color on the bottom.

If you look at the assembly, you see that the SMA connectors have an orange appearance.

If I open up the SMA connector part file, the appearance of the connector is displayed as white plastic, not as orange. That is because the orange appearance was applied inside the assembly as an appearance “override.”

In the part browser, you can see that the white plastic appearance has been applied.

You can apply appearances to features, faces, bodies and parts. To apply an appearance, simply select the desired appearance from the Appearance Resource list, hold down the left mouse button and drag it to the face, feature or part you want to assign the appearance. You can select from the display window or the browser. If you are in a part file and you double left click on an appearance swatch, it will automatically assign the selected appearance to the entire part. If you drag the appearance to the face, the selection bar will automatically appear to allow you to select (from left to right) face, feature, body or part.

If you assign an appearance to a face, a feature, the body of a part or an entire part and then assign a different appearance to the part in the assembly, the appearance assigned in the assembly overrides any appearances assigned at the part level.

If you want to remove the appearance assigned at the assembly level, simply highlight that part in the browser, left click on the appearance icon and select Clear All Top Level Overrides.

Notice that if you do that, it will only remove the appearance override of the selected or highlighted part.

Notice the appearance icon displays only the part color—there is no assembly color assigned. If you select Clear Override or Clear All Top Level Overrides, the assembly appearance that was previously assigned to the component will be restored.

To recap, you can apply an appearance at the part level (to faces, features, bodies or the entire part) or you can apply an appearance to a component inside an assembly or you can assign an appearance to an entire assembly.

So, let’s look at my current assembly—a small plastic enclosure with a printed circuit board and some connectors.

I want the enclosure to be spray painted with the dark powder coat paint. So, I go to my Appearances resource panel and locate that appearance. I have my assembly open, and I double left click on the dark powder coat paint.

If you look in the browser, you see that the top assembly has been assigned the black powder coat paint.

If you look in the display window, you see that the entire assembly has the black powder coat appearance.

If you look in the Appearances tab of the browser, you see that the Assembly has been assigned the dark powder coat appearance.

I wanted the enclosure to be black powder coat, not the entire assembly. When I left click on the top assembly appearance, I have three choices: Remove Appearance, Remove All Component Appearances From TOP ASSEMBLY or Remove all Appearances From All Components in TOP ASSEMBLY.

Select Remove Appearance to remove the appearance applied to the top assembly. This will restore the assembly back to what it looked like before I double-clicked on the black powdercoat.

To assign the black powdercoat to the enclosure only, you can drag and drop the appearance to the enclosure subassembly in the Assembly browser.

Notice that the subassembly shows just the top-half of the appearance icon with the black powdercoat color. The top and bottom parts indicate that they are retaining their original appearance.

In the display window, the enclosure looks correct with a black powder coat on the enclosure.

In the Appearances tab of the browser, note that the dark powdercoat has been assigned to an assembly.

My customer would like one configuration of this product with the black powdercoat on the enclosure and another configuration with the enclosure painted candy apple red. That is a good use for display states. Display states save appearance settings to configurations. Display states control whether components are hidden, transparent or differently colored in an assembly.

I added a new configuration to my assembly. Under Advanced Options, I enabled Use configuration specific color.

My assembly now shows no appearance overrides. All the components are back to the default appearance.

In the Appearances tab of the Assembly browser, it shows that the assembly has a texture assigned to the top assembly.

I remove the appearance assigned to the top assembly. Then I change the appearance of the enclosure subassembly to the candy apple red paint color.

This is my candy apple red product.

When I activate each configuration, the enclosure changes to the correct color—either red or black.

Depending on which configuration is active, I see the correct color listed in the Appearances tab of the browser.

To recap:

You can assign different appearances to different levels of your model, starting from the face of a part all the way to the top assembly. If you assign appearances to components inside of an assembly, those appearances will override whatever appearances have been assigned inside the part file. You can eliminate assembly appearance overrides by left-clicking on the appearance icon for the part or top assembly and select Remove Override. You can use configurations to control how your parts and assemblies are displayed.

About the Author

Elise Moss is the SWUGN leader for the Laney College’s SOLIDWORKS User Group. The user group is open to students at Laney College and members of the SOLIDWORKS community. Yes, there is free pizza.

Elise provides corporate training and also works as an accomplished designer and author. She is president of Moss Designs. Her current projects involve developing new automation equipment, including working with large robots.

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