Revamp Your Renderings in SOLIDWORKS Visualize

As a 3D product designer and SOLIDWORKS content creator, I’ve picked up a few tips and tricks when it comes to utilizing SOLIDWORKS Visualize to its full potential. Some of these I have used for rendering images and others for rendering animations. For this article, I will take you through the process of rendering a model and motion study from SOLIDWORKS to SOLIDWORKS Visualize using a toy design I created. I will show you how to make different setting changes, from backgrounds, appearances, extra models, decals and camera tips to make a rendering more realistic and more detailed.

Once I have a design modeled in SOLIDWORKS, if it has any moving parts, I like to create a motion study animation to show them off, especially when the design is a toy. It really brings the design to life. This motion study can be exported directly into Visualize using the SOLIDWORKS Visualize tab. I use the Export Advanced option to export all the model information, including all the parts, separate appearances, decals and motion study information.

If you have multiple motion studies on the go, you can select a specific one from a drop-down list when exporting. All of the information is then opened within Visualize, including the motion study animation time bars. The image below shows how my design would look, as if I had just rendered out my model and before I made any improvements. This way, you can really see how the changes we make can affect the outcome.

Activity Cube First Rendering in SOLIDWORKS Visualize.

Right now, the model is almost floating in a vast background of white, with harsh environment lighting, unrefined appearances and flat decals. The product has no context. So, let’s get to work!

The first thing to do is resize the render region. I prefer to use a 16:9 ratio as it is more commonly used for screens. I normally opt for this size for tutorial videos and blog posts, too. When you do this, you may find that your backplate remains the same size, so if you are using a backplate for your rendering, you need to check Fill Background. That isn’t necessary in this case as I will be importing models to create my own background.

From here on, I changed the environment. For this specific rendering, I kept the current environment, the 3 Point Faded. Instead of changing it, I rotated it to change the direction of the lighting. I like the layout of lights for this environment, but the brightness is quite harsh, so I like to lower the lights slightly to a warmer indoor room lighting. For this specific design, I wanted the environment to feel like a children’s bedroom to help bring context to the product and render.

Before I start working on the appearance of the model, I suggest changing the background type to Color and choosing something darker than your model. This can make it easier to see any appearance changes afterwards, especially if you have lightly colored or white model parts. Of course, keep the background light if you have a darker model.

Appearances and decals are so important when it comes to revamping your renderings, and you have so many options here. Don’t underestimate the power of decal; decals add realism and detail to designs. An example of this is a coffee cup rendering I created many years ago—so far back that I rendered the image with PhotoView 360. The top face of the drinks and the ice cream texture were created using simple decal image files, but this added detail with the appearance of texture and a more convincing finish to my tableware set. This was all before I realized that I could also add bump mapping to a surface to create a new appearance.

Crystal Tableware Rendering in SOLIDWORKS PhotoView 360.

When it comes to adding appearances, it’s a good thing to mix up the colors, materials and textures. You will notice that there are many more appearances to use under the SOLIDWORKS Visualize cloud library; it is definitely worth checking out all the available appearances.

Back to my Activity Cube model and looking at appearances. When adding a wood appearance to my model, I try to avoid having the wood grain go in the same direction on any two parts and avoid the wood grain running perfectly straight. Sometimes when you are rendering an image, it is tempting to make everything look perfect. I am guilty of this, too. So, it is a good thing to try and add some imperfections or inconsistencies to your model.

One way to achieve this is to add textures using a bump map. Bump mapping images can be black and white or, more commonly, RGB value images (usually blueish or purple in appearance) and create textured surfaces by capturing light within the rendering. I utilize this feature for all of my decals. Without a texture, your decals can appear flat and bring down the overall success of your rendering.

For this design, I have decal artwork applied to each side of the activity cube with the toy being predominately wooden; the artwork would be screen printed onto wooden panels. To achieve this finish within Visualize, I added the Brushed Normal bump map to a white paint appearance under the texture tab. Then, with the clock decal selected, for example, I can apply the custom appearance to the decal under its own appearance tab.

Activity Cube Bump Mapping in SOLIDWORKS Visualize.

You can see the changes I’ve made have started to take shape on my model, but we still have a way to go. We have a lot of dead space around the model, unrefined lighting on the keyboard keys and some easy-to-apply camera tricks.

Activity Cube Second Rendering in SOLIDWORKS Visualize.

For the keys, adding an emissive appearance to create lit-up keys was too harsh and unrealistic. Instead, I changed each key to a plastic appearance to give them color, then created a duplicate outer shell around each key, applying a clear plastic appearance with the ‘Square Bowls’ bump map for texture.  To create realistic lighting, I used the Environments tab and created five new area lights, one per key with the light shape on point. These lights were very small and were placed just behind the clear plastic layer. The light colors were also changed to match the corresponding key.

By adding the light colors, I can use the lights within the animation by adding keyframes to each area light. The lights could then be turned off and on using the brightness controls. I use brightness to control the on and off animation of the lights rather than enabling or disabling the lights so that the light progressively turns on and off between marked keyframes. It’s important to have a light enabled to see it within the render window but also to have the light visible if you want the light shape noticeable within the rendering.

Visualize Lights in SOLIDWORKS Visualize.

Activity Cube Third Rendering in SOLIDWORKS Visualize.

Now to fill in the dead space around the model. For this, I modeled a room which includes a wall, floor and skirting/base boards in SOLIDWORKS. I can then add these models into Visualize and move them around the render window so that the activity cube sits onto the carpet. I added appearances to the background parts including carpet, a painted wall and boards that complement the toy design.

But we don’t stop here. As mentioned earlier, we need to give the toy context for the final rendering. I have a file on my PC of what I call my rendering extras. These files are parts I’ve modeled as accessories for my renderings. These include rugs, shelving, books, toys and even windows. I model these parts to scale, but I can always scale up models within Visualize if the scale looks off.

Adding Background Models in SOLIDWORKS Visualize.

Activity Cube Fourth Rendering in SOLIDWORKS Visualize.

For this design, I added a set of building blocks and a floor book storage bin with some children’s books added in. At this point, the rendering is almost complete, but not quite. We could leave it like this, or we could select the Camera tab and enable depth of field. You will see between the images below the difference this can make. You will also notice that cropping the render window down makes the image look slightly less staged and more natural. The depth of field also adds some focus on the details of the activity cube, while blurring out some of the background.

Activity Cube Fifth Rendering in SOLIDWORKS Visualize.

Activity Cube Final Rendering in SOLIDWORKS Visualize.

The final step is rendering the animation into a movie. We already have the motion study data within Visualize that we exported from SOLIDWORKS. From here I added in some extra keyframes with the keyboard lights just to include some more fun visual elements. Visualize allows you to choose how many frames you want to render per second. For this animation, I changed it from the default 30 frames per second to 45. I usually like to do this when I have fast-moving parts or if I want to edit the rendering afterwards to slow down sections.

You can see the final results in this animation.

Activity Cube Animation in SOLIDWORKS Visualize.

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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 become a freelance product designer with her own company. She has her bachelor’s and master’s degrees 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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