SOLIDWORKS Gets a Stand-Alone, Photo-Quality Renderer

It has been more than twenty years since the first release of SOLIDWORKS hit the market in 1995 and in that time the CAD tool has developed into a platform used by millions. That first iteration was heralded as being easy to use for all engineers, but as the product has grown and features have been added, it has expanded beyond just core engineers. It should come as no surprise that new releases are met with both excitement and hesitation. Even small changes have the potential to impact the workflow of so many engineers and designers, and even marketers. With the release of SOLIDWORKS 2016, one product is certain to be noticed — even if users do not get a chance to use it right away.

SOLIDWORKS Visualize is the new standalone suite of rendering tools that is included with each seat of SOLIDWORKS 2016 Professional and Premium versions on active subscription. Images from SOLIDWORKS Visualize are displayed all over the marketing material accompanying its release. The reason it is so prominent to every user? Every announcement of the release has one or more photorealistic images on it — rendered with Visualize. Images, such as the one of the car interior, are marketing gold, and could be every engineer’s best friend. Most engineers and designers know that hours of time and effort go into even the smallest of design details, but it is a rare and proud moment when that work is translated so elegantly into beautiful images and animations. While imagery is not a panacea for engineers looking to convey their worth, it can add to that message. And while Visualize is billed as easy to use, as with any good tool, results depend on the skill and knowledge of the user.

Image courtesy of Bentley Motors.

What Happened to PhotoView?

Visualize is not the only rendering tool in the SOLIDWORKS arsenal – just the latest. PhotoView 360 has been around since the 2009 release. PhotoView still exists and even got its own set of updates, which seem to have been totally eclipsed by Visualize. Notably, there is the new addition of “Proof Sheets” within the PhotoView options. Proof sheets offer turnkey settings that optimize lighting options to ensure a quality rendering. This is the type of thing that is easy to play with but hard to get exactly right, and these proof sheets offer a compelling shortcut to making things look polished. More details of the proof sheets updates can be found in the help menus.


So why add another set of rendering tools to the mix? For that, it is important to understand the history of Visualize. SOLIDWORKS Visualize is a rebranded Bunkspeed, which Dassault Systèmes recently acquired. Bunkspeed had already been acquired only a month before by Realtime Technologies (RTT). Dassault Systèmes has ended up with a great rendering tool that competes with big players in the rendering space, notably KeyShot.

Users Get a Thousand Dollar Renderer — For Free

With Bunkspeed, there were no ties to the Dassault Systèmes name, and the product was still a separate purchase, which meant that a separate seat license was required. Users were free to move outside of the Dassault ecosystem, and no doubt this played a role in deciding to rebrand this into SOLIDWORKS Visualize. Further, the product still ships with a standalone use, so it is possible to get access to a user without tying up the core SOLIDWORKS license. In theory, this is a great potential cost reduction for users. Bunkspeed SHOT is still advertised as $995, about the same as arch-competitor KeyShot, though an upgrade to the Pro version will cost extra. The features included in the base package are enough to get the job done for simple renderings — the types of things requested by marketing teams for PowerPoint decks and quick emails to clients.

Users should not trivialize the importance of the complexity of rendering tools, though. Just as CAD design can take years to master, so can design for presentations. There is a particularly well-done product video shown on the Visualize gallery website that walks through the product features of an interchangeable set of pans. No amount of cool new features is going to make that video turnkey. Many engineers, myself included, have sat down with grand plans of their great presentations in mind, only to be cruelly reminded that this is as a pursuit in artwork that is open to criticism and subjective input. On the flip side no amount of polish will turn a bad design into something amazing, though it may at least give it a glossy shiny feel.

SOLIDWORKS Visualize may help you express your idea in a more visually appealing way. But it will not, by itself, make you a better designer. Image courtesy of Daniel Simon.

One way that Visualize makes you a better designer is by showing the final result quicker. Easy-to-use tools employ the “select to apply” design style which means that photo-quality renderings are truly only a few clicks away. As a stand-alone product that accepts native CAD files, this also means that a non-CAD user, who does not necessarily have an active install of SOLIDWORKS or may simply be intimidated by the software, can quickly grab a file and make a realistic image. Again, this is helpful when interfacing with other departments. So long as another user has access to the files, they can create their image without running the risk of accidently ruining a design. Ever have a colleague accidently change a feature tree or delete a part while trying to take a screen shot of a design? Not fun.

What is even better is that because Visualize started out as a third-party application, it can import more than 20 file types. A non-comprehensive list includes:

• Rhino
• Autodesk
• 3ds Max
• SketchUp
• Maya (binary)

The output file types cover all the majors as well (JPG, PNG, TIF), though some of the higher-end video things are still saved for the Professional version of the software.

With the new addition of such a large product it will be a while until the existing value-added resellers get up to speed on the details. SOLIDWORKS resellers worldwide are still getting the marketing material they need to sell Visualize, and the marketing material on the Bunkspeed site and its YouTube channel for the software seems to have been retired. The plan is to have more current videos added under the SOLIDWORKS banner, so watch this space. SOLIDWORKS VAR, Hawk Ridge Systems, has been out in front of this, creating their own marketing brochures that cover many of the features. Hopefully more resources come online in the next few months as bloggers, designers and engineers get into the software and help to fill in how to best take advantage of all the new bells and whistles.

This streamlining of software packages is ultimately good for users. The addition of new tools, with the absence of a required additional license, should go a long way for organizations looking to improve their appearance. With other SOLIDWORKS 2016 updates promoting their ability to reduce time to market, it is these soft features that will help gritty companies get ahead by putting their best foot forward. If you have a great design, rendered in the new SOLIDWORKS Visualize, we would love to hear about it or see a link in the comments.

About the Author


Chris McAndrew (@CbMcAndrew) is a product development and marketing executive with nearly a decade of experience bringing concepts from the idea stage to market release in a variety of industries. He is a trained mechanical engineer, with a B.S. from Tulane University, and he is completing an MBA program at UCLA Anderson School of Business (’16).

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