More Modeling Tips and Techniques (The User Interface)



As a young man, I worked in the construction industry, both as a summer job and for a period of time after graduating from high school. One thing I learned quickly was to work smart, not hard. This lesson is one I carried into all aspects of my life, including the use of SOLIDWORKS.

Keeping Current

One aspect of my job that I truly enjoy is working with SOLIDWORKS users to help them become more efficient in their use of the software. While doing this, I often observe that many SOLIDWORKS users still use the software in the same manner as they did when they first learned how to use it.

For some, it has been 10 or more years since they were trained in the software. With around 200 enhancements per release, there are a substantial number of time savers and other features that these users maybe missing out on. As an example, many users are awed by what I can do when I press the ‘S’key. If you are wondering what the ‘S’ key does, then this article is for you.

My first tip is not a modeling tip at all, but it is crucial for the continuous improvement in the use of SOLIDWORKS. Since standing still is tantamount to becoming obsolete, staying current is likely beneficial to your career. With that in mind, I would recommend using resources, such as the SOLIDWORKS What’s New Guide, to familiarize yourself with new time-saving tools. For employers and managers, giving your SOLIDWORKS users the time and resources to learn new functionality will pay for itself many times over through increased efficiency.

The What’s New Guide lists some of the major enhancements for a given software release as well as the add-ons created by SOLIDWORKS. The guide also includes examples that can be used to familiarize yourself with a new function or concept.

Accessing the What’s New Guide.

In addition to the What’s New Guide, you can learn about the software’s enhancements from SOLIDWORKS webinars, and the SOLIDWORKS Forums. Many SOLIDWORKS value-added resellers also offer some form of What’s New training and/or seminars.

User Interface

Now that we that we are current, let’s look at how we can use these tools to become more efficient.

For the rest of this article, I will be looking at how the software’s user interface can help you increase your efficiency while modeling. Have you considered how much you move your mouse while designing? Your mouse may be traveling a meter every minute. Since mouse use can lead to repetitive strain injury (RSI), decreasing mouse movement is desirable. Further, decreasing mouse movement will also decrease design time, which in turn will make you more efficient.

If you are in the habit of using pull-down menus, toolbars or even the Command Manager, you are likely working harder than you need to and increasing your chances of experiencing an RSI injury. With that, let’s look at the tools SOLIDWORKS offers to help reduce mouse movement

The ‘S’ Key

One of my favorite tools that a surprisingly small number of people are familiar with, and which I mentioned earlier, is the ‘S’ key. By pressing this key on your keyboard, you will be presented with a context-sensitive menu that is customizable. When you press this key, a menu will appear next to your mouse cursor. This menu allows you to launch a command without having to move your mouse cursor to a toolbar or pull-down menu. The menu contents will differ, depending on whether you’re working in a sketch, a model, an assembly or a drawing.





‘S’ key menus from left to right: Sketch, Model, Assembly Drawing.

The ‘S’ key menus can be customized by right-clicking on the menu and choosing “Customize.”

Accessing Customize for the ‘S’ key menu.

Once you are in the Customize dialog box, commands can be dragged into the ‘S’ key menu. The available commands are on the left and a preview of the ‘S’ key menu is on the right. By default, Flyout Toolbars are displayed, but different groups of commands can be displayed from the Toolbar pull-down menu.

Flyouts Toolbars in the Customize dialog box.

I added the Boss and Cut Extrude flyouts to my Sketch ‘S’ key menu. This way, I can create my features without having to move my mouse over to the pull-down menus, toolbars or the Command Manager.

Boss/Base Extrudes in the ‘S’ key menu.

The ‘D’ Key

Another shortcut key I use regularly is the ‘D’ key. The function of this key is to move a menu to your mouse cursor. As an example, if I’m in a sketch, I can press the ‘D’ key and bring the Confirmation Corner to my mouse cursor. This allows me to exit a sketch with a minimal amount of mouse movement.

Using the ‘D’ key to bring the Confirmation Corner to the cursor.

Other Shortcut Keys

There are several other shortcut keys that help reduce mouse movement. Some are common among multiple programs, such as CTRL-O to open a document, CTRL-S to save a document or ALT-Tab to cycle between open documents. Other keys are more specific to SOLIDWORKS, such pressing the ‘R’ key to display recently opened documents, the ‘L’ key to draw a line or the ‘F’ key to Zoom to Fit. A full list of shortcut keys can be viewed and printed from Tools>Options>Customize or by right-clicking on the Command Manager and selecting “Customize.” Keyboard shortcuts are accessed from the Keyboard tab.

Customizing keyboard shortcuts.

To increase the power of shortcut keys, you can create Short-Keys for the commands you use most often.


In addition to shortcut keys, you can use Gestures to invoke commands. By holding down the right mouse button and sliding the mouse, you will be presented with a selection of context-sensitive commands. The behavior of Gestures is similar to the ‘S’ key, but the menu contents will differ, depending on whether you’re working in a sketch, a model, an assembly or a drawing.

The Gestures menu.

To invoke a command, while holding the right mouse button, drag the cursor over a command and then release the right mouse button.

Like the ‘S’ key menus, the Gestures menus can also be customized. This can be done from the Mouse Gestures tab of the Customize menu.

Customizing Gestures.

In the Mouse Gestures tab, you can specify in the Gestures menu if you will enable 4 or 8 gestures.

Gestures were first introduced in SOLIDWORKS 2010. If Gestures are new to you, then think of how many other great enhancements you might be missing out on.

Context-Sensitive Menus

By left-clicking on any entity, the software will present you with a context-sensitive pop-up menu. This menu will display commands that are related to your selection and the mode you are in. As with the ‘S’ key, these menus will appear near your mouse cursor.

Pop-up Menu that appears when selecting a component in an assembly.

These pop-up menus can be further enhanced by turning on Instant 2D and Instant 3D from the Command Manager.

Instant 2D

Instant 2D allows you to change a dimension’s value, without having to double-click on the dimension, to invoke the Modify dialog box. To change the value of a dimension, left-click on it once and enter the new value.

Changing a dimension’s value with Instant 2D on.

By left-clicking on the handle at the tip of the dimension arrow and dragging, you can change the position of the related geometry. A ruler is provided to give dimensional feedback as the geometry is being dragged.

Positioning geometry using the dimension arrow handle.

Instant 3D

Instant 3D operates at the feature level instead of inside a sketch. Clicking on the model will display a feature’s dimensions. Clicking on the dimension will allow you to enter a new value for that dimension in a way that is similar to Instant 2D.

Changing the value of a dimension with Instant 3D enabled.

Instant 3D also provides handles that allow you to dynamically change the shape of a feature.

Using handles to modify a feature.

As with Instant 2D, you can change a feature with Instant 3D by clicking on the handle at the tip of a dimension arrow and dragging it.

Right Mouse Menu

Commands can also be launched from a Right Mouse menu. Like the ‘S’ key menu, the Right Mouse menu is context sensitive, so the menu will change depending on the mode you are in (sketch, part assembly, drawing) and what you right click on.

At the top of the Right Mouse menu, a context-sensitive menu will be displayed. This is the same menu you would see if you left-clicked the same entity. In this way, you have access to both the Right Mouse menu and the context-sensitive menu.

Some of these commands have flyouts, which allow you to access additional commands.

The Right Mouse menu with flyouts.

Not all of the commands will be immediately visible from the Right Mouse menu. Additional commands can be accessed by left-clicking on the double arrow at the bottom of the menu.

Customize the Right Mouse menu.

In this mode, you can define which commands will be immediately visible from the Right Mouse menu.

Changing the content of the Right Mouse menu.

Cursor Options

The cursor itself can provide options for creating geometry. For example, when I’m creating a feature, I can drag an arrow to define the size of that feature. A ruler is provided as a visual reference. In the example below, I can also click on the double arrow to reverse the direction of the feature.

Sizing a feature with the ruler.

After sizing the feature by dragging it to the correct location, I can complete the feature by right-clicking on it. A cursor will be displayed to indicate this option.

Mouse icon indicating you can right-click to complete a feature.


Breadcrumbs present you with a context-sensitive view of your current selection. Breadcrumbs display a hierarchical view of the elements related to your selection. After clicking on an entity, such as a face, you will see the part, body and feature associated with your selection. Absorbed entities, such as sketches, are shown below the parent entity. The entity you selected will be highlighted in blue.

Breadcrumbs shown when selecting a face.

Left-clicking on one of the Breadcrumb entities will provide you with a menu that is specific to your selection.

Context-sensitive menu displaying commands related to Sketch3.

Breadcrumbs can be used with the ‘D’ key to move Breadcrumbs to your cursor. This eliminates the need to move your mouse to the Breadcrumbs menu.

Search Bar

There will always be occasions when you need to access a seldom-used command. You can try to search for these commands from the pull-down menus or you can try to use the software’s Help feature to find where these commands are located. Both of these approaches can be tedious and time consuming. Instead, you can use the software’s Search Bar to find and execute these commands. The Search Bar is located at the top right corner of the software window. In addition to finding and executing commands, the Search Bar can also be used to search SOLIDWORKS Help, search for Files and Models, access and several other resources.

Search Bar resources.

As you type, SOLIDWORKS will present a decreasing list of matching commands. When you mouse over a command, you will be provided with an overview of what the command does. By clicking on the eyeball icon to the right of the command, you will be shown which menu the command is located in.

Using the Search Bar to find a command.

Copy Settings Wizard

In this article, we looked at customizing some menus. These changes can take a bit of time to set up, and you don’t want to lose these changes as the result of some mishap. To backup these settings, you can use the SOLIDWORKS Copy Settings Wizard. The Copy Settings Wizard can be accessed from the Start menu by navigating to the SOLIDWORKS folder, or by typing Copy into the Windows Search.

Accessing Copy Settings Wizard.

Whichever method you choose to access this tool, once launched, Copy Settings Wizard allows to choose what you want to backup.

Choosing which settings to save in the Copy Settings Wizard.

When required, you can then use Copy Settings Wizard to restore your settings, or to duplicate the settings to another computer.

By staying current, in order to take advantage of all the great enhancements that come with every release of SOLIDWORKS and taking advantage of tools that can help you work more efficiently, you can also can work smart, not hard.

One final note: the images that appear at the beginning of this article show the traces of my mouse movement from when I was creating the displayed model. For the image on the left, I used pull-down menus and the Command Manger. For the image on the right, I used many of the techniques covered in this article.


Joe Medeiros is a senior applications engineer at Javelin Technologies, a SOLIDWORKS reseller servicing customers throughout Canada. He has been involved with SOLIDWORKS since 1996. An award-winning blogger, he regularly writes about SOLIDWORKS products.

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