The SOLIDWORKS Tips I Can’t Live Without

If I were stranded on a desert island, these are the 10 SOLIDWORKS tips I hope I had with me.

Just kidding. What I mean to say is, here are 10 tips I think every SOLIDWORKS user needs to know.

1. The Command Search – Quickly Find and Activate Any SOLIDWORKS Command

This is my favorite of the tips in this list, and the one I share with every single student to whom I teach SOLIDWORKS. The command search is a quick way to launch a command. Instead of digging through menus searching for a command you may only use once a month (or less), just start typing in its name and launch it from the list of commands.

You can also customize your UI by dragging and dropping the icons to your command manager.  It’s a quick way to add some customizations on the fly, in case you might use that same command a few more times.

And if you want to know where a command resides, you can use the command search to guide your mouse to the command’s location and point to it with a big red arrow that you can’t miss. For this, all you do is click the eyeglasses next to the command to see where it is once and for all.

2. Context Menu – How to Get it Back When it Disappears

The context menu is the box that pops up next to your mouse with a bunch of buttons you can click. It’s called the context menu because it’ll look different depending on the context of the selection. All power users take advantage of the context menu because it brings any relevant command right to your mouse, enabling you to model super-fast.

But what most power users don’t know is how to get it back when it disappears. The context menu will disappear if your mouse doesn’t move directly to it. It’s sort of very needy and very sensitive in the sense that if you don’t pay attention to it, it seems to go away mad.

We’ve all been in the situation where we’re modeling, and we hesitate for just an instant and the context menu disappears. The good news is that it doesn’t disappear for good. You can get it back by pressing the control key. Just make sure your mouse is positioned in the area where it originally appeared, and it will reappear.

3. S-Key – The Only Hot Key You Need to Remember

In my opinion, the best way to model in SOLIDWORKS is to have one hand on the mouse and the other on the keyboard ready to press the “S” key. When you press the ”S” key you launch a customizable short cut bar that brings a set of commands right to your mouse. This is the only hot key you need to know, because with it you can quickly access dozens of commands. These short cut bars are different depending on the modeling context – sketch, part, assembly or drawing.

What makes this model technique so fast is that you’ll never hesitate when you think about your hot keys. Normally, you waste precious seconds thinking or even positioning your hand to hit the desired hot key. Instead, just remember this one and your brain can focus on modeling. Try it out, I’m sure you’ll agree this is the fastest way to model just about anything. Also, it’s a short cut for activating the command search (see tip number 1).

4. Top Level Assembly Filter – Always Open the Right File

When you’re opening files in SOLIDWORKS, it can sometimes be tough to tell which one is the top-level assembly. One common trick is to filter for assemblies and pick the largest one, but this isn’t always going to be the top-level assembly. This is because there is data embedded within SOLIDWORKS files, such as simulation studies, pictures or even virtual components. 

By using the quick filters in the bottom right corner of the open dialog, you can quickly filter for the top-level assembly. This works by using file references to figure out which assembly is the top-level assembly.

5. The Biad – Dimension Angles Without Construction Geometry

The biad is a name I made up for the 2D triad introduced in SOLIDWORKS 2015. They call it enhanced angle dimension capability. With the biad, you can create an angle dimension for any line in a sketch or 2-D drawing without referencing any other geometry. This means you don’t have to draw any construction geometry—you just use the line itself and imaginary lines to define the angle.

The biad appears with the dimension tool activated, and after a special two click sequence. First you click the line segment, and then the end point. It’s that easy. With the dimension tool active you click the line, then the end point which will anchor the dimension; you then have four options of imaginary lines from which you will measure the angle dimension.

6. Drag to Add Reference Planes – Add Reference Planes On the Fly

When you want to add a reference plane, all you have to do is hold the control key and drag away from an existing plane. This will immediately add a new reference plane parallel to the existing plane. The trick here is to, with the control key pressed, find the spot on the existing plan where the cross symbol appears (the same as the pan arrows in SOLIDWORKS). This spot is typically near the perimeter of the existing plane.

This trick is great if you need another plane off in space and the position doesn’t need to be exact. If it needs to be exact, you can always go in and modify its position.

7. Normal To – More Than Just Front and Back, But You Can Customize Your Orientation

With the “normal to” command, you can orient a face so you’re looking at it from a right angle. If you want to flip it around and look normally to the other side, you click it again. But even power users may not know that you can customize the orientation of “Normal to” by defining the vertical direction.

This works by selecting a second face before clicking “Normal to.” You hold the control key and select the face you want to look at, and then you select a second face which will define the vertical or “up” orientation.

8. Disable Auto-Relations – Free Yourself From the Clutter When Sketching

When you’re sketching, there is a lot of dynamic feedback happening. Normally, that’s great; you always know if you’re vertical, horizontal, parallel, perpendicular and so on. But this autosnapping functionality can sometimes get in the way—and even be downright annoying.

To dynamically turn this off, just hold the control key while sketching. This will turn off the autosnapping functionality, giving you the freedom to sketch whatever and wherever you want. Sketching goes back to normal when you release the control key.

9. Dimension to Tangency–Override the Default with the Shift Key

When dimensioning to curved entities, the default behavior is to dimension to its center. By holding the shift key when you click a curved entity, you will be adding a dimension to its tangency. 

10. Sketch Relations –Add Relations as Quickly as Possible

A welcome feature added just a few years ago was the ability to add sketch relations to shared or common vertices. This means you no longer need to use the control key to select two segments to add a relationship at their intersection like perpendicular or tangent. Now you can add relations to the vertex, which takes no time at all.

Those are my Top 10 tips I think every SOLIDWORKS power user should know and use on a regular basis. Obviously, there are many, many more tips to help model better in SOLIDWORKS, but these are just the ten I’d want to have with me on my desert island.

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