The Top Five Ways of Customizing SOLIDWORKS

What’s more valuable than money? Time.

Time is the one thing that we can’t get more of, and there are only 24 hours in a day. It is possible, however, to make better use of your time. For engineers and designers, the best way to do this is to make SOLIDWORKS work for you.

How do you do that? Easy—customize it! Customization makes SOLIDWORKS work just the way you want. It’s amazing the time savings that customization can provide. You can extend this to go beyond customizing and begin automating the design process.

Think of customizing as essentials for efficiency.

1. How to Customize SOLIDWORKS

First, let’s look at how to get started customizing SOLIDWORKS. There are a number of ways to find the “Customize” menu in SOLIDWORKS. The three quickest ways are:

  1. Click the drop down next to settings.
  2. Right click anywhere on the CommandManager (including the menu tabs).
  3. Right click on the heads-up display.

From here you can tweak the interface to look however you want. Simply find the command you’re looking for, then drag and drop it to add it to the interface. This works for the CommandManager and the heads-up display.

With SOLIDWORKS 2021 this has become even simpler with the addition of a search bar to help find the command you’re looking for. From here users have control to add, remove or rearrange the commands. The key is to be in the customize menu. Anything can be added to the interface, so long as it has an icon.

One way to think of this is that the customize menu puts you in a sort of customization “mode” where you have the ability to customize the commands.

Pro tip: There are two ways you can “customize on the fly.” The first is to use the command search in the upper right corner of the interface to find a command and add it to the CommandManager by dragging it into place. The second is to press and hold the Alt key and drag icons to reposition them on the CommandManager. See this in action below:

Now that you’ve dipped your toes into the waters of customization, let’s jump into the deep end to make SOLIDWORKS work exactly how you want.

2. Shortcut Bars (The S-Key)

The shortcut bars provide quick access to commands, enabling them to pop up next to your cursor. This is important because keeping the commands available close-by reduces mouse movement and enables you to work incredibly fast. If you’re looking for a way to speed up your modeling, look no further—you need to be using shortcut bars. The shortcut bars offer a customizable bar of commands that is easily access by pressing the S-Key. This moves the commands to your mouse.

Without a shortcut bar, adding the concentric hole to the part shown below, you can see all the movements the mouse makes. This is known as mouse mileage. When you minimize this, you maximize your modeling speed.

If you want to get quicker with modeling, use the shortcut bars. Note that this is plural: shortcut bars. This is because there is a different bar for all the different modeling contexts of sketch, part, assembly and drawing. In other words, after customizing the S-Key, you can have a different set of commands at your fingertips for all different modeling situations.

Recall the image above at the beginning of this section, the one that looks like a toddler scribbled all over it with a red crayon. Compare that to the mouse mileage below showcasing how with the S-Key you can model with precision that saves you mouse travel and, ultimately, time.

However, this is most useful if you take the time to customize it to adapt it to your workflow. This is easy to do, especially in SOLIDWORKS 2021.

  1. Enter “customization mode” (See tip 1 above).
  2. Search for commands (New to SOLIDWORKS 2021).
  3. Drag and drop the command to add it to the shortcut bar.

It’s no surprise that the shortcut bar is a favorite among SOLIDWORKS power users. You can add as many commands as you’d like. The only downside is that it requires two hands to use—one on the mouse and the other on the keyboard. For those looking for speed from modeling using just one hand, take a look at mouse gestures.

3. Mouse Gestures

Users can model with a flick of the wrist by using mouse gestures. Mouse gestures are another option to customize SOLIDWORKS which are similar to shortcut bars except they are activated by the mouse. Instead of bringing up a square palette of commands, mouse gestures open a wheel of commands with a unique wheel available for each of the four modeling modes.

It takes three steps to activate this gesture wheel:

  1. Right click, hold and wiggle/slightly move your mouse.
  2. Swipe your mouse in the direction of the command.
  3. Activate it by swiping over the command.

It’s that simple. Once you become practiced at using mouse gestures, you won’t even see the gesture wheel at all. You’ll just swipe your mouse in the direction of the command, and you can instantly activate the command.

Mouse gestures can be set up from the same customization menu as shown in tip 1. Simply enter customization mode and choose the “Mouse Gestures” tab. The wheel can be setup to include 2, 3, 4, 8 or 12 gestures.

To add a command to the wheel, simply drag and drop the commands to the desired location. Reposition commands by dragging them around the wheel. One of the ways to really speed up your modeling is to use mouse gestures without even thinking about it, and simply swiping to activate a command.

Obviously, you have to know the location of the commands on the gesture wheel, so which requires either practice by just using the gesture wheel, or printing out a gesture wheel guide to keep as a handy reference to help memorize the commands.

Pro Tip: Add frequently used commands such as “okay” or “cancel” to the wheel in the same spot for each of the four modes, so that you will always know where they are.  

The shortcut bars and mouse gestures are my two favorite ways to customize the SOLIDWORKS interface. They offer an ease of use and flexibility that is second to none when it comes to making SOLIDWORKS work how you want.

4. Macros

Macros are a way to execute custom operations in SOLIDWORKS, which enables users to automate tasks. Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) is the engine that drives macros for recording, running or editing. You can create a macro outside of SOLIDWORKS using a VBA editor, but the easiest way to create a macro is to stay in SOLIDWORKS and record it.

Simply press the record button, and SOLIDWORKS will capture the sequence of actions, clicks and commands as you perform them.

Imagine capturing some of the tedious, repetitive tasks you do in SOLIDWORKS countless times a day. As an example, let’s take a look at how to automate the task of creating a 50 mm hole.

As you can see in the video, it’s simple: just press the record button, then model just like you normally would. SOLIDWORKS is capturing all the steps behind the scenes. You can then add a button to your CommandManager, shortcut bars or mouse gestures to execute this macro.

5. Saving Customizations

After you customize SOLIDWORKS, you will want to have your customizations available on other computers or with the next SOLIDWORKS upgrade. Some users become so used to their customizations and shortcuts that they have a tough time working on a system other than their own. The Copy Settings Wizard will let you capture all your settings, including customizations, and move them to another installation of SOLIDWORKS.

To both save and load customizations, use the Copy Settings Wizard which is accessible either through SOLIDWORKS, or through the Windows Start Menu like a standalone application. This tool creates a .sldreg file which can be saved on a USB drive or on the cloud for easy access. Power users typically store these in a place where they can get quick access to their customizations so that they can always feel at home no matter when and where they might be modeling.

Those are the essentials for efficiency by customizing SOLIDWORKS. If you want to model faster and get more time in the day, get started with these five SOLIDWORKS tools. You can not only customize the interface to make SOLIDWORKS work how you want, but you can take it a step further and make SOLIDWORKS work for you by automating tasks. If you want to be a true power user of SOLIDWORKS, you need to use the shortcut bars, mouse gestures, and macros. When you have this all set up, capture a snapshot of your customizations using the Copy Settings Wizard.

If you want to take your modeling to the next level, you need to be taking advantage of these tools.

For more on SOLIDWORKS and simulation-driven design, check out the whitepaper Design Through Analysis: Today’s Designers Greatly Benefit From Simulation-Driven Product Development.

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