Those Wasted Seconds Add Up: Time Saving Tips and Tricks for SOLIDWORKS
I remember when I finished my first SOLIDWORKS design. How proud I was of myself to have learned something so complicated. I felt great—until I looked at the clock and realized how long it had taken. Ever since then, I have been looking for ways to save time—those precious wasted seconds that add up to wasted hours.
Here are some of my favorite tips and tricks you can use to save time when working with SOLIDWORKS.
Get a Customizable Mouse
Imagine never having to touch your keyboard again and have your control, shift and escape keys dusty from disuse. Too good to be true? This can happen with a simple mouse upgrade.
Many users learn the basics of modeling using a very basic mouse—something with a left button, a right button, a scroll wheel and a cord that was way too short. I was forced to rely on keyboard commands to perform simple tasks hundreds of times a day.
That all changed when I upgraded my mouse. If you have permanent use of a workstation, I highly recommend investing in a mouse that has as many programmable buttons as you think you will use. There are hundreds of options out there, all with different features. You can even go wild and get a 3D mouse if you like.
Look at all those beautiful buttons.
You may not get used to the feel of a 3D mouse, although many users swear by them. But the value of a 3D mouse is in all those buttons, which can be programmed to do whatever you want in SOLIDWORKS. For example, on my personal mouse I have a button mapped to the Escape key, so that I don’t have to reach to the top of my keyboard. I also have a button that acts as a Shift + Click for selecting multiple edges or faces, as well as one mapped to the Normal To command instead of the keyboard shortcut Ctrl + N. Some mice even have number pads, so you can achieve true one-handed modeling.
You can use your free hand for high fives.
Mouse Gestures, Sort Of
Now that you have a fancy new mouse, it’s time to put it to work. You have probably already heard plenty about mouse gestures and why you should use them. If you haven’t, there are millions of articles just like this one explaining how they work. But if I’m being honest, I really don’t use them. Having four directional options isn’t enough for me, and moving up to 8, 12 or 16 gets way too messy. However, I finally found a workaround that turned mouse gestures into something I could use: mapping my custom shortcut bar to one of the directions.
Just right-click, swipe down, and have instant access to your most-used tools.
The shortcut bar, like mouse gestures, can be customized for sketches, parts and assemblies. Simply go to Options > Customization > Shortcut Bars, and drag and drop all the tools you want. Then, go to mouse gestures and map the shortcut bar to your favorite direction. Here’s an example of what mine looks like:
All my most-used sketch tools in one compact place.
Now, you can finally stop feeling guilty about not using mouse gestures.
Speed Up Your Sketches
There are two sketch features (of many) that I wish I would have known from day one.
Extend a curve from a line.
Let’s say you need to draw a line and then a tangent curve at the end of the line. So, you select Line, draw it, hit Escape (or double click), select Curve, draw an arc from the end point, select both the line and the curve, and apply a tangent relation. Easy enough, right?
Let’s make it a bit easier with three steps.
Easily make a tangent curve after a line.
- Draw a line, click to create an endpoint, and move your cursor away without exiting the line tool.
- Move your cursor back to the endpoint without clicking.
- SOLIDWORKS magically turns your next line into a curve that is already tangent to the original line.
Dimension an angled line from its origin.
Before I knew about this little trick, I would always use a vertical construction line to dimension an angled line. That would leave me with a construction line that had served its purpose and cluttered up my sketch.
What an unsightly construction line.
Little did I know that you can dimension an angled line from its own origin using the global coordinate system. Again, this can be done in three simple steps.
Use the global coordinate system to dimension an angle.
- Select the Smart Dimension tool and click on the angled line you want to dimension.
- Click on either endpoint of the line, and then click on the arrow corresponding to the direction you want to dimension your angled line against.
- Click once more to create the dimension.
This trick will not only save you a bit of time but will also help keep your sketches free of construction lines.
Break Up with the Mate Property Manager
Think about the last assembly you made. How many times did you click that little paperclip in the corner to create a mate? Think of all the time you wasted opening the Mate Property Manager and selecting all your options there. The good news is that for simple mates, there is a better way: the Quick Mates Context Toolbar.
Let’s say you have a peg that goes into a hole on another part.
Made for each other.
Instead of opening the Mate Property Manager, let’s select our two mating faces and see what happens. Remember to use Shift + Click to select multiple faces or, better yet, use the button that you programmed to do that on your brand-new mouse.
The mighty Quick Mates Context Toolbar.
After selecting both faces, the Context Toolbar pops up. Since SOLIDWORKS (rightly) assumes that you want to mate these two faces, it gives you some options for all the mates that can be performed. Simply click Concentric and the mate is created and added to the feature tree.
A perfect mate created without the PropertyManager.
Some of the more complicated mate types, such as mechanical and dynamic mates, may not pop up in the Context Toolbar, but this tip will make creating simple mates a breeze.
Make Your Very Own Macro Button
I usually end up 3D printing my designs as a first prototype or even as a final part. To do that, however, the part needs to be saved as an STL or 3MF file type, something that the printing software can read.
The basic way to do this would be to click Save As, select the desired file extension, and make sure the saved file ends up where you want it on your computer. If you 3D print as much as I do, this can get a bit tedious. So here is my final, and favorite, tip: Write a macro program to save your part as an STL, or any other file format.
A macro is a simple scripted program that performs a specific task. You can read this primer on macros here. It is well worth your time to learn the basics because once you have created a simple code, you can add a button to SOLIDWORKS that will run your macro.
Add your own buttons to the main toolbar.
Clicking this Save as STL button will do exactly that and put the saved file exactly where I want it on my computer.
After doing the hard work of creating a macro, adding a button like this is quite easy.
Go back to your customization page by clicking the drop-down arrow next to the Settings gear. Once there, click Commands, and then find Macro in the list on the left. The option on the far right is for a New Macro Button. Click and drag this up to your top toolbar.
Right-click on the blank button that you just dragged up. A Customize Macro Button window like this will pop up:
Customize your new macro button.
Click the three dots next to the empty Macro field and find your program wherever it resides on your computer. You can even add an image to your button and set what your tooltip says when you hover over the button. Click OK, and assuming you wrote your program correctly, your new button will work like a charm.
And there you have it, my five favorite time-saving SOLIDWORKS tips. They may only save a few seconds each time you use them, but those few seconds can really add up over a long design session.
Learn more about SOLIDWORKS with the ebook SOLIDWORKS 2022 Enhancements to Streamline and Accelerate Your Entire Product Development Process.
About the Author
Zachary Wilson is a Mechanical Engineer, product designer and 3D printing enthusiast from the snowy mountains of Utah. With a love of engineering formed at a young age, Zac has always strived to bring the joy of creation to center stage. He is a firm believer that engineering should not only be accessible by all, but is something that everyone should be able to get excited about. His recent 3DEXPERIENCE World presentation, entitled “Make 3D Printing Make Sense” is a perfect example of that ideal.