Visualize in SOLIDWORKS 2023 has Subtle But Important Enhancements

A Short History of SOLIDWORKS Visualize

Before diving into the updates of SOLIDWORKS Visualize for 2023, it is important to know where the product came from. It is easy to get lost in the incremental enhancements and forget how powerful the underlying products are, particularly in a space such as graphics and visualization, which has developed quickly. This is especially critical if you are making the decision to upgrade not just from one year prior (2022) but are instead one of the many users who may skip a generation or more before upgrading.

SOLIDWORKS Visualize’s history goes all the way back in 2016, when the rendering and visualization package was rebranded from Bunkspeed. Traditionally, rendering products for CAD trailed other industries. Over the past few years, the advances in rendering bleeding over from gaming and design technologies have accelerated CAD visualization packages. These advances are highlighted in Visualize 2023, but can be subtle and unless you look carefully, you may miss them. If you are planning to update, we recommend exporting a control model rendering from your old system, then building the same render in the 2023 version of the software. The side-by-side comparison is the only way to see how these enhancements impact your renders, since each combination of lighting, surfaces and settings will be improved in its own way.

The use cases for visuals are varied and start from simple presentation of new models to renderings for packaging and marketing. This means that everyone from design engineers to marketing managers may find SOLIDWORKS Visualization useful. As visualization potential has improved and the opportunity to use the output in marketing has developed, it has become increasingly important to make tools like SOLIDWORKS Visualize be accessible to non-traditional CAD users. Additionally, the quality of output keeps developing. This focus leads to the key enhancements in 2023.

New and Improved Features of SOLIDWORKS Visualize 2023

Let’s first take a look at the major areas of enhancement, then we’ll break down why they matter and who benefits the most from them.

The enhancements can be broken out into a few areas:

Improved Importing and Part Control

Before setting up a scene, lighting and materials, the associations of parts and sub-assemblies are critical. The new enhancements allow you to pull in these native associations directly from the model. Ultimately, this makes it easier to manipulate the components and locate the model within your scene through simple drag and drop positioning.

DSPBR Material Support in Preview

DSPBR stands for Dassault Systems Physically Based Rendering (or sometimes, Physically Based Raytracing). Also enhanced were the previews of Material Definition Language (MDL) based appearances.  This is simply another way of saying photorealistic rendering.

The big shift here is enabling surface textures and material appearances directly in the preview of a model, without the time and resource requirements of a full rendering. No doubt some materials are better than others in their ability to be previewed, so the impact to your workflow will differ depending on which materials you typically work with. 

The best example of this was buried in the SOLIDWORKS Visualize update help files. The image below is from those help files and shows one of the more dramatic materials that was enhanced in a side-by-side improvement. This makes it clear how nuanced a washed-out edge or a reflective glare would be hidden in full rendering but otherwise lost in previous previews.

Improvements in Color Picker

Sometimes a simple action, like picking a color, can be deceptively complex. This is what led to the enhancements in the color picker, which—as the launch video puts it—aims to ensure that “your exact color is never more than a few clicks away.” While you can still add new colors using the color picker and clicking anywhere on the screen to sample the color you want, the color picker now has improved import and save controls. The aim here is to allow designers to develop brand and part specific color palettes that wind up being their preferred colors.

By enabling import directly from Adobe files, CSS files and HTML, the system can ensure that the colors within your render match those colors as they would appear in your other marketing collateral or digital assets. This development of embedded style guides with searchable names will be a huge improvement for anyone who has ever sat in a design review and discussed whether two shades of blue are actually the same.

It’s worth noting that these color palettes can be exported, as well, so that those set up in Visualize can be shared back to SOLIDWORKS native files, further improving accuracy on early previews and ad hoc design reviews.

Addition of Stellar Physically Correct Rendering Engine

This is a Dassault Systèmes Global Illumination renderer, which is designed for higher-end systems; a supported GPU is also fine, but you are likely to want something at the higher end of functionality. This improvement firmly falls in the camp of being hard to quantify. Dassault Systèmes has put a lot of effort into developing high end rendering capabilities, but at a simplistic level Stellar Physically correct is designed to do two things: make fast previews more effective and make full renders more interactive.

SOLIDWORKS Visualize vs. PhotoView 360

While initially rendering tools were an add-on product, a seat of Visualize is included with each Professional and Premium subscription. Visualize is still a standalone product, however, which means it requires an entirely separate installation.  This is in contrast to SOLIDWORKS PhotoView 360, which is also an add-in but is accessible from within the core SOLIDWORKS program. PhotoView is also available within Professional and Premium subscriptions, so if you have access to one you should have access to both.

The standalone nature of Visualize highlights why the new features related to import and control of parts and assemblies is important. Because the visualization may not even be by the same user who has model access and control (while it is the same seat license they can be installed on separate machines) providing intuitive control of a part is critical.

Both rendering suites are similar in their objective of providing photorealistic renderings. You can tailor the background setting and have control of textures, colors and lighting in each. The major difference is in the ease of use and quality of output. Visualize, generally speaking, is developed more for the design and marketing renderings. This is based on the rendering capabilities and explains why there is much made about the new enhancements in physically based rendering (PBR) material previews.

Interestingly, PhotoView 360 does not show up in the marketing list of major enhancements in 2023. This might be an indication of which visualization tool is destined to be the future of full photo-real renderings. Simplistically, there are limitations to building in a rendering tool directly into the core product.

SOLIDWORKS core is already a large install and avoiding bloating of add-ons like PhotoView 360 makes sense. PhotoView works well for early in design products where a quick, but sufficient render is needed. If you are looking for the best-in-class renderings from what your seat of SOLIDWORKS provides, Visualize and the new enhancements in 2023 are the best place to look.

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