What’s New in SOLIDWORKS 2017: Surfacing

For many CAD users, it’s that time again: Time to update SOLIDWORKS software. Summer vacations are over and with the start of fall, it’s time to get down to business and learn about these new SOLIDWORKS features in the 2017 release.

In this article, I’ve had the opportunity to take a closer look at what’s new with SOLIDWORKS Surfacing. Recently, non-uniform rational B-spline (NURBS) surfacing has become sort of a lost art; but now with technologies such as 3D laser scanning becoming more popular and accessible, surfacing has turned into a renewed passion of mine.

Here’s a quick look at some of the new features that I will be reporting on:

  • Improved wrap features that let users create geometry on multiple surfaces, as well as drag and drop geometry onto surfaces and wrap it as an emboss, a deboss or even use the geometry for a different function altogether, such as a 3D curve
  • New offset options that enable users to offset a 3D curve on a surface, as well as offset edges or complete surfaces
  • The ability to define a suitable offset value, as well as use the new 3D curve as a reference for new features

Creating Geometry on Multiple Surfaces

First, let’s have a look at the new ability for SOLIDWORKS users to create geometry across multiple surfaces. Previously, several steps or workarounds were necessary to create geometry on surfaces that weren’t circular or conical faces. Now, this can be done in a couple of easy steps using the improved Wrap feature. Just drag, drop and project geometry onto your surface.

For example, let’s have a look at this boat hull. With the Wrap feature, I can create or import a 2D-sketched logo or bracket and project it onto multiple surfaces as shown in Figure 1—with one command!

Figure 1. A boat hull is a complex surface, but the improved Wrap feature enables users to drag and drop a logo and thereby avoid complex workarounds.

Once this is created, I have the option to emboss (Figure 2), deboss, or use the resulting 3D curve for something else.

Figure 2. The 2D sketch is shown projected on the boat’s hull.

Offsetting 3D Curves

Another new feature for the 2017 release is the ability to offset a 3D Curve onto a surface. Users will have the option to offset just the edges or the complete surface face.

For instance, let’s take a look at the guitar body in Figure 3. In this example, I can offset the outer surface perimeter directly onto the inner contoured surface in one command.

Figure 3. A guitar body with the outer surface perimeter offset onto the inner contoured surface.

This can be extremely useful for automating the creation of detailed inlay work, as shown in Figure 4.

Figure 4. The ability to offset 3D curves could come in handy for automating detailed inlays such as this guitar design.

In Figure 5, users will notice a more complex example of where an offset value can be used to create a curve. The new curve can then be used to create dual-extruded letters on these domed surfaces. This holds potential to be useful in a range of industries, including novelty jewelry design.

Figure 5. Using offset values to apply letters to a curved surface on this novelty jewelry

After applying the letters to the curved surface using the offset value, users will be able to generate renderings of their designs. Figure 6 shows the final renderings of the jewelry.

Figure 6. Final renderings of 3D-printable urban knuckle jewelry, originally designed for rap music artist Wiz Khalifa’s effort to raise awareness of this technology to inner city youth.

What’s Next?

One of the noticeable things about the SOLIDWORKS 2017 release in general is that it was designed on the foundation of user requests and recommendations. Therefore, it makes sense that much of the new technology and features surrounding curves and surfacing are designed to promote a simpler workflow. It’s easier than ever for users to reference surfaces and curves directly.

With technology such as 3D scanning and point cloud meshes becoming popular tools, I can’t help but wonder what the next move for SOLIDWORKS will be in order to take the user experience one step further. Currently, to sketch on a mesh, it needs to be converted into a suitable file. Will we be able to sketch directly on a scanned mesh as we can in SOLIDWORKS’ big brother CATIA?

This ability would help out tremendously when it comes to reverse engineering existing physical objects. If we could eventually sketch directly on scanned meshes, then we could define surface boundaries in a uniform and more meaningful manner.

For more information, check out the new release on its launch website.

About the Author


Jeffrey Opel is a professor of CAD/CAM and 3D printing at Tarrant County College in Fort Worth, Texas. He is the owner of NCS, which provides turnkey CAD and 3D printing systems to clients in the United States. Opel has more than 25 years of experience in the field of computer-aided design and 3D printing.

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