Working with Mesh Data in SOLIDWORKS 2019

SOLIDWORKS 2019 has introduced two great new tools to help users work with 3D mesh data. The first of these tools, 3D Texture, allows users to take a simple 2D image and use it to define a 3D texture on a 3D mesh body (see Figure 1). The second of these tools, the Slicing tool, allows users to import an STL file of complex curvature, then capture slices of this STL model to use for downstream modeling applications like sweeping or lofting.

Figure 1. Using a 2D texture image to create a 3D texture on our model.

3D Texture

The first tool we’ll be discussing is the 3D Texture tool. When using this tool, you will start with a 2D image file. This image file should be black and white, with a grayscale range of colors used to indicate peaks, valleys and depth (see Figure 2).

Figure 2. Adding a 2D texture to a model that is black and white.

In Figure 2, you can see that we created a simple box-shaped part. We then went into our SOLIDWORKS Appearance Task Pane (on the right side of the figure) and went into the category for MISCELLANEOUS > 3D TEXTURES. We selected the texture named “Knurled Bump 10” and added this texture to the face of our box-shaped model.

You’ll notice that the entire image is colored black, white and gray. When we choose to convert this 2D image into a 3D texture, SOLIDWORKS will interpret this image based on the grayscale of the colors. Black will represent the lowest point of the 3D texture, white will represent the highest point of the 3D texture, and there will be a gradient from high to low, based on the grayscale of the 2D image. 

Image Mapping

Next, we need to create the appropriate size for our image map. In this case, we will be generating 3D knurls, so we need to make the knurls a little smaller (see Figure 3).

Figure 3. Resizing the 2D image so that we have more (smaller) knurls in our 3D texture.

By choosing to Edit Appearance on that face, we were able to decrease the overall size of the image map, giving us the representation of more, smaller knurls.

Applying a 3D Texture

Now that we have a 2D texture on our model, we can convert this 2D texture into a 3D texture that can be used for 3D printing (see Figure 4).

Figure 4. After right-clicking the Solid Body, we can choose 3D Texture.

As shown in Figure 4, we start by expanding our feature tree folder for Solid Bodies. We then right-click on our solid body and choose 3D Texture. This launches a command that will convert our existing solid body into a new 3D Texture body (see Figure 5).

Figure 5. The initial setup of the 3D Texture Command Manager.

After launching the 3D Texture command, you will be presented with the dialog box shown in Figure 5. I like to choose the default commands to get started, and then set the Texture Offset Distance to 0.25in, just to see how things will look (see Figure 6).

Figure 6. Choosing the checkmark for the 2D texture, and selecting a height of 0.25in.

In Figure 6, you can see that I started out by ticking the checkbox for any surfaces that have a black and white 2D texture applied. I then went down to Texture Offset Distance and specified a texture height of 0.25in. 

Here are some other options that you might experiment with:

WHITE up– BLACK down—This controls whether the white areas of your 2D image represent the peaks, or whether black areas of your 2D image represent the peaks.

Texture Refinement—This controls how smooth the final result will look. This is a good setting to increase once you have tested all your other options. Increasing this will create a significant increase in the processing time of your 3D texture feature. Be patient with your computer as this could take a while.

Maximum Element Size—This controls how smooth the transition is from your 3D texture back into the original model. If the boundary of your texture image is all black, and black represents the valley of your 3D texture, then this option won’t really come into play (since the transition back to the original model will be 0). However, in most 3D texture applications, you will need to adjust this value to get the best possible results (see Figure 7).

Figure 7. Adjusting two options to get better results from the 3D texture.

After adjusting these two options (Texture Refinement and Maximum Element Size) to get better results from our 3D Texture feature, our mesh size is so small that our model appears black (in the preview shown in Figure 7). We can expect a longer processing time to complete this feature, since the mesh is so dense. The completed feature is shown in Figure 8.

Figure 8. After completing the feature, we can turn off “Edges in Shaded Mode” to get a good view of the 3D texture.

After clicking OK and allowing our computer to process this new 3D texture, the result is shown in Figure 8. Notice that we chose to turn off Edges in Shaded Mode. This allows us to get a better feel for what the 3D-printed model will look like.

Working with Your Own Custom Images

Now that we understand the basics of working with a 3D texture, we can begin experimenting with our own custom 3D textures. In this blog, we shared some great tips and tricks for working with a company logo. Utilizing 3D textures could be another way to get a company logo onto your 3D-printed part (see Figure 9).

Figure 9. We would like to add this company logo to our curvy 3D-printed part.

To get the company logo shown in Figure 9 onto our model, we would start by creating a new custom appearance in our SOLIDWORKS library. We would then add this custom appearance to the face of our model (see Figure 10).

Figure 10. Adding the company logo custom texture to our model.

Now that we have the company logo added to our model as a black and white texture, we can convert our solid model into 3D mesh model (see Figure 11).

Figure 11. Using our 2D texture to create a 3D texture of the company logo.

By following the steps from earlier in this article, we were able to quickly create a 3D texture from our 2D company logo. Of course, we could increase the quality of our texture refinement to further increase the quality of our 3D texture.

3D Texture Final Steps

It’s important to recognize that the file you will end up with is a Graphics Body and not a traditional Solid Body (see Figure 12).

Figure 12. Using the 3D Texture tool will convert our Solid Body to a Graphics Body.

Once you convert the Solid Body to a Graphics Body, you can no longer use traditional tools like Cut-Extrude and Fillet. Most often, the next step is to send this Graphics Body to your 3D printer as shown in Figure 13.

Figure 13. Sending the Graphics Body to a 3D printer.

Since you can’t use traditional Solid Body features on your GraphicsBody, you should always try to save the 3D Texture feature until the end of the modeling process.

The SOLIDWORKS Slicing Tool

In the previous section of this article, we discussed the idea of a Graphics Body and how traditional tools like Cut-Extrude and Fillet won’t work on a Graphics Body. This has been a long-standing limitation in SOLIDWORKS, and it is most commonly encountered when users attempt to share STL files. 

Figure 14. Importing an STL file of a rear airplane fin and ending up with a GraphicsBody.

In Figure 14, you can see that when an STL file is imported into SOLIDWORKS a Graphics Body is created. SOLIDWORKS 2019 has incorporated the Slicing tool to help in these scenarios.

We begin using the Slicing tool by opening a Graphics Body file (like an STL) and then choosing INSERT>SLICING (see Figure 15).

Figure 15. Using the Slicing tool on a GraphicsBody.

The Slicing tool will create a series of planes along the imported Graphics Body. From these planes, a series of sketches will be generated at the intersection of the Graphics Body and the planes (see Figure 16).

Figure 16. After using the Slicing tool to generate sketches, we can use these sketches for solid features like a Loft.

In Figure 16, you can see that we are able to use the sketches from the Slicing tool to create solid geometry in our model. In the case of the rear airplane fin, we used our sketches from the Slicing tool to create a Loft feature (see Figure 17).

Figure 17. Creating additional features on the Solid Body rear airplane fin.

Since the model has now been converted into a Solid Body, we can create additional features like cut extrudes and fillets. Without the new Slicing tool, this STL import would have been much more difficult to work with.


SOLIDWORKS 2019 has added two awesome new tools to help users work with 3D Graphics Bodies. The 3D Texture tool allows users to generate a 3D Graphics Body simply by taking a 2D texture and applying depth to the texture. This can be a huge time-saver for things like creating complex surface texturing or adding 3D company logos. 

The second tool is the Slicing tool. When working with imported Graphics Bodies like STLs, users can take advantage of this new tool. The Slicing tool allows users to generate a series of sketch profiles based on the imported Graphics Body. These sketches can then be swept or lofted together, leaving the user with a Solid Body that they can then edit and modify.

About the Author

Toby Schnaars is a Certified SOLIDWORKS Expert from Philadelphia, Pa. He has been working with SOLIDWORKS software since 1998 and has been providing training, technical support and tips and tricks since 2001.

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