xShape for the SOLIDWORKS User
Dassault Systèmes’ collaborative 3DEXPERIENCE platform has a wealth of applications to choose from, but when it comes to design freedom, there is nothing quite like xShape. If you have yet to try out this app, let me tell you about some of its features, the unique capabilities and advantages that have helped me, a 3D designer, that you might find useful. Hopefully I can encourage you to dip your toes into the world of sub-D modelling and free your mind to a new way of creating. xShape allows you to create some highly organic, sculptural models much more quickly than traditional surfacing tools in SOLIDWORKS which, quite honestly, I avoid using.
You’ll find the xShape app under the 3DEXPERIENCE platform’s 3D Sculptor role, which I have as part of the Makers License. Under this license, you can get access to the 3DEXPERIENCE SOLIDWORKS Professional, 3D sculptor, 3D Creator, SOLIDWORKS Visualize Connected and other cloud-based apps. If you are a SOLIDWORKS user and you’ve yet to try xShape (I know you’re out there), now is the time. It will surprise you and you might surprise yourself on how quickly you will pick it up.
With the first dive into the xShape, a SOLIDWORKS user may find the layout a bit intimidating. But take heart, the tools and features are very intuitive. You have your design manager, which is essentially the equivalent to your feature manager design tree in SOLIDWORKS. That will make you feel at home. If you want to, you can bring up the design guidance tab to turn on the learning assistant which has some handy tips for SOLIDWORKS users. I recommend opening this up first.
The Learning Assistant in xShape.
I recently used xShape to design and model a custom chess set for a tutorial I created for the SOLIDWORKS blog, which featured some of the tools this app has to offer as well as to demonstrate how you can take different primitive shapes to model the chess pieces. This app takes me back to my ceramicist days where I would take a ball of clay and manipulate it into a little pot, pushing and pulling the material while being careful not to overwork the clay. With xShape, you use the same approach, but you are pushing and pulling a mesh surface with points and edges. You have to be careful not to over-work or over-complicate the mesh, but other than that it is a sculptor’s dream.
A chess set rendered with SOLIDWORKS Visualize.
You begin by choosing a primitive shape to start your model. This is possibly the most important decision you can make, one that will make or break your design. That might sound a little dramatic, but planning ahead with the shape you choose can save you so much time, thus making your modelling experience much easier in the long run. For example, don’t start modeling an apple with the box shape. Selecting the right shape comes with experience and a little trial and error. Don’t worry, you’ll soon get the hang of it.
Running through some of the tools and features of the app that may be new to you, let’s start with the subdivision extrude feature which allows you to extrude mesh faces from your sub-D shape. What’s even more interesting is that you can select two separate faces and cut them away from your model, creating a hole. You can see this tool in action below. I used this design element across some of my chess pieces to bring some cohesion to the set.
Chess set piece made with xShape.
This kind of geometry creation at such speed was mind-blowing to my SOLIDWORKS user brain. Modelling a piece like this would take me a long time in SOLIDWORKS and I’m not even sure I could do it. I thought I’d show you a few more examples of this tool below, to illustrate the power of the extrude feature. You’ll see how complex the geometry can become in the video below.
See how I create several cut extrusions through the Quadball primitive shape with a few simple selections. I can also join extrusions from two separate faces to create bridge-like structures. Again, its abilities are impressive and at first glance may look challenging to create, yet it doesn’t take long at all to model geometries like this.
Subdivision extrude tool in xShape.
Even though sub-D modelling provides sculptural freedom, you might think that it has no ability to model with constraints. Not true. Yes, it isn’t SOLIDWORKS-precise, but you can achieve some design precision when you need it. With the help of images or guide sketches you can model to constraints. I did just that when I designed my chess set and created guide sketches for the height and diameter of each piece.
Chess piece guide sketch in xShape.
The next tool I’d like to highlight is the crease tool. This tool can crease edges/loops of a sub-D shape to remove curves on a design and give you flat or straightened edges. The tool also gives you the ability to crease fully to a value of one hundred making the edge sharp, or partially up to a value of zero, making an edge soft. This tool can completely change your shape. It is like the fillet tool, but in reverse. I use this tool when I want to define areas of a shape or flatten faces. It is especially useful for levelling the base of a shape. My favourite part of the tool is the ability to reselect creased edges and edit them to be more or less creased, or to completely undo the feature. It offers you a wider scope of control of the mesh.
Chess piece crease tool in xShape.
The final tool I want to include is insert loops, this tool can be used to add extra control loops across a primitive shape, which can be necessary when you’re creating something more detailed. The primitive shapes start off very simply in their mesh structures. I always suggest starting this way. I only add extra loops one at a time, because starting with too many loops or adding in more loops before you need to can make a model difficult to work with. There is the option to remove loops, which can help to fix or smooth a model.
Chess piece with insert loop in xShape.
As a designer, I believe one of the top benefits of the app is the ability to save and export models into SOLIDWORKS. Depending on how you model your component in xShape, whether you keep the design as a surface or you knit the surface into a solid body, your design can be imported into SOLIDWORKS as either “solid bodies” or “surfaces.” You can then edit the model to an extent, apply appearances and decals and finally, render within SOLIDWORKS VISUALIZE. I did just that when I modeled a giraffe teddy you can view here.
xShape has had many updates and improvements since the first time I tutored about it in 2021. Previously, xShape was not able to to work with mirror bodies and I had to use the symmetry tool to create mirrored arms/legs/ears and eyes. That issue has thankfully been fixed.
Giraffe teddy with xShape.
With my first project with xShape, I remember thinking that the ability to go from xShape to SOLIDWORKS to apply my decals and then render my design within Visualize with such ease was exciting. It sparked my curiosity and imagination and offered the possibility of using xShape as my main modelling tool for new designs like this:
Giraffe teddy rendered with SOLIDWORKS Visualize.
As a toy designer, I have designed plush toys in the past with Photoshop as 2D sketches. The issue with this when it came to manufacturing the toy was not being able to see a 360-degree view of the design and therefore, the design could be lost in translation. Multiple view sketches would help and, physical models could be made. But with xShape, I can model my plush designs in 3D and send multiple views or even rendered animations of the design from all angles.
xShape is one of those tools that I keep finding new uses for. It has allowed me to create designs that I wouldn’t dream of trying in SOLIDWORKS – and I am still able to integrate the two.
About the Author
Jade Wilson is a product designer, SOLIDWORKS blog contributor, CSWP and SOLIDWORKS Champion from the U.K. In 2015 she became a Queen Elizabeth Scholar for her degree specializing in ceramics and digital design. She is a self-taught SOLIDWORKS user with 10 years of experience under her belt and has been using it to inform and create her designs since university, and to becoming a freelance product designer with her own company. She has her bachelors and masters degrees in Design and specialises in the design and production of ceramics, homeware accessories and wooden toys. She has worked with a range of companies, including the BBC, Bigjigs, Great Little Trading Company and Granby Workshop. During this time, she has exhibited her own work and held workshops across the U.K. and Europe as well as working in several U.K. Universities as a technician and guest tutor. She now creates fun and informative tutorials.