Oh man, your SolidWorks assembly is looking a little crooked my friend. In fact, I’d say it’s just about to tip over and probably hurt a small family of mice or a vagabond waiting for you to set some scraps out on the porch.

I’m going to suggest a way to improve assembly creation, so take a couple slow breaths, have a pot of coffee and avoid the loose boards over in the corner by the shedding dog.

With SolidWorks 2008 came the ability to add Sketch Layouts to drive all the parts in your assembly. Sound formidable? Well, there’s not much in the SolidWorks Help, so here’s all you need to get up to speed with the amazingly sturdy world of SolidWorks Sketch Layouts.

Trust me, it’s sturdier than it looks.
The Sketch Layouts Icon has always reminded me of a old shack falling over. Not the best analogy since this functionality can actually provide a better structure for the shack that is your assembly you spend countless days creating. So, trust me, it a good foundation, just watch for those weird lookin’ termites (co-workers) that could inadvertently destroy it.

Layout Sketches 101After you start a Sketch Layout it’s just like working in a 3D sketch.
Just real quick, so as not to bore you out of your lunch break. A Sketch layout is just a 3D sketch, in an assembly, you can use to control parts and other assemblies. You do this by relating the sketches in your parts back to the sketches in the assembly. This is called top-down modeling.

It’s easy enough to start one. Just start a new assembly and select the Create layout button in the sidebar or select Insert, Layout from the menu. After you start a Layout Sketch it’s just like working in a 3D sketch. But what’s next? Here’s the simple approach I use time and again for really amazing results with assemblies.

Starting a Layout Sketch – Start with a template
Something like this Layout Sketch Template (2008 .sldasm) will get you going. I start everything with this. Not only can I get started quickly within that template, I can add it to other assemblies and start doing layouts in them as well.

Turn your planes on as well. This makes it easy to select a plane to sketch on without going to the FeatureManager all the time.

Getting In and Out of a Layout Sketch – Shortcut Bar
The fastest way to get in and out is to add the Layout command to your Shortcut Bar. Hit your assigned keyboard button (‘S‘ by default) and toggle the Layout Sketch on and off. Right-clicking on the Layout Sketch and selecting Layout is another way to do it.

Moving around in a Layout Sketch – Double-Click
By far the fastest way to move around in a Layout Sketch is by double-clicking. Just like in a 3D sketch, you can transfer quickly from one plane to the next by double-clicking the plane you want to work on. Double-clicking in open space will put you into 3D sketch mode, activate all sketch entities and allow you to locate sketch geometry more freely.

Separate your parts – Use Blocks
This is crucial. Blocks are just groups of sketches, but they can break up assemblies that are more complicated and can be re-used in other Layout Sketches. The reason you need to use these is because some sketch tools are not accessible in a Layout Sketch. Oval, Offset and Sketch Patterns are all disabled within the Layout, but when you turn a sketch into a block, you’re then able to use the Oval and Offset Tool. Sketch Patterns are still not accessible unfortunately.

Control Sketches – Use construction Lines
I keep any sketch entity that is driving a part, solid. For any other reference I’ll add construction lines. These are particularly useful in Blocks because it provides more lines and points to dimension from or add relations to.

Use Best Practices – Create a Test Assembly
I do this will all the new assembly types I create. You may want each assembly to act a little different depending on the application. To do this, create a simple Layout Sketch to see how you’ll want to build best practices into your process. Here’s a very simple Layout Sketch for a Weldment to discover what would be controlled from the Layout Sketch.

This part uses a Layout Sketch to control all the aspects of the model.

How to Show a Layout Sketch if you Hide it
Layout Sketches do not appear as regular features in the FeatureManager, so if you hide it, you may get lost for a bit. If you do hide a Layout Sketch, don’t worry. Simply, go the the top line in the FeatureManager (the assembly with the Layout Sketch Icon next to it), right-click and select Show Layout near the bottom.

How to Unsuppress a Layout Sketch if you Suppress it
You can’t. At least from everything I’ve tried. When you click on a Layout Sketch, one of the context options is to suppress it. Only problem is, there’s no way to Unsuppress it. Hit undo immediately if you have suppressed a Layout Sketch and plan to work on it again. If anybody knows a workaround for this let me know. It’s either too obvious or not obvious enough.

Ways you can use Layout Sketches

  • PCB Design
  • Water Palette system
  • Electro-Mechanical Assemblies
  • Frame Weldments (Bikes, Cars, Oil Wells)
  • any others??

Advantages of Layout Sketches

  • Control every aspect of assembly from a single set of sketches
  • Layout sketches can serve as prototypes before modeling starts
  • Highly re-usable for common assemblies

Disadvantages of Layout Sketches

  • Dimensional data doesn’t reside with the solid (it’s controlled by the sketch)
  • Changing sketches and relations in the Layout Sketch can cause model errors
  • Some Sketch Tools do not work in Layout Sketches (will work in a Block)

Conclusion and Criticism
This might not be the most complete guide that could ever be created for Layout Sketches, but it will give you a little more to chew on than the SolidWorks help section, (that I will bash from 1,500 miles away with stern words in a blog post.) Really, though, if a little more detail was in the help section, I think more new functionality would be used… and understood.

Anyway, why the heck do you use Layout Sketches?


Josh is founder and editor at SolidSmack.com, founder at Aimsift Inc., and co-founder of EvD Media. He is involved in engineering, design, visualization, the technology making it happen, and the content developed around it. He is a SolidWorks Certified Professional and excels at falling awkwardly.