A tear falls on the molten plastic heap outside the confines of the 3d printer base. The print bed is too small. It’s sadness that creeps in at times, leaving us to scale down or chop up our designs. “But the model has already been created as a single, solid piece!” More tears. There’s a way to stop this and it goes all the way back to how you approach a project and how it’s set up on the modeling side.

In SolidWorks, you may simply start a new part and proceed to model your features. Though that may work with the majority of small, single, one-off parts, there’s a better way to approach the design of 3D printed parts and it doesn’t cost you any additional time. In fact, it may save some down the road.

How to Start a 3D Print Project in SolidWorks

For those familiar with top-down design (starting your model from an assembly) this will make perfect sense. One of the best features of SolidWorks is the flexibility you have with Assemblies. In an Assembly, you can create all your parts and configurations of parts without even opening a part file. This is a process that can be used in laying out massive plant structures, 3D printed nun-chucks or tiny mechanical rings.

1. Start with a SolidWorks Assembly
File, New, double-click Assembly. When you start with a SolidWorks Assembly, you can model various parts independent of each other.

2. Create a Layout of your printbed envelope
Select Create Layout from the PropertyManager sidebar. Because you started with an Assembly, you have the option of creating a Layout. Sketch the extents of your printbed in the Layout. Convert the lines to construction lines to make them stand out from your other sketch lines (Select lines, choose For construction from the PropertyManager, Options).

3. Create each piece as a new part in the assembly
Insert, Component, New Part… You’ll be prompted to select a plane. I always select the Front plane and swithc from there if needed. Model your part, go back to Edit Assembly and repeat for each additional part.

So, Assemblies may be frustrating at times or overkill for some print project, but bring advantages that may incite hugs, from creating each part in context to others and building configurations of parts to hiding parts and exporting only what you need as .stl files from printing.

How do you set up your SolidWorks workspace and files for a 3D print project?

Starting a 3D print project in SolidWorks with a Layout and parts in an Assembly.
Starting a 3D print project in SolidWorks with a Layout and parts in an Assembly.

Image: Gear Ring, 3D print project designed by Mike Ornstein in SolidWorks.


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.