I know. It happened here as well. Five people and a large parrot fell over convulsing when they thought of the possibilities.

It’s one thing to use SolidWorks to turn your design and engineering department into a concept-crazy, model churning machine of product-cycle pleasure. It’s quite another to whip that interface into a tool that makes your modeling efforts spew forth profit from the hours save in design.

The difference will amaze you
It is weird… an interface has changed the way I work, and it happened nearly overnight. The difference is most noticeable when I transition back and forth between SolidWorks 2007 and SolidWorks 2009. Have you noticed that? If not, the new interface introduces some changes that may leave you wondering how to use these to optimize your modeling. Here’s what you need to know.

Scenes, Backdrops and backgrounds
solidworks 2009 backdrop selection

SolidWorks 2008 gave you scenes, then SolidWorks 2009 introduced backdrops that moved with your model when rotating. Some people find this distracting and would rather use a plain, gradient or custom background. You can change the Realview scene to something other than one labeled ‘Backdrop’. That will get rid of a moving background. You also, still have the option of creating your own background.

solidworks options for appearances

Set it UP! If you use your own background, you’ll have to go through options to change backgrounds or back to using a scene. If you do use scenes, use the ‘Apply Scene’ toolbar icon from the View section to cycle through the scenes quickly.

RealView, Appearance Options and Colors
solidworks head-ups toolbar for visual appearance

Confused about RealView and how appearance work in SolidWorks 2009? It’s pretty simple.

solidworks onscreen appearnace calloutsIn SolidWorks 2009, there are no longer ‘Colors’. All the visual setting for your models are now set-up via a tiny little icon known as ‘Edit Appearance’solidworks realview toolbar icon – Cute huh.

Very colorful, but packs a wallop when used in conjunction with Materials. The onscreen appearance callouts, that appears when you select a face, also allows you to quickly see where the appearance was applied and access to modify it.

Set it UP! It’s quicker to assign a material with an appearance already set, than to set materials and then set appearances. Setting up your own material database is one of the most efficient additions to creating models with accurate material properties and appearances.
solidworks realview side-by-side

The Shortcut Bar

solidworks shortcut bar
Forget how scenes work, the flashy new appearance options and all the RealView details. The ‘Shortcut bar’ is what makes the interface work for you. It brings a context sensitive and customizable group of commands down where you’re working. It’s activated when you hit the ‘S’ key (default setting) on your keyboard.

If you have the ‘S’ key set to something already, just change it to another one. I have mine set on the ‘V’ key. Better yet, if you use a mouse with a thumb button, set that up to activate the Shortcut Bar.

solidworks shortcut bar left click menu settings

Set it UP!
When you left-click on an entity a non-customizable menu will show up. The Shortcut bar, however, is customizable. Right-click on it and select customize. Set up common commands you use on here which are not on the left-click menu.


solidworks toolbar customize
If you do what I talked about above with the shortcut bars, you’ll find yourself going to the toolbars less and less. In fact, I’ve eliminated all but the standard toolbar that takes up only a small portion of the screen.

Some think, especially with wide-screen monitors, that it doesn’t matter if toolbars are visible. I prefer to eliminate anything I’m not using. Getting rid of them, from the beginning, forced me to adapt to using the Shortcut bar and optimize my workflow. Pure efficiency. The same thing has happened with other engineers I work with that use the same settings.

Set it UP!
Turn all your toolbars off. Really, try it. Start working and see what commands you actually use, then add them to the Shortcut bar if they are not accessible through the left-click menu. Arrange them so it’s natural and easy to get to. There’s a download below with toolbar and Shortcut Bar settings.

Here’s a download of my 2009 SolidWorks Options. It set everything except for System Options, so you can see what toolbar and keyboard settings I use.

I’m finding better ways to use features in the interface and setting to help optimize how engineering and design companies work. What about you?


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.