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I had a conversation with someone yesterday about how to create really great looking images without using the SolidWorks rendering add-in, PhotoWorks. I told him it was simple and you can do it in just a few steps. ‘No way, show me.’, he said.

If you have PhotoWorks, great; you can create some very slick graphics. However, if you don’t have PhotoWorks or the time to learn and create those fancy images using rendering programs like Blender and Hypershot (which I would recommend), this is for you.

A few extras
You can do all your work in SolidWorks and get an product image good enough for any portfolio, website, magazine or brochure and there are just a few steps to make it happen. On top of that, if you have Adobe Photoshop, there’s a quick trick you can do to make it look extra good. I’ll go into that at the end.

The Step-by-Step
Here’s the model were looking at. I do aircraft interiors and this is one of the custom cabinets. I need to get some quick product shots for a presentation. To create the ‘After’ version you’ll see below, we’ll use the following 6 steps. Note: I’ll be using SolidWorks 2008 to do this. The first two steps are kind of pre-requisites for the last four steps.

  1. Determine what to show
    I typically use as detailed a configuration as possible, but this will depend on what you want to display. An assembly that shows internal parts will work really well with this process and will almost assuredly impress your boss, customer or possible employer. I set up a Configuration and Display State for what I want to show in a product image.
  2. Group Reference Parts and Assemblies
    I do this for one reason – so I can control the appearance of the components all together. When I’m creating the model I’ll also create assemblies for how I intend to create drawings and these images. I put reference parts and assemblies into on assembly. I want these to be all one color. I put the parts I want to be the focus into another assembly. The last step shows why.
  3. Use a White Background
    A white background is the easiest color to work with when adding an image to different materials. Some of the gradients look nice, but unless it matches the background of the brochure, Powerpoint slide or other media it’s best to stick with good ol’ white.
  4. Turn Perspective On
    On the menu, select View, Display, Perspective. This takes your chunky model and adds just enough perspective to make it look interesting and a little more realistic.
  5. Turn RealView On
    Once again, on the menu, select View, Display, RealView Graphics to toggle RealView on if it’s not already. I usually use the Light Card scene setting as it provides good lighting and reflection, but I’ll occasionally use the Ambient Occlusion scene for smaller more detailed parts.
  6. Change the Appearance
    First I’ll change the reference assembly appearance. I make this a light gray color. To do this select the assembly in the FeatureManager and select Appearance Callout. In the Color options, you caan change it to whatever color you like, but I’d keep reference components light to be more subtle. Accept those changes and move to the next assembly.

    For the assembly I want to be the focus, I do the same thing but I’ll make it a brighter or contrasting color. You also have Transparency options for the Appearance that can really make the assembly jump off the screen. I use .50 for transparency setting and keep all the other setting the same.

The Before and After
Here is the before and after. Which looks better to you?

That is basically all you need to do to get a much better looking assembly graphic. You can mess with the RealView Materials, but I tend to keep the colors and textures to a minimum to make it easier for whoever is looking at it to notice the main aspects of the model. Here’s some other tips for special cases and how to make it stand out even more.

Additional Tip for Large Assemblies
If you want to get this look with Large Assemblies, you will need to raise your Large Assembly limit or turn it off completely (Tools, Options, Assemblies) because RealView is disabled when Large Assembly Mode is on.

Additional Tip for Internal Parts
I would put internal parts into a separate assembly as well. You can really make sub-assemblies standout, show how they function and focus in on the system that may be unique to your design.

Have Adobe Photoshop?
There’s an endless amount of effects and adjustments you can make to an image if you have Photoshop, but to keep it close to what the model is I would suggest the following. This will make the internal components look lighter and make the outside of the model stand out more.

  • Take a screenshot of the model in SolidWorks with the Appearance setting with Transparency at .50, and one with Transparency off.
  • Paste each on a separate layer, with the transparent one on top of the other one.
  • In photoshop, change the layer transparency of the top layer to 25%.

So, there ya have it. It’s quick and simple. No PhotoWorks required. The output isn’t as fancy looking, but it’s great for making that assembly look a little smarter. Is there anything I missed? What have you done to create graphics in SolidWorks?


Josh is founder and editor at, 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.