I can’t even recall the first time I thought about using SolidWorks on a tablet. It was years ago, but let’s go back even further. I started using CAD software with AutoCAD and a digitizer. A digitizer, if you’re wrinkled enough to remember, is a bit like a touchscreen, off the screen. Similar to a Wacom tablet. Since then it’s been nothing but mouse and keyboard. Until now.

Now I’m able to use a touchscreen device that can actually run SolidWorks. I’m using Lenovo’s ThinkPad P40 Yoga. (See my first impressions here.) It’s true though. Before this, a part of me expected more to be done for CAD software on the iOS and Android platforms, but another part of me knew it was only a matter of time until tablet, workstation and OS tech merged together making iOS and Android support secondary, if not unnecessary.

Here’s the odd thing. Software use to be ahead of the curve. Many added touch gestures years ago, although to a UI/UX built around mouse clicks and keyboard strokes. SolidWorks added multi-touch support in 2010! Now it’s 2016. We’re now able to use SolidWorks on a multi-touch device, but the UI/UX has stayed largely unchanged regarding attention to multi-touch. Now hardware is leading, pushed primarily by OS support. Within the span of the past year, Windows 10 finally brought the realities of a multi-touch usability that we had been waiting for, for years. Laptops finally brought the power, and together the P40 is the powerful, portable option I dreamt of having those six years ago.

Ok, so enough of the reminiscing, Mary. Let’s get to it. I’ve been spending some time using SolidWorks on the P40. While I tried to match it to my workflow of menus and Keyboard shortcuts, I found it easier and quicker to completely retool how I worked. This primarily involved making more use of the Shortcut bar (The ‘S’ key). I was already using the Shortcut bar, so that’s what I focused on. From there, I started with a standard installation of SolidWorks and did some quick customizations to make SolidWorks easier to use with the multi-touch and stylus, The ThinkPad P40 and Pen Pro.

Note: to right-click with the Pen Pro, you hold the tip against the screen for a few seconds. I’ll still refer to this as a right-click for now. (I guess this would be called hold-pick? pick-hold? pickle? I dunno?)

Prior to using the P40, I would rarely use the standard toolbars–the CommandManager was always the first thing to be turned off. I would set up one custom toolbar with my most commonly used commands. Now, nearly every command is activated through the on-screen Shortcut toolbar. So, here’s what I did to set up SolidWorks for the multi-touch and Pen capabilities with the P40 Yoga:

  1. Turn off ‘Use Large Buttons with Text’ for the CommandManager (right-click CM and uncheck)
  2. Set up the Shortcut toolbar for Sketch, Part, Assembly and Drawing to match my workflow
  3. Customize the on-screen and FeatureManager Context menus to access commands quicker
  4. Set up the mouse gestures to add access to tool useful in tablet mode
  5. Keep the Confirmation corner on for quick touch control
  6. Adjsut the rotate/pan touch options + Get use to SolidWorks’ multi-touch gestures

That’s basically it. I’m left-handed, so I use the Pen in my left hand and use my right hand for mouse gestures and multi-touch. The confirmation corner is in the upper-right corner, which makes it very natural to use with my right hand that is usually sitting alongside or holding the screen. As I work through my models from sketch to part and assembly to drawing, I add and adjust the Shortcut bar as I go. With SolidWorks 2015, they added the ability to customize the context menus, which adds another level of customization that helps a lot when using a pen or finger tip to select a command.

lenovo-p40-solidworks-02My workflow has been boiled down to using the Mouse Gestures for View commands and the Shortcut bar for on-screen command activation. This is how I hold the pen sometimes. Here I’m using a mouse gesture to activate the View Area command with my right-hand and drawing the view area with my index finger.

I should note here that the P40 has a very high resolution–2560×1440. You can’t adjust the size of SolidWorks icons and dropdowns, so I increased the size of text, apps and other items in the Windows 10 Display Settings to 150%. It just makes it easier on my old man eyes and to pick commands with pen and finger.

This brings me back to software being ahead of the curve, or in this case, falling behind a bit. Though the SolidWorks multi-touch gestures work phenomenally well, the UI (buttons, vertices, drag arrows, buttons, scrollbars, etc.) is just not developed with stylus or finger in mind. They’re small and, even with the fine-point tip of the Pen Pro, difficult to activate at times. Either an option to increase the size or the sensitivity would be great options.

lenovo-p40-solidworks-04Here, I am working in an assembly, editing a sketch on a part and activating the Shortcut bar with the stylus button. The usefulness of the Shortcut bar can’t be overstated.

With the P40 Yoga, I had the Rotate command set to one of the Pen Pro buttons, but use rotate so often I found it distracting to locate the button if the Pen Pro had moved a little in my fingers, so I noticed my hand was just sitting out to the side of the laptop or holding the side of the P40 when folded back as a laptop. So now, I just use my thumb and forefinger to rotate. The big things I would want with the with the P40 are the same as I mentioned in my last piece–programmable quick buttons to the side/back (for undo, redo, context menu, switch app, etc) and program-specific buttons for the pen.

lenovo-p40-solidworks-03Preparing to take care of an error in the FeatureManager. Here is where context menus once again come in handy when using a stylus. Some of the buttons, checkboxes and other UI features can be hard to pick at times.

You notice how a new workflow effects you when you go back to the previous way of doing things. I really enjoy using a stylus for sketch apps on the P40, but I’ve discovered that I really love it for 3D modeling with SolidWorks as well. The gripes I have about SolidWorks and the P40 are less about the hardware or software, but more about the experience. SolidWorks needs more UI/UX consideration for multi-touch interface. The P40 needs more consideration for program specific workflows. In the end, I wouldn’t trade this for how I previously used SolidWorks and that I’ve consolidated a design workflow across different software onto a single device makes it all the better.


Lenovo ThinkPad P40 Yoga

Base price: $1,484.10
Price as tested: $2000.60
More information: Lenovo ThinkPad P40 Yoga
Shop: ThinkPad P40 Yoga


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.