SolidWorks Tutorials for Beginners – The Interface, Part 2

SolidWorks Tutorials for Beginners – The Interface, pt.2

Welcome back, to our SolidWorks Tutorials for Beginners Series. This is part 2 of the SolidWorks Tutorials – Interface section. In my previous lesson, we’d left off at customizing the Command Manager. The Command Manager, as you may remember, is that strip of commands known as a ribbon at the top of your SolidWorks software that contains all your tools, and the tools vary depending upon the design environment you’re in. You choose the design environment by clicking on one of the tabs under the ribbon.

Fig 01 – The SolidWorks command manager, with the tools of the part modeling environment (or “Features” tab) displayed.

When you right-click any of the tabs at the bottom of the command manager, a list of all possible environments appears. Those visible are check-marked. At the bottom is the option to Customize the Command Manager:


Fig 02 – How to customize the command manager – use the contextual menu from the design environment tabs (right-click).

The Customize Command Manager dialog window opens (pictured below). You’ll be spending quite a bit of time here, because this is where you come to change settings to the toolbars, shortcut bars (those are the small strips of tools that are docked in the graphic area), commands, menus, the keyboard shortcuts, the mouse gestures and other miscellaneous options. Each area is governed by a tab, and left-click on the tab to get to that page of the dialog window.

Fig o3 – The Customize command manager dialog window, where you make changes to all the tool settings for SolidWorks. It is a good idea to spend some time getting to know what is on each tab of this dialog window.

By default you land on the Toolbars tab. The first option is a checkbox which, if unchecked, will hide the Command Manager altogether. This is what you’d do if you prefer to work with the old style of Windows menus, and see all the tools stacked in palettes along the edges of the screen.

Fig 04 – The SolidWorks screen with the Command Manager disabled. The tools appear stacked in palettes down the sides of the screen.

The second option is a checkbox called Use large buttons with text. The images that I show you in this document are an example of what large buttons with text looks like on the command manager. You can uncheck this option to reduce the tool icon size on the command manager, and basically let your graphic area hog a little more space. This is more convenient once you know all the tools simply by their icon, without needing the text name to identify them.

Here’s what that looks like–just the tool icons, but at the top of the screen on the ribbon:

Fig 05 – Just the tool icon, without the text. This is what the command manager will look like when you uncheck Use large buttons with text.

There’s a few more options on the right of this window regarding the size of your tool icons and the tooltips:

Fig 06 – Options for changing the size of the tool icons and the tooltips and their icons.

Large icons makes the size of the tool icon about 1 cm longer than regular size. This of course increases the size of your command manager, leaving less screen room for your graphic area. This is generally not a concern for many designers however, since most of us use multiple displays anyway, and some of us older folks like the icon size really big :) .

Fig 07 – Large icons are about 1cm longer than regular size.

SolidWorks makes excellent use of what are called contextual menus. That means, any time your right-click on an object or item, SolidWorks will display a menu of related commands and options. When we right-click on any tool, we get a few more customization options: show text, text below, begin a group, and delete.

Fig 08 – Contextual menu (right-click menu) on any tool

These contextual commands let you hide the text (thus shrinking the size of the command manager), position the text below the icon or above it, and delete the tool from the ribbon (but it is easy to restore; you don’t delete the tool from the program itself, of course!). The “Begin a Group option” we’ll talk about later on.

We’ll also learn more about customizing the toolbars later on . For now, I’m going to show you the Shortcut Bars tab of the Customize dialog window:

Fig 09- The Shortcut Bars tab of the Customize dialog window

This is where we create shortcut toolbars that can float in the graphic area. As you can see, SolidWorks gives you many ways to organize your workspace in the way that is most convenient for you. You can create shortcut toolbars for the part modeling (features) environment, for the assembly environment, for the drawing environment and for the sketching environment. The image of the part shortcut toolbar you see above is the actual floating toolbar; I can drag that box right out of this dialog window and drop in the graphic area.

To add a tool to the toolbar, just grab it from the customize window and drag it right onto the toolbar. That’s it? Yes, that’s it. Removing a tool is just as easy: grab it from the toolbar and drag it back onto the customize window. This doesn’t delete the tool, remember; it just removes it from this particular shortcut bar.

When you’re done making changes in the Customize window, you need to click ok to register your changes, by the way.

Back to the Customize window…on the Commands tab we can access all the commands associated with a particular category. You select the category from the column on the left, and all the available tools for that category appear as buttons on the right. If you’re not sure what a button is, the tool name will appear in a call out when you click on the button. You can just left-click and drag and drop the button right onto the command manager; it’s super easy.

Fig 10 – The Commands tab of the Customize dialog window. Select a category, then drag any button right onto the command manager if you want to make it visible.

Remember, if you want to hide a tool that’s currently displayed on the command manager, you just right-click on the icon in the command manager and select Delete.

Part 2 of the SolidWorks Tutorials for Beginners Series… SolidWorks tutorials by…

What about if you want to create your own custom tab, with a combination of tools from various environments, that you select yourself? Yep, SolidWorks allows you to do this also. At the far right of the tabs display, at the bottom of the ribbon, is the following icon; click on it and select Add Tab.

Fig 11- Add tab button

An empty tab appears in the tab display. You can left-click slowly on the tab to give it a name of your choosing. Select the tab to activate it. You can do all of this with the Customize dialog window still open. From the Commands tab on the Customize window, just drag and drop whichever tools you like onto your tab. To delete a tab, you guessed it: right-click on the tab and select Delete.

The next tab, Menus, is where you customize the lists of tools available to you via the standard Windows menu strip :

Fig 12 – the Menus tab on the Customize dialog window

On the Keyboard tab you create keyboard shortcuts; these further reduce your mouse actions and thus speed up your time completing any task. The keyboard tab is shown below:

Fig 13 – the Keyboard tab of the Customize dialog window

You can print and copy the list of shortcuts; this makes it convenient to reference so you don’t need to have this window open to see which keystrokes do what.

Many of the default shortcuts you will recognize from other Windows software. All of these shortcuts are the same in Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel, for example.

To delete any of the default shortcuts, just click in the cell and press Delete on your keyboard. To create a shortcut, click in the cell and type the shortcut keystrokes. So, to create the Close Document shortcut, you’d click in the cell and press the Control and W keys simultaneously. You can create your own custom shortcuts just by following those steps.

Now let’s take a look at the Mouse Gestures tab, shown below. The mouse gestures wheel is a command shortcut tool used in Solidworks (as well as Inventor and other CAD modelers) that was introduced with SolidWorks 2010. The Mouse Gestures tab is where you assign commands to various mouse movements. You can define wheels with different tools and for the varied design environments of SolidWorks.

TIP: by default, the part shortcut toolbar can be toggled on and off by pressing the S key on your keyboard.

Fig 13 – Mouse Gestures tab of the Customize dialog window

Here’s what a mouse gesture wheel looks like, pictured below:

Fig 12 – Sample navigation wheel where mouse gestures have been intuitively defined on the Mouse Gestures tab of the Customize dialog window. The mouse-down gesture is now highlighted.

There are four view positions scripted into this wheel. Each one is highlighted when I mouse over it from the center of the circle, but I don’t need to click to select a tool; I just move the mouse over the tool to activate it. So this is a way of minimizing the number of clicks required to get a task done.

Notice how these movements make sense; I have the bottom view associated with moving the mouse down. If I had the bottom view associated with, for example, a left movement of the mouse, it wouldn’t be as intuitive. You get to choose, on the Mouse Gestures tab of the Customize dialog window, which mouse movements are associated with which command. If you find that you’ve done set up a command that doesn’t match a mouse movement intuitively, you can modify it here.

With the wheel pictured above active, when I drag down, I take a bottom view. When I drag right I take a right view. When I drag left, I take a left view. When I drag up I take a top view.

Just in case you’re wondering how to activate the mouse gestures wheel…well, you need to hold down the right mouse button and move your mouse a bit. That is, if you have mouse gestures enabled in the Customize dialog window. If you uncheck this box, mouse gestures will be disabled for SolidWorks.

Fig 13 – Basic mouse gesture options – to be or not to be, and how many shall be! And, you can print the list of gestures for easier reference!

Here you also set the size of your mouse gesture wheels at four or eight gestures. With eight gestures, you include the diagonal parts of the wheel; so instead of just the North / East / West / South positions, you include all the other positions, too – SW, SE, NW, NE.

So it’s different than a right-click that brings up a contextual menu; to see the mouse gestures wheel you hold down the right mouse button and move the mouse a bit. Once the wheel is visible, to select a tool you continue holding down the right mouse button and move the mouse in either of the four directions, or eight directions if you’ve selected an eight-gesture wheel.

OK, that’s enough for now! We’ll continue this exploration of the SolidWorks interface in part 3 of this tutorial. This is the end of part two.  Thanks for joining us for these SolidWorks tutorials for beginners series. For more video tutorials about SolidWorks, please visit our website at