The First Step in Getting Started in SOLIDWORKS? Learn the User Interface

A complete guide to the SOLIDWORKS user interface

You’re probably here because you want to learn SOLIDWORKS. Well, you’re in the right place! You’ve taken the first step in your journey of learning SOLIDWORKS. Like anyone learning SOLIDWORKS, you’ll get started by launching the application. That’s easy. But then what? Where do you really start? I think it makes sense to start by giving you the lay of the land and explaining how to navigate around SOLIDWORKS. Think of this article as your guide to getting started with SOLIDWORKS—it’s the definitive guide to the SOLIDWORKS UI.

What we have here, really, is the chicken or the egg scenario. To have the need to move around the interface and geometry, you’ll need to first have geometry. To create geometry, you need to know how to move around the interface. Let’s just park the geometry creation until the next article and stick to the interface basics here first.

Moving Around—the Basics

To move around in SOLIDWORKS, there are three main vehicles you will use —pan, zoom and rotate. The easiest way to use these vehicles is with the mouse. All three vehicles are controlled by using the middle mouse wheel in some way.

Pro Tip: Make sure you’re using an external mouse and not a laptop trackpad. It doesn’t have to be special. Any mouse will do as long as it has left and right buttons with a middle wheel. My go-to mouse is the Logitech M330 not because it’s superefficient and supremely quiet.

Rotate: Click and hold the middle mouse wheel while moving the mouse to rotate the model view. This will rotate about the model’s geometric center.

Zoom: Roll the middle mouse wheel in (toward you) or out (away from you). An easy way to remember this is that you’re either pushing away from you or pulling in toward you. Be sure to keep the mouse pointed at what you want to zoom in to. This takes some getting used to but is very useful once you get the hang of it.

Pan: With the control key pressed, also hold the middle mouse wheel to slide the model up or down on the screen while maintaining the view angle.

One thing to understand is that you’re not actually moving the geometry but rather the “camera view.” The geometry position is static, so you’re modifying the camera view. In fact, all of these commands are listed in the Modify section of the View drop-down menu shown below. As you can see, we only introduced the few I consider to be the basics.

Moving Around—Advanced

Trust me, you can probably go weeks, even months, relying solely on the basic navigation tools in SOLIDWORKS. But for a few times a year, you will need some more advanced tools.

Pro Tip: As you learn SOLIDWORKS tools, it’s a good idea to try to learn the symbols that represent the commands. As you start to use SOLIDWORKS more, you’ll recognize commands in various places, so it’s incredibly helpful to learn the default symbols of all the commands in addition to customizing the interface so that you can work how you want to.

Previous View: Using this command will reorient the camera to the previous view. You can click it multiple times to go back through the previous model views you’ve had. This is useful for those review meetings where someone says something like, “Can we go back to the other view?”

View Orientation (aka View Selector): The view selector is a clickable cube that helps you easily visualize and adjust the different view orientations. This is incredibly helpful when you need to orient the view but is also important to know when you are learning SOLIDWORKS because it’s quite jarring when the view is quickly adjusted and a cube is superimposed on top of a model.

Zoom to Fit: This fits the entire model in the screen. Press the F key on your keyboard for this. This is one default hotkey to remember.

Zoom to Selection: This zooms in to fit the selected geometry to the screen. This works for any features or geometry and is especially useful for quickly finding parts in large assemblies.

Roll: This rotates the view about an axis that is normal to the screen. Use the alt key plus the right or left arrows.

Keyboard Shortcuts

SOLIDWORKS is incredibly customizable. But my first piece of advice to learning SOLIDWORKS is to not ask yourself, “How do I customize SOLIDWORKS?” but rather spend time mastering the default out-of-the-box tools and actions. There’s a difference between first learning SOLIDWORKS, mastering SOLIDWORKS and then finally mastering efficiency.

Below you’ll find a list of some keyboard shortcuts. These are the out-of-the-box keys but could be customized later to fit your modeling style or preferences.

The column on the right side indicates my opinion on the importance of knowing these keys while learning SOLIDWORKS. The 3s are the ones that you need to remember immediately if you want to quickly learn SOLIDWORKS. The 2s are either not so useful or very useful if you’re not using a mouse. It is worth repeating that you should use a mouse with SOLIDWORKS. It’s technically not impossible to use SOLIDWORKS without a mouse, but why make it hard on yourself?

Displaying Your Model

Display styles in SOLIDWORKS are the way your geometry is graphically shown on the screen. This is different than the appearance or color of the model. Display styles are the way the geometric entities like edges and faces are shown. There are five main display styles, and they are easily accessible in the “Heads Up Display” as shown below. Keep an eye on the head of the ratchet to really understand the difference between the different display styles.

Shaded With Edges: This is the default (and recommended) display style. This displays geometry in shaded mode with hidden lines removed. In other words, it’s colored in with the edges shown but only shows the edges that aren’t covered up or obscured.

Shaded: This is exactly what it’d look like in the real world. Solid geometry that’s colored in with no visible edges. Keep in mind that although this display style is more realistic, it’s not as useful without the edges displayed.

Hidden Lines Removed: This style displays only those edges that are visible at the current view orientation. In other words, obscured lines are removed.

Hidden Lines Visible: This style displays all edges of the model. Hidden (covered up) edges are displayed as dashed lines.

Wireframe: This style displays all edges.

By default, the shaded-with-edges display style is shown. This is the recommended display style for learning SOLIDWORKS. I’d argue that it’s the most useful display style because you can see all the geometric entities. Edges are incredibly useful when modeling in SOLIDWORKS because you get more insight into your model.


Now that you know how to move and display your geometry, you’re almost ready to get started with SOLIDWORKS. There’s just one more thing you need before you do: a crash course in the SOLIDWORKS UI. Here are some things to watch out for when you’re learning the interface. We’ll focus on the working SOLIDOWORKS UI instead of the blank UI. The blank UI is when you don’t have a file open and the working UI is when there’s a file open.

CommandManager—Home to the SOLIDWORKS commands grouped by different ribbons for different working scenarios like sketching, features, surfacing and more.

FeatureManager Design Tree—A parametric history of your modeling operations. Here all the features you added or created are listed in the order in which you made them.

Graphics Area—Think of this as the modeling area. This is where the geometry is displayed and where you work on the model.

Heads Up Display—This is a customizable toolbar that offers quick access to commands. I like to add some commands to this like measure or normal to.

Search—You can search through various things like help or commands. This is useful for quick access to things instead of digging through menus or spending time looking for something. The Command Search is incredibly helpful for learning SOLIDWORKS.

Task Pane—This is an area for additional SOLIDWORKS tools and resources. When you’re learning SOLIDWORKS, I recommend keeping this collapsed instead of giving up the Graphics Area real estate.

SOLIDWORKS UI4 Things You Need to Know

Here are some things you need to know about the SOLIDWORKS UI when you’re getting started. Some of them are useful to know, while others are pitfalls to watch out for when you’re first learning. They’re all easier to show than explain, so check out the videos for a better explanation.

  1. The FeatureManager can be resized, but sometimes it’s accidentally hidden. It’s tough to model without it, especially when you’re learning. So, here’s how to get it back in case you accidentally hide it. There’s that one hard-to-see button that shows it.

  2. The CommandManager can be docked or moved around the screen. This mostly happens by accident when you’re first learning. You can redock it by dragging it on top of the button displayed in the center of the screen where the CommandManager used to be.

  3. The Head Up Display is a bar of commands at the top of the screen that can be fully customized to give you quick access to commands.

  4. The Command Search is available to help you access commands. Use this if you forget where a command is located. It’s quicker and easier than digging through menus to find what you’re looking for.

That’s what you need to know about the SOLIDWORKS UI and how to navigate around your geometry. Now you’re ready to move on to modeling and creating geometry in SOLIDWORKS. Be sure to keep this guide handy and use it as your North Star as you continue on your journey to learning SOLIDWORKS. If you’re looking for a learning path to go from beginner to expert in SOLIDWORKS, check out our series on how to learn SOLIDWORKS.