Technical Tip: SolidWorks Context Toolbars

This blog post is the seventh in a series of technical tips about the SolidWorks User Interface. Call the series "Everything you wanted to know about —–, but were afraid to ask". The first few posts will be about the various types of toolbars available in the system. This post is about the SolidWorks Context Toolbars.

Context Toolbars

Context Toolbars were introduced for part and assembly documents in SolidWorks 2008 to provide easier access to the most common commands/options that relate to the current selection. SolidWorks 2010 adds the Context Toolbar for Drawing documents. The following image shows an example of the context toolbar alone on the left and the context toolbar on top of the right mouse button shortcut menu on the right:


These toolbars work similar to the “Mini Toolbar” introduced in Microsoft Office 2007; on selection, they show up partially transparent and become opaque if you move your mouse onto them or disappear when you move your mouse away from them (assuming you don’t want to use the toolbar). The context toolbar is positioned very close to the mouse when making selections in the FeatureManager tree (similar to the Mini Toolbar in Office) but is positioned further away when making selections in the graphics area so it is easier to make multiple selections of geometry without moving your mouse away to dismiss the context toolbar first. The context toolbar also disappears if you hit the CTRL key to make multiple selections and comes back when you let go of the CTRL key.

The default behavior is that the Context Toolbar shows when you select an object with the left mouse button. It also shows at the top of the shortcut menu if you use your right mouse button to make a selection (or after you have made a selection). You can customize when the Context Toolbar is used through Tools, Customize, Toolbars; choosing to use it for left click (selection), right click (shortcut menu), for both, or for neither.

The buttons shown on the context toolbars are hard coded and cannot be customized by the user. SolidWorks has chosen to put the most commonly used commands from the shortcut menus onto the Context Toolbars for easier access. It takes a little bit of time to learn the icons, but many users find this approach much more efficient once learned. There are tooltips on the icons to help describe what each button does. Another benefit of the context toolbars is that the icons are in a more predictable location than on the standard shortcut menus and can be used with less "hunting". Once users become familiar with the icons and their placement, they can often even use the buttons by "muscle memory" instead of visual scanning for their location.

If users see anything I have missed about Context Toolbars in this blog post, please comment and I will try to update the blog.


Jim Wilkinson

Jim Wilkinson

Jim Wilkinson

Jim is Vice President, User Experience Architecture at Dassault Systemès SolidWorks Corporation