SOLIDWORKS TECH TIP: Model Visualization – Part 1: Orientation

With exciting new technology like Microsoft’s Hololens being recently revealed, I thought it might be useful to understand how SOLIDWORKS handles viewing of models and hopefully open up a discussion about how these new technologies might affect our design processes in the future.

We’ll break this down into 4 categories.
  • Orientation
  • Perspective
  • Camera
  • Stereoscopic 3D, Augmented Reality, and the Future


One of the first things I get asked by brand-new users is “How do I rotate the model?” In most cases, I interpret this as “How do I rotate my view of the model?”

What’s the difference?

If we’re going to deep dive into our view of models in SOLIDWORKS, it’s important to understand that we aren’t moving the model when we hold down that middle mouse button – we are moving our view of the model. If we go to the actual command we’re using and take a peek at the tool tip, it even says that the name of the tool is “Rotate View” and the tool “Rotates the model view.” We’re not rotating the model itself.

Rotate View Tool TipView Tools

In fact, all of the view tools are moving our orientation to the model, not the model itself.

Another way to think of this (and will be more important as we cover perspective) is the idea of a picture plane. Imagine if your laptop’s screen were actually a cutout. Instead of moving the model around, we’re moving around our laptop or moving the Picture Plane. You can see in the image below that the picture plane is moving around the trailer.

Now, what about zooming?
Zooming in SOLIDWORKS is moving our picture plane closer to the model but also changing the View Angle. To change these independently, you need to use the SOLIDWORKS Camera feature, but more on that later.

Our standard orthogonal views are pretty straight forward (pun intended). There is no foreshortening and all sketch entities are to scale.

Our standard angled views (Axonometric Views) are a different story. Isometric, Dimetric, and Trimetric have foreshortening.

Isometric is so popular in engineering drawings, because even though there is foreshortening, there is the exact same foreshortening on all three axes. This means that using physical sketching tools, like a ruler and protractor, and knowing that all of our lines in isometric will be 2/3 the true scale, we could find exact measurements in an angled view!

Dimetric and Trimetric aren’t as popular, as there is a different scale in the different directions, but can be helpful when things are to equal. Take M.C. Escher for instance. He loved to use Isometric views to create illusions, but in engineering we’re trying to be very clear about our designs and not confuse whoever is interpreting our models or drawings.

(I’ve attached the two “Impossible Triangles” to this blog post so you can trick your co-workers. Click the image to download.)

Check out the chart below for the angles and camera locations needed to achieve each of the standard angled views in SOLIDWORKS.

Stay tuned for part two, where we’ll discuss perspective and how it relates to the model view. I’ll even provide some files for download to assist in using perspective when sketching out ideas.

Any questions, comments, or suggestions are welcome.

For more training and tutorials on the many 3D CAD Modeling solutions in the SOLIDWORKS family of products and add-ons, please feel free to look through our Webcast Archive, register for an upcoming webcast orevent, or look into our 3DU SOLIDWORKS Training and Certificationcourses.
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