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Solid Viewers that Work(s)

5 Best Free SolidWorks Viewers

Picture of Melanie Griffin
by Melanie Griffin
Sep 8, 2019
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Free SolidWorks viewers are not created equal. Dive into this extremely detailed list of the best free Solidworks viewers out there!

SolidWorks Viewer SolidWorks Viewers 101

SolidWorks files are compatible with a number of viewers that are free to download online.
SolidWorks files are compatible with a number of viewers that are free to download online. (Source: SolidSolutions)

SolidWorks is the industry gold standard for 3D modeling. It uses numeric parameters to create relationships between sections of the design to keep the geometries relative to each other. This makes it a great way for designers to keep the big picture in mind while building and adjusting details of their designs.

If you want to try SolidWorks for yourself or interact with anyone who’s made a design with it, you’ll need the right tools on your own computer. Looking at a SolidWorks file requires a specific type of viewing program that can open all the components of a 3D solid modeling drawing in one comprehensive picture for review. SolidWorks uses the Microsoft Structured Storage file type for this. These are labeled as SLDDRW (drawing files), SLDPRT (parts files), and SLDASM (assembly files), depending on their use.

Fortunately, viewing them is neither difficult nor expensive. We’ve got the details on the five best free SolidWorks viewers you can download and keep on your computer for whatever SolidWorks projects you have going.

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1

SolidWorks Viewer eDrawings

eDrawings is SolidWorks' own free viewer.
eDrawings is SolidWorks' own free viewer. (Source: javelin-tech.com)

eDrawings is SolidWorks’ own viewing platform, so it has the best compatibility out there. But there’s more to it than just the brand name.

Unlike other free CAD viewers, SolidWorks’ eDrawings gives you two tiers of free usage to choose from, both of which give you different areas of detail. If you need to view and understand but not publish or mark up SolidWorks files, the eDrawings Viewer is your best bet. If you need to make non-SolidWorks files compatible, check out eDrawings Publisher. Either way, you can download them instantly and for free.

A program built by SolidWorks is not going to make you go elsewhere to view certain types of their files. So using eDrawings guarantees that no matter what you created in SolidWorks, you’ll be able to view it like a dream every time.

Unfortunately, not all aspects of eDrawings are free. If you need to manipulate your 3D design or watch it in motion, you’ll have to pay a subscription for its Professional level.

User Experience

  • MultiCAD communication: Collaborative work is impossible unless you’re all on the same page – easier said than done if you’re all on different file formats. But eDrawings is compatible with all the major CAD file types, meaning you can use whichever is best for your project or even just whatever you’re most comfortable using, without worrying about clogging communication or exporting to a different format that may not translate all your data correctly. It’s a great way to keep everyone in the loop!
  • Markup tool: Speaking of group work, eDrawings takes the basic idea of commenting on word processing documents and brings it into the computer-aided drafting world. With eDrawings Viewer, anyone who has a copy of the file can add notes and highlights to sections of the design so that they’re all in one place and easily available to the editor.
  • Augmented reality: If you have the supportive equipment, eDrawings now lets you pretend you’re Tony Stark through its ability to cast your 3D drawings into real space. Granted, you do have to have VR glasses that catch what your mobile devices’ camera projects in order to experience this feature, but if you’re already equipped for that and you want to take your SolidWorks 3D drawings to a new level, prepare to be amazed.

Details

  • Company: SolidWorks. They designed the eDrawings software as the companion viewer to SolidWorks from the beginning.
  • Cost: Free for two of the three versions (eDrawings Viewer and eDrawings Publisher).

Get it: Download it from the SolidWorks eDrawings website.

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2

SolidWorks Viewer Free IGS Viewer

Free IGS Viewer has a plethora of support documentation to help your usage.
Free IGS Viewer has a plethora of support documentation to help your usage. (Source: Lifewire)

Free IGS Viewer assumes you’re new at dealing with 3D solid modeling files. Which is actually great, because that means it explains everything from what the file extensions stand for in 3D solid modeling, to which one is the best to use for which projects, to how their Free IGS Viewer fits in and helps you in your process.

And since SolidWorks files can be saved as IGS files, all SolidWorks users can take advantage of this efficient yet powerful free viewer.

When you go to the Free IGS Viewer website, the first thing you see is a giant green button called Download. Click that, and congratulations, you’ve just installed the Free IGS Viewer. It’s really that simple.

Don’t be fooled by its name – Free IGS Viewer actually offers STL and STP viewers as well, all free and all just as easy to download.

Uncertain funding, in this case meaning donations to a website, is not the best way to make sure your program stays on the cutting edge. Free IGS Viewer can’t guarantee that it will always be in business, so if you’re worried about supports and updates going away at an inconvenient time, maybe pick a SolidWorks viewer that is backed by a company with its own source of revenue.

User Experience

  • Modification options: Unlike the eDrawings program from SolidWorks, the Free IGS Viewer gives you design modification options for free. You can add shading to your 3D objects, change skin or wireframe color, and change the transparency level, all to get the most complete picture of your design possible.
  • Clean workspace: The Free IGS Viewer user experience is as simple as its download process. The command buttons in the workspace don’t have labels, but they do each have graphics that make it clear what they’re meant to do. Plus, the handy tutorial on their website gives you the definition of each button and what they’ll do. And Free IGS Viewer automatically opens a tree viewer when you start working with your object, but you can also hide that for a completely clean, simple view of your SolidWorks file.
  • 2D view all angles of 3D drawings: One of the most useful commands within the Free IGS Viewer is the 2D viewer for 3D drawings. That lets you flatten any side of your 3D model to see useful 2D information such as flat measurements. It makes dimension-hopping easy when you’re going from page design to modeling mode.

Details

  • Company: ideaMK
  • Cost: Free to download. (You can donate to ideaMK on their front page to help keep this project going.)

Get it: Download it from the Free IGS Viewer website.

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3

SolidWorks Viewer FreeCAD

The FreeCAD SolidWorks viewer is open-source for maximum sharing and customizing capacities.
The FreeCAD SolidWorks viewer is open-source for maximum sharing and customizing capacities. (Source: freecadweb.org)

FreeCAD is based on a number of open-source programs that are heavily used in mechanics, engineering, and other computer-based fields of science. Because it’s based entirely on open-source software, FreeCAD is also compatible with a whole range of plugins for further functionality. If you’ve got a favorite add-on, chances are FreeCAD will either already be able to accommodate that, or will point you to where in their code you can change that yourself. You’ve got to love programs that let you be as weird as you want.

And because FreeCAD is an open-source program, you can download and then modify it to your heart’s content (using the Python programming language). If you don’t have the need or know-how to do that, its default program is solid with beginner to intermediate users in mind. Plus, it’s updated at least once a year with detailed release notes, and its basic interface is very similar to SolidWorks, so if you’re used to SolidWorks, you already know how to work FreeCAD.

FreeCAD’s viewer supports the imports and exports of a long list of typical computer-aided drafting file types, which is a good one-way stop for all your CAD work. But they do warn on their wiki that “the level of compatibility between FreeCAD and a given file format may vary since it depends on the module that implements it.”

We are not here to knock volunteer work. It’s a great and noble thing, especially when that means making expensive software and programs accessible to the masses. However, you do need to be aware that the FreeCAD project is a labor of love for those who work on it. As with the Free IGS Viewer, that means its own support system is shakier than that of a company with plenty of backing. The good news is that FreeCAD has been going strong since 2001 on its current model, and its volunteer workers keep up a massive, well-organized wiki and maker community to go along with the program. So we have faith the Free CAD project will be able to offer its goods for many years to come.

User Experience

  • Sketcher mode: Unlike a lot of other SolidWorks viewers, FreeCAD has a module that will actually let you sketch 2D designs. You don’t have as much capacity within the viewer as you do in full-blown design software, of course, but it’s great for getting ideas on paper to flesh out later.
  • Macros: With FreeCAD, you have the ability to create unique commands within your own workspace. You do that through macros, which are basically a way to record a group of commands under one label so later you only have to choose that one label to start that specific chain of commands. Macros are great time savers, and in FreeCAD, every action outputs a Python command. Those Python commands are what you can record to create your macros, and they are a major plus to a type of software as intricate as a SolidWorks viewer.
  • Python console: You don’t have to go digging to modify your FreeCAD – it displays its source code in a box on its standard workbench view. The python console gives you a running glimpse into how the code is structured, and it’s also editable so you can jump in and join it any time you want to truly customize your experience.

Details

  • Company: FreeCAD Project
  • Cost: Free to download from its website.

Get it: Download it from the FreeCAD website.

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4

SolidWorks Viewer HiCAD Viewer

The HiCAD viewer works with a host of other CAD programs for smooth integration across your projects.
The HiCAD viewer works with a host of other CAD programs for smooth integration across your projects. (Source: isdgroup.com)

ISD Group is a German company, but they cover everything you need to know about the HiCAD Viewer in English (either American or British), French, Polish, and Italian as well.

If you enjoy the HiCAD Viewer, you’ll find plenty of ways to further explore the company’s offerings of engineering programs (just remember none of the rest of them are offered for free). They all work together as well as with SolidWorks and other CAD programs, so you’ll be able to create on whatever platform you like most.

User Experience

  • Dual tab workspace window: When you open a SolidWorks file to view in the HiCAD Viewer, you’ll see two tabs directly above your design. The Drawing tab displays all views that were visible when the file was last saved, whether or not those areas were shaded. The View tab only opens shaded views, and it lets you change between individual view displays of your drawing. The View tab also lets you zoom, rotate, pan, etc. This dual tab workspace model lets you keep the whole design in mind while you work on the details without having to save and completely switch viewing modes – HiCAD lets you flip back and forth instantly.
  • Customize keyboard commands: If you hate using a mouse and instead jump on hotkey commands any time that’s possible, the HiCAD viewer lets you customize your keyboard within its quick access toolbar. To do this, first find the quick access toolbar – it’s above the command ribbon and is the list of icons that don’t have any labels. Then click the downward button icon, and then the More Commands option. Finally, you’ll see the Keyboard Shortcuts: Customize option, which lets you assign commands to any key or combination thereof.
  • SZN format only opens shaded 3D models: This limits HiCAD Viewer’s utility and usability a little further than that of other free SolidWorks viewers. You can still use HiCAD Viewer to open 2D drawing files, as well as other parts file types, but not in the SZN format.

Details

  • Company: ISD Group
  • Cost: Free to download from the website.

Get it: Download your language version from ISD Wiki.

5

SolidWorks Viewer Navisworks Freedom

The Naviswork Freedom viewer gives you a lot of options for perspective on your design.
The Naviswork Freedom viewer gives you a lot of options for perspective on your design. (Source: Matthew Finchly / YouTube)

Navisworks Freedom lets you see your design in a huge range of customized viewing scenarios, including different materials and lighting. You can also choose from different scanning scenarios, like what your object looks like when you walk around it, fly over it, zoom past it, orbit it, and more. If you’re looking for a SolidWorks viewer to examine your designs on every level, Navisworks is for you.

Since AutoDesk is the purveyor of CAD software that has become industry standard, it knows what it’s doing, and it brings that experience to its free SolidWorks viewer. It’s also got an establishment behind it that won’t disappear anytime soon, plus all the compatibility that comes with the universality of its AutoCAD.

Like eDrawings, Navisworks has several levels of usability, and only the lowest tier is free. Even without paying anything, you get a good SolidWorks viewer, but if you want also to manipulate or change any of your design, you’ll have to subscribe to Navisworks Simulate ($880/year), Navisworks Manage ($2,175/year), or a bundle with other AutoDesk software ($2,825/year).

User Experience

  • Compression of NWD files: SolidWorks files are piles of information much bigger than the designs that become their final visuals, and sometimes, that clogs up your process. That’s where Navisworks Freedom’s compression comes in – when you open an NWD file with Navisworks Freedom, it compresses the file information into a zip file that makes it much more compact to transfer between programs and computers without losing any of the data.
  • Sectioning: When you ever get the need to see a 3D cross-section of your design from a specific viewpoint, Navisworks has you covered. Just click Viewpoint, then Enable Sectioning, and create your Sectioning Settings. The Planes mode lets you make up to six cross-section cuts through any plane without interfering with your ability to see inside models. It’s great for looking at how internal details fit within the bigger picture of your design.
  • Personalized workspace: One example of small details that make a big difference in Navisworks Freedom is the ability to arrange your work window exactly the way you want it and save it as your default setting. When you first open Navisworks Freedom, you’ll have access to all the standard tools like the selection tree, navigation bar, and options ribbons. Once you know what you’ll be using the most, you can add, subtract, and configure those on your workspace screen in whatever ways are most intuitive to your work style. Plus, you can save those settings, so you don’t have to adjust them every time you open the program.

Details

  • Company: Autodesk
  • Cost: Free to download.

Get it: Download it from the Navisworks website.

Feature image source: SolidWorks

License: The text of "5 Best Free SolidWorks Viewers" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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