Solidworks file format for 3d printing

How Do I 3D Print from SOLIDWORKS

TriMech Video Tech Tips, 3D CAD, SOLIDWORKS, Tech Tips

By David Cano-Mejia on

As 3D printing becomes more common in the workplace, users are turning to SOLIDWORKS to better understand their designs in the context of 3D printing. SOLIDWORKS offers several 3D printing visualization and analysis tools and all of them can be accessed through the Print3D tool (File > Print3D). Let’s take a look!

Does My Part Fit on My Printer?

The first step in analyzing your design for 3D printing is to ensure that it will fit inside the print area. Under Printer, you can select the 3D printer that you will be using. If this is your first time using the Print3D command, you will need to add your printers to your favorites list. Click on Manage Favorites to browse all available 3D printers. SOLIDWORKS has added a comprehensive list of 3D printers with up-to-date envelope information so you can quickly find your most used printers and add them to your Favorites for easy access. If for some reason your 3D printer is not listed under this library, you can define a Custom Printer by manually inputting the print volume dimensions.

Under Print Bed Location select a plane, or planar face, to be defined as the bottom plane of the model. This will automatically orient your model on the print bed. If the model is larger than the print volume, the geometry outside the print volume will be highlighted in red and you will not be able to print. If you need to change the orientation of the model, you can use the translation controls, manually type in the desired print bed angle and offsets in the Print3D PropertyManager, or click Orient to Fit to let SOLIDWORKS orient your part or assembly for you.

Under Scale, you can also choose to print your design at a scale other than 1, which is the current size of the model in SOLIDWORKS. To do so, type a value for the scale factor. The new value is saved as a document property in the SOLIDWORKS file so if you print the model again, the saved value is used still there. The Scale to Fit option sets the scale to the largest value that will still fit inside of the print volume.

Can I Analyze My 3d Print?

Sure! You just have to switch over to the Preview tab in the Print3D PropertyManager. There are several analysis tools that you can use to get a better understanding of the design to be printed.

  1. Build Analysis
    • This allows you to preview the faces of your model that may require supports. Depending on the printer being used, at a certain overhang angle, the print quality is greatly affected unless supports are used. Type in the maximum angle for the faces that will require support. I recommend changing the Support face color to red and checking Show As Transparent to make it easy to visualize all of the faces that will need support.
  2. Layer Height
    • This option lets you visualize the height of each print layer in order to determine whether the print resolution is sufficiently fine to produce the desired print. Type in a layer height and turn on Show Striation Lines in order to get a preview.
    • If you are planning on exporting your file as a .3MF (3D Manufacturing Format), you can choose to let SOLIDWORKS generate the slices for the 3D print and embed those into the .3MF file instead of slicing the model using the printer’s slicer software
  3. Thickness/Gap Analysis
    • If you are using FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling) for your prints, this calculates the ideal wall thickness/gap based on the material that you set and the layer height.

How Do I Export the File to Be 3D Printed?

When you are done analyzing and visualizing your design, you are ready to export the 3D print files. You can export part and assembly files to STL (.stl), 3D Manufacturing Format (.3mf), or Additive Manufacturing File Format (.amf) files.

  • STL (*.stl)
    • This ASCII or binary format file describes only the surface geometry of a 3D object as a raw, unstructured triangulated surface.
  • 3D Manufacturing Format (*.3mf)
    • This is a 3D focused file format that contains 3D model, material, and property information for sharing full-fidelity 3D models to other applications, platforms, services, and printers.
  • Additive Manufacturing File (*.amf)
    • This xml-based file lets you select export options that store the color, scale and materials of the object to be 3D printed in the .AMF file, as well as the geometry of the model.

Under Save To File, select your desired format and click Save File. Once you have one of these files, you can import it into your printer’s slicer software to generate the G-code that the printer will use to print your design.

Can I Print Directly From SOLIDWORKS?

Yes, but only if your 3D printer manufacturer uses the SOLIDWORKS 3D Print API. As soon as you finish using the Print3D command and click OK , the 3D printing rapid prototyping dialog box will open to ensure that your printer’s build area is empty. The printer will start to warm up get ready to print. If your 3D printer does not use the SOLIDWORKS 3D Print API, you can still export the file as described above and import it into your printer’s slicer software.

How Do I Set My 3D Printing Options?

If you are planning on printing directly from SOLIDWORKS, you can set the 3D printing options that you would typically set in the slicer software. Job Quality corresponds to the print layer height and is the printer’s approximation to match that resolution. Infill Percentage lets you select the percentage of the part that is solid. You can select between 0%, 10%, 40%, 70%, and 100%. Infill percentage can greatly affect print times and part strength. Include Raft builds the print output on top of a raft of disposable material that you can remove after printing. This option is cleared by default. Include Supports adds supports for model faces that are in open space with no part of the model supporting the face. This option is selected by default and resets to the default each time that you open the Print3D PropertyManager.

The tools available inside of the Print3D command are easy to use and set up. Even if a different slicer software ends up being used to send the model to the printer, these tools can serve as a great starting point to understand the 3D printing requirements that your specific design may have.

Ready to learn more about SOLIDWORKS? Explore the different training options that we have to offer.

SOLIDWORKS 3D Printing. Do I still need to export a file?

The short answer to this question is yes, you can use SOLIDWORKS for 3D Printing. With SOLIDWORKS you are able to save your Part file as an STL (standard triangulation/tessellation language) file and a professional 3D Printer with it’s 3D printing software will be able to work with your SOLIDWORKS model in STL format.

In this article we’ll start with the STL file creation process as that is the traditional method of creating files for 3D Printers. But we will also discuss a new method of SOLIDWORKS 3D printing files using new free software called GrabCAD Print.

Traditional Method: Saving/exporting an STL file

STL is the standard file type used by most 3D printing systems. An STL file is essential the triangulated language representation of a 3D CAD model and provides instructions for your 3D printing software to build the model, an extract from an STL file is listed below:

Solid test
 Facet normal 0 1 0
 Outer loop
 Vertex 0 4 0
 Vertex 0.517638 3.93185 0
 Vertex 0.5 3.93185 -0.133975
 Endsolid test
How to create an STL file

To save a SOLIDWORKS part file as an STL file simply select FileSave As and choose STL from the list of file types:

Save As STL File

STL file options and resolution

STL files convert your SOLIDWORKS part geometry into triangles which means faceting of the geometry. Depending on the number of facets and the accuracy of your 3D printer will determine the smoothness of your final 3D printed model. When outputting the model from SOLIDWORKS you pick the Options button and then to decide on the resolution of the model will be.

STL Export Options

Output as

First as a default you should pick Binary as the output type, this generates a smaller file size. With ASCII the file will be larger because you will be able to read the STL file code, but you likely won’t need to, and your 3D printing software will recognize the binary file.

Coarse Resolution

For the resolution you can control the facet number with the slider bars. If you pick the default setting and choose coarse, as shown in the example image below, this will produce less triangles resulting in:

  • Smaller file size as larger triangles are used to represent the geometry
  • Shorter build time as there is less geometry to print
  • But the model with have a rougher surface finish.

Coarse STL File produces larger triangles, rougher finish

Fine Resolution

With the fine resolution, as shown in the figure below, you can create a smoother printable file and this will produce more triangles resulting in a:

  • Larger file size as there are more triangles used to represent the geometry
  • Larger build time as there is more geometry to print
  • But the model with have a smoother surface finish

Fine STL file produces a smoother model


You cannot build the model any better or smoother than the STL file produced from SOLIDWORKS, so if the STL is coarse and faceted, that is what you can expect in the final model. Typically you should use the ‘fine’ option with models from SOLIDWORKS, but 3D printing a few benchmark SOLIDWORKS models with different STL settings will determine the best settings for your machine.

New Method: Using GrabCAD Print

As I mentioned earlier a new method of 3D printing SOLIDWORKS files is by using GrabCAD Print. Which is a new FREE cloud-based solution that brings connectivity and accessibility to 3D printing. GrabCAD Print was only recently released and is still in beta as of writing this article.

The traditional workflow for 3D printing with STL files is fine if you have been using your 3D printer and 3D printing software for a while. But GrabCAD Print has recognized that this 3D printing process can be overly complicated as shown in the diagram below:

Traditional 3D Print Workflow

GrabCAD Print simplifies the process so you don’t need to create an STL file, allowing your team to get quality prints faster.

GrabCAD Print Workflow

Watch the video below to learn more about the new software:

GrabCAD Print your SOLIDWORKS files

The new process is pretty simple, download and activate GrabCAD Print. Then in GrabCAD Print select File > Insert File and choose your SOLIDWORKS part file. No need to save/export an STL file. SOLIDWORKS 3D printing is now much easier.


A smooth SOLIDWORKS 3D printing workflow

With GRABCAD Print you can get the 3D printed parts you want, obstacle-free.

  1. Print directly from CAD: GrabCAD Print allows you to print directly from your favorite professional CAD formats, saving hours of time usually spent converting and fixing STL files.
  2. Get started fast: Lean on smart default settings, tooltips, and notifications to guide you through a seamless printing process.
  3. See what you’re making: Work with detailed views of your model, tray, and slice preview so you can make necessary adjustments before going to print.

GrabCAD Print Preparation

Get more from your 3D printer

Optimize your resources with a management view of all printers and jobs.

  1. Organize print queues: Maximize print scheduling based on machine availability, estimated job duration, and other key considerations.
  2. Monitor material levels: Know how much material remains for each printer so you can plan and budget.
  3. Stay up to date: Notifications let you know when your print is complete (or if an error has occurred) so you can act accordingly.

GrabCAD Print Schedule

3D Print from anywhere

Let anyone on your team experience the benefits of 3D printing.

  1. Print from any device: GrabCAD Print is cloud-connected so you can access it directly from any browser on your device of choice.
  2. Schedule and monitor remotely: Access and print to any supported printer in your company, even if it’s in a different geographic location.
  3. Minimal training required: A straightforward interface makes professional 3D printing as easy as loading a part and clicking print.

Give GrabCAD Print a try

GrabCAD print is currently in beta, but you can sign up for free at the GrabCAD website.

Note that GrabCAD Print currently supports the following Stratasys 3D printers: uPrint SE, uPrint SE Plus (both uPrint machines are on SALE at the moment) Fortus 250mc, Dimension Elite, Dimension 1200es (SST & BST), with more coming soon.

Of course if you want to learn more about SOLIDWORKS 3D printing then you should plan to attend our 1 day 3D Printing Essentials training course.  The course will teach you how to optimize your CAD files and 3D print your SOLIDWORKS models more cost effectively.

8 most common 3D file formats