SOLIDWORKS: Should You Buy It? The Architect Verdict!

SOLIDWORKS, a CAD and CAE software developed by Dassault Systèmes, is widely used by engineers and designers for creating 3D components, assemblies, and 2D drawings. It supports a component-based approach to design, where changes in parts or assemblies automatically update related files, maintaining design integrity. SOLIDWORKS also allows for import and export compatibility with other CAD software. It can also operate on Macs using virtualization software, although Dassault Systèmes does not officially support this setup. SOLIDWORKS also supports virtual environments, providing flexibility and scalability, especially for large organizations. Launched in 1995, SOLIDWORKS set a new benchmark for CAD software ease of use. SOLIDWORKS offers different licensing options, including Standalone, Network, and Term Licenses, catering to individual users, larger teams, and temporary needs. Pricing varies, with perpetual licenses starting at $3,995 (€3,495, £2,995) and subscription licenses ranging from $1,495 (€1,295, £1,095) to $1,995 (€1,750, £1,490). SOLIDWORKS files can be exported in various formats, including.STEP,.IGES and Parasolid, ensuring compatibility with other industry-standard software. It supports many file formats for exporting and importing designs, enhancing interoperability. Minimum hardware requirements include a 64-bit Windows OS, a multi-core processor, substantial RAM and GPU resources, and SSD storage. SOLIDWORKS is updated annually with major releases introducing enhancements and new features. ArchitectureLab’s verdict suggests alternative CAD software options that better suit specific needs. Other architectural software options include Cedreo, SketchUp, AutoCAD, Chief Architect, Planner 5D, and Revit. For better productivity in SOLIDWORKS, peripherals like 3D mice, drawing tablets, advanced gaming mice, stream decks, SpaceMouse, and large or multiple monitors are beneficial.


SOLIDWORKS is a leading Computer-Aided Design (CAD) and Computer-Aided Engineering (CAE) software that millions of engineers and designers use worldwide. SOLIDWORKS comprises three basic document types: parts, assemblies, and drawings.  Users create individual 3D components in part mode. These parts are brought together in assembly mode to form a complete design. Users create 2D drawings and documentation for the parts and assemblies. It supports a component-based approach to 3D design, where designs are built up from individual parts. This approach, combined with the software’s ability to update all related files when changes are made to a part or assembly, helps maintain design intent and reduce errors. SOLIDWORKS also offers various tools for engineering tasks such as creating variations of parts, performing stress analysis, customizing the software, sharing models, animating assemblies, and accessing a library of standard parts.

The ArchitectureLab Verdict: Should You Buy SOLIDWORKS?

No, the ArchitectureLab’s verdict is that SOLIDWORKS is a must-buy software. Firstly, SOLIDWORKS is a comprehensive tool offering a wide range of product development, 3D design, simulation, manufacturing, data management, and cloud collaboration capabilities. Secondly, SOLIDWORKS is known for its compatibility with various operating systems, which allows users to transfer their designs without worrying about losing any changes. This flexibility can be particularly beneficial in a team setting, where different members may use other systems. Thirdly, SOLIDWORKS supports generative design, which uses algorithms to generate optimized designs based on specific input parameters. This can be a powerful tool for architects to create more efficient and innovative designs. Fourthly, it also has a range of learning resources and a supportive community of users, which can help users get the most out of the software. Lastly, SOLIDWORKS is compatible with other software and tools, which can enhance its capabilities and streamline workflows. This includes integrating cloud-based services and other CAD tools, making it a powerful tool for managing complex architectural projects.

Which company develops SOLIDWORKS?

Dassault Systèmes, a French multinational software company, develops SOLIDWORKS. The company was founded in 1981 and is known for developing software for 3D design, 3D digital mock-ups, and product lifecycle management (PLM). SOLIDWORKS Corp., a Dassault Systèmes subsidiary, explicitly handles the development and marketing of SOLIDWORKS software. The SOLIDWORKS brand was founded in December 1993 by a team of engineers led by Jon Hirschtick to create 3D design software that was affordable, easy to use, and available on a Windows NT personal computer. The first product, SolidWorks 95, was released on November 1, 1995, and established a new benchmark for ease of use in the CAD software industry. In 1997, Dassault Systèmes acquired SOLIDWORKS, and it has operated as a separate subsidiary, maintaining its own identity, products, distribution channel, and partner programs. The current SOLIDWORKS management team leads the operations, and the company continues to be based in Concord, Massachusetts.

On what platforms does SOLIDWORKS run?

SOLIDWORKS primarily runs on Windows. It supports various versions of Windows, including Windows 10 and the latest Windows 11. The software is designed to be compatible with client and server products, with specific system requirements for each. It can also run on Apple Mac-based machines using virtualization software like Parallels. The developer of SOLIDWORKS does not support this setup but supports virtual environments or hypervisors. These include VMware vSphere ESXi, VMware Workstation, Microsoft Hyper-V, Parallels Desktop for Mac, and Citrix XenServer.

When was SOLIDWORKS first launched?

SOLIDWORKS was launched on November 1, 1995. The software was developed by a team of engineers led by Jon Hirschtick, who founded the SOLIDWORKS brand in December 1993. The team’s goal was to create 3D CAD software that was easy to use, affordable, and available on the Windows desktop. The first product, SolidWorks 95, established a new benchmark for ease of use in the CAD software industry. It was the first significant modeler for Windows, marking a huge step in the evolution of CAD. SolidWorks changed how engineers brought their creations to life, shifting the industry’s focus toward 3D modeling. SOLIDWORKS has been updated with new features and functionalities, reflecting the commitment of Dassault Systèmes, the company that acquired SOLIDWORKS in 1997, to innovation and continuous improvement.

What are the licensing options available for SOLIDWORKS?

SOLIDWORKS offers several licensing options to meet the needs of different types of users. The main license types are Standalone Licenses, Network Licenses, and Term Licenses. Standalone Licenses are tied to a specific computer and allow only that computer to run SOLIDWORKS. Standalone Licenses are available as Perpetual Licenses with a one-time fee of $3,995 (€3,495, £2,995) or Subscription Licenses requiring an annual renewal fee of $1,495 (€1,295, £1,095) to $1,995 (€1,750, £1,490). Network Licenses allow SOLIDWORKS to be installed on multiple computers, which connect to a central license server to request a license when needed. This is ideal for larger teams and offices. Network License pricing is $5,495 (€4,795, £4,095) to $7,495 (€6,550, £5,590) per license purchased. Additional costs are required for the server hardware and license manager software. Term Licenses provide access to SOLIDWORKS for a set period, usually 6-12 months, rather than perpetually. Short-term Licenses can be purchased for 30-90 days and rented for $495 (€430, £365) to $995 (€870, £740). Term Licenses can only be purchased as Subscription Licenses. SOLIDWORKS also offers volume discounts, academic editions for students/teachers, and simplified CAD packages with fewer features at lower prices.

What is the cost of SOLIDWORKS?

The cost of SOLIDWORKS depends on the type of license purchased. Standalone Licenses are sold as Perpetual Licenses for a one-time fee of $3,995 (€3,495, £2,995) or as Subscription Licenses for an annual fee of $1,495 (€1,295, £1,095) to $1,995 (€1,750, £1,490). Network licenses are popular for teams and companies. These allow multiple users to access SOLIDWORKS from their computers by connecting to a central license server. Network Licenses cost $5,495 (€4,795, £4,095) to $7,495 (€6,550, £5,590) per seat. Additional expenses are required for server hardware and network license management tools. Short Term Rental Licenses can be leased for 30 days at $995 (€870, £740) or even daily rates at $25 (€22, £19). Academic Licenses offer lower pricing for students and educators, starting from $99 (€85, £75). Volume discounts are available for large multi-seat purchases. SOLIDWORKS sells several lower-cost CAD packages like SOLIDWORKS Standard, SOLIDWORKS Professional, and SOLIDWORKS Premium with varying included features.

How can SOLIDWORKS help architects and designers?

SOLIDWORKS helps architects and designers with 3D modeling, visualizing, and collaborating. Firstly, SOLIDWORKS provides powerful 3D modeling capabilities that enable architects and designers to visualize and simulate building and product designs easily. Essential tools like 2D to 3D conversion of CAD files, parametric modeling features, and weldments for structural framing automate tedious tasks and streamline workflows. Secondly, SOLIDWORKS facilitates collaboration and coordination across project teams through its integrated data management and file-sharing tools. All stakeholders can access the same up-to-date 3D models and 2D documentation, improving communication and decision-making. The software enables automated drawing creation, updating design changes across files, and generating bills of materials – critical architectural deliverables. Lastly, SOLIDWORKS offers advanced simulation, analysis, and rendering tools to create photorealistic visualizations and animations, conduct structural analyses, simulate environmental conditions like lighting and solar exposure, and validate manufacturability. This allows comprehensive evaluation of designs before construction or production begins, minimizing errors and expensive change orders.

What is SOLIDWORKS output, and in which format?

SOLIDWORKS native file format is SLDPRT for part files and SLDASM for assembly files. These contain the complete SOLIDWORKS model data in a proprietary format that can only be opened in SOLIDWORKS. Additional output formats are essential for design communication and manufacturing. Key outputs include 2D drawings. These production-ready drawings contain views, dimensions, notes, bill of materials, and other details needed for prototype development and manufacturing. Drawings can be exported as. PDF or. DWG files. SOLIDWORKS files can also be exported as generic CAD exchange formats.STEP and . IGES. These standard formats maintain the essential geometric representation of the model to share with suppliers, clients, and other applications.

Is SOLIDWORKS’s output format compatible with other industry-standard software?

Yes, SOLIDWORKS offers broad compatibility with other industry-standard software. SLDDRW formats can only be opened directly in SOLIDWORKS; the software facilitates interoperability. Key capabilities include the exporting of SOLIDWORKS 3D model data to generic CAD exchange file formats, including STEP (.STP), IGES (.IGS/.IGES), and Parasolid (.X_T, X_B). The models are translated to boundary representation geometry that captures the basic shapes and dimensions. This allows the transfer of SOLIDWORKS data to other MCAD tools like Autodesk Inventor, Siemens NX, and PTC Creo, which support these import formats. SOLIDWORKS drawing files can be exported as. PDF or. DWG for broader accessibility to the 2D drawings detailing production specifications, dimensions, views, and PMI. Engineering teams, manufacturers, suppliers, and clients can access the drawing data even without native CAD software installed.

What file formats does SOLIDWORKS support for exporting and importing designs?

SOLIDWORKS offers software interoperability to integrate with the various downstream applications in the product design ecosystem. SOLIDWORKS file types like SLDPRT and SLDASM are proprietary formats, and they facilitate highly detailed part and assembly definitions within SOLIDWORKS but not direct external usage. Universally compatible exchange formats to enable porting of design, drawing, and PMI inputs/outputs between SOLIDWORKS and third-party MCAD platforms include STEP, IGES, DXF, and DWG, where the models can translate as boundary entities, surface/curve geometry, or precise drawings as required to communicate completed designs to clients and manufacturing partners. For usages in electronic prototyping, analysis, GIS, and visualization, STL, 3MF, and VRML convert models to lightweight polygon mesh representations containing the critical shape information without higher modeling overhead. Interacting with drawing tools, CAM solutions, and simulation packages expands SOLIDWORKS’ versatility.

Is SOLIDWORKS considered user-friendly for beginner users?

Yes, SOLIDWORKS is considered user-friendly for beginners due to its intuitive user interface, parametric modeling capabilities, and focus on usability. Firstly, SOLIDWORKS has an intuitive and easy-to-navigate user interface. The UI uses standard conventions like menus, toolbars, and a graphics area that will be familiar to new users. Essential tools and modeling functions are easily accessible. Secondly, SOLIDWORKS utilizes a parametric and feature-based modeling approach. The parametric technology also updates related features automatically when changes are made, maintaining design intent. Lastly, multiple comparisons between SOLIDWORKS and other CAD packages consistently rate SOLIDWORKS as more user-friendly for beginners. Its workflow and interface better suit first-time CAD users.

Solidworks: should you buy it? The architect verdict!

What are the rendering capabilities of SOLIDWORKS?

SOLIDWORKS has built-in realistic rendering capabilities through PhotoView 360, which allows users to create photorealistic images and animations. It incorporates advanced materials, multiple light sources, and effects like global illumination to highly realistic renderings. It utilizes GPU-accelerated rendering to boost performance compared to CPU-only systems. Visualize features physically-based ray tracing using NVIDIA Iray for actual lighting behavior. It can handle complex scenes while meeting tight deadlines. SOLIDWORKS offers cloud rendering through its 3D Render service. Key features include interactive turntables, custom backplates, and materials to showcase products. The cloud also enables centralized storage and collaboration on rendered assets.

Does SOLIDWORKS include Building Information Modeling (BIM) capabilities for better project management?

Yes, SOLIDWORKS excels as a general-purpose mechanical CAD program used across manufacturing industries and has limited inherent Building Information Modeling (BIM) functionalities. It visualizes rendering and animation modules that can complement BIM software for creating enhanced visualizations and walkthroughs by importing completed building models. CAD packages like SOLIDWORKS facilitate designing site layouts, standard structural elements like floors and walls, and generic equipment like HVAC assets as 3D parts and assemblies through the flexible modeling toolset; they lack extensive libraries of intelligent architectural objects, automatic drawing generations linked to 3D revisions, clash detections, construction timelining, and facilities management modules purpose-built for the BIM ecosystem.

How does SOLIDWORKS facilitate collaboration abilities among teams?

SOLIDWORKS facilitates team collaboration through built-in data management, integration with the 3DEXPERIENCE platform, and advanced rendering tools. Firstly, SOLIDWORKS has built-in data management capabilities through SOLIDWORKS PDM, enabling centralized storage and version control of design files. Teams can securely access, manage, and track changes to CAD models from one location. Automated file referencing avoids broken links between documents. Secondly, SOLIDWORKS integrates with the 3DEXPERIENCE platform through the Collaborative Designer role. This connects the desktop CAD software with collaborative cloud-based tools for real-time data sharing, task assignment, progress tracking, and communication via dashboards, activity streams, and messaging. Lastly, SOLIDWORKS Visualize provides advanced photorealistic rendering capabilities leveraging GPU acceleration and cloud computing resources. This facilitates collaboration among design, engineering, and marketing teams by enabling visualization and animation of products early in the development process.

What are the minimum hardware requirements for running SOLIDWORKS?

The minimum hardware requirements for running SOLIDWORKS are a 64-bit system with a multi-core processor, substantial RAM and GPU resources, certified graphics card, and SSD storage. Firstly, SOLIDWORKS requires a 64-bit Windows 10 or Windows 11 operating system as the software is incompatible with 32-bit systems. A quad-core Intel or AMD processor clocked at a minimum of 2 GHz is recommended for adequate performance. Clock speeds closer to 4 GHz deliver better results, especially when working with large assemblies. Secondly, RAM is a crucial component where SOLIDWORKS recommends 16GB as the minimum requirement. 32GB or higher is suggested for optimal performance, mainly when working with complex parts, large assemblies, or running simulations. Having adequate RAM enables handling larger datasets and faster computations. Lastly, a dedicated NVIDIA Quadro graphics card with at least 4GB of video memory is required as SOLIDWORKS leverages OpenGL for hardware acceleration. Cards must be certified by SOLIDWORKS to ensure compatibility.

How frequently is the SOLIDWORKS updated?

SOLIDWORKS follows an annual release cycle for issuing major version upgrades that introduce enhancements and new features based on the latest technology trends and user needs. A new full sequential version of SOLIDWORKS is released once a year, currently named by the year number, such as SOLIDWORKS 2023, launched in September 2022. The version year lags behind the actual calendar year when it launched. Between the significant versions, “dot releases” are also issued every quarter, denoted by the version year followed by a dot number like SOLIDWORKS 2023.0, 2023.1, 2023.2, and so on, up to four dot releases per year. Service packs containing critical bug fixes and minor updates are released almost monthly.

Is a mobile version or app available for SOLIDWORKS for on-site work and presentations?

No, SOLIDWORKS is only available for Windows workstations and lacks a native mobile edition, but it provides mobile connectivity to data and design workflows across devices. Key offerings include the SOLIDWORKS Visualize mobile viewer app, enabling interaction with Visualize renderings and animations on iOS and Android tablets, including measurement, markup, and collaboration capabilities. The 3DEXPERIENCity platform also allows accessing and manipulating SOLIDWORKS models on mobile browsers using WebGL transforms and annotations. The SOLIDWORKS PDM and Manage mobile apps facilitate connecting to the centralized file management solutions for advanced access to product data like metadata and lifecycle states across mobile devices. Functionalities like advanced modeling and simulations remain constrained to compute-intensive desktop environments; mobile offerings address the need for multi-device access to design data, analytics, real-time visualization, and collaboration.

Solidworks: should you buy it? The architect verdict!

What are the advantages of SOLIDWORKS?

Listed below are the advantages of using SOLIDWORKS:

  • Enhanced visualization: SOLIDWORKS provides powerful, realistic rendering tools and walkthrough capabilities to visually convey architectural concepts more effectively. This improved visualization obtains clearer stakeholder buy-in during design review than 2D plans or basic 3D.
  • Streamlined collaboration: SOLIDWORKS enables seamless remote collaboration, with cloud storage and real-time multi-user access facilitating design input across dispersed teams. Web and mobile apps also aid in sharing concepts and gathering feedback.
  • Parametric design efficiency: SOLIDWORKS utilizes parametric modeling where changes propagate automatically across related model elements. This automation accelerates design iterations and variant exploration during conceptual massing.
  • Analysis and simulation: Integrated SOLIDWORKS Simulation tools enable testing architectural models to optimize performance, avoiding costly physical prototyping. Thermal, structural, fluid and other analyses validate designs.
  • Support for downstream functions: SOLIDWORKS links architectural design to engineering and manufacturing via integrated CAM, PDM, and other workflows. This continuity from concept to production avoids software switching.

What are the disadvantages of SOLIDWORKS?

Listed below are the advantages of using SOLIDWORKS:

  • Cost: SolidWorks can be prohibitively expensive for smaller architecture firms or individual architects. Upfront costs and ongoing subscription fees add up to necessary hardware upgrades.
  • Limited 2D drafting functionality: SolidWorks has some 2D drafting capabilities but primarily focuses on 3D modeling. Architects must create detailed 2D drawings and plans, which can be challenging in SolidWorks compared to dedicated 2D CAD programs.
  • Steep learning curve: SolidWorks has a steep learning curve, especially for complex tasks like architectural modeling. Considerable training and experience are needed to become proficient, presenting a barrier to entry for new users.
  • No built-in support for BIM: SolidWorks does not have integrated BIM capabilities, requiring additional specialized software. Building Information Modeling (BIM) is essential to modern architectural design workflows.
  • Collaboration challenges: SolidWorks presents some difficulties for collaboration compared to cloud-based options. Version control, simultaneous editing by multiple team members, and remote access are limited.
  • Windows-only: SolidWorks is designed to run on Windows, creating issues for Mac-based firms. It can be run on Mac using emulation or virtualization, but performance takes a hit.

What do customer reviews and feedback say about SOLIDWORKS?

Across user review platforms and expert analyses, SOLIDWORKS consistently emerges as a rated 3D CAD package famous for its intuitive and accessible modeling capabilities plus integration supporting the complete product development lifecycle. User praise highlights vital advantages of the clean, modern UI, broad hardware compatibility optimizing performance, extensive community resources accelerating learning curves, and interoperability facilitating collaborative design workflows. Particularly for small and mid-size enterprises, SOLIDWORKS provides high-end MCAD functionalities that are approachable without demanding programmer-level proficiencies. Criticisms do flag the perpetual license costs as higher than competing solutions, the complexity of handling large assemblies of 1000+ components as challenging, and tool redundancy needing streamlining across modules.

What other architecture software options are there?

Listed below are some of the other architectural software options apart from SOLIDWORKS:

  • Cedreo: Cedreo is a web-based software that allows architects, designers, builders, and remodelers to create 2D and 3D floor plans, renderings, and virtual tours. It helps users save time, reduce costs, and improve client satisfaction by streamlining the design process and facilitating communication and collaboration.
  • SketchUp: SketchUp is a 3D modeling software that is easy to use and learn. It enables architects and designers to create, edit, and share 3D models of buildings, landscapes, and interiors. SketchUp also offers an extensive library of 3D models, materials, and plugins that can be accessed online.
  • AutoCAD: AutoCAD is a software widely used by architects, contractors, and designers for creating 2D and 3D drafts and designs. It supports various file formats, standards, and tools that can be customized to meet specific project requirements. AutoCAD also integrates with other Autodesk products, such as Revit, Fusion 360, and 3ds Max.
  • Chief Architect: Chief Architect is software for residential and light commercial design. It allows users to create 2D and 3D floor plans, elevations, sections, details, realistic renderings, and 3D walkthroughs. Chief Architect also has a comprehensive database of building products, materials, and furnishings that can be dragged and dropped into the design.
  • Planner 5D: Planner 5D is an online software suitable for interior design, real estate, and DIY projects. It lets users create 2D and 3D floor plans, furnish and decorate the space, and view the result in 3D. Planner 5D also has a community of users who can share their designs and get feedback.
  • Revit: Revit is a software based on the BIM approach. It allows users to create 3D models of buildings that can be updated and modified automatically across all views and documents. Revit also offers features for analysis, simulation, and design documentation.

Does SOLIDWORKS require any special peripherals for better productivity?

Listed below are some of the SOLIDWORKS’s special peripherals for better productivity:

  • 3Dconnexion 3D mice: 3Dconnexion is the best mice for architects that allows intuitive and precise manipulation of 3D models to SOLIDWORKS. By mapping model movements to a handheld device, they reduce strain from constant keyboard and mouse use and speed up common tasks like zooming, panning, and rotating. Popular options provide up to 6 degrees of freedom for fluid interaction.
  • Drawing tablets: The best drawing tablets for architects like those from Wacom give access to pressure-sensitive input for sketching and annotation for SOLIDWORKS. Used with a stylus, they offer excellent ergonomics over long work sessions and a natural feeling of freehand control. This helps accelerate early concept work and detailing tasks.
  • Advanced gaming mice: The best gaming mice for architects designed for CAD provide extra buttons that can be mapped to frequent SOLIDWORKS commands for efficient access. Their high-quality sensors also enable precise control for sketching and view manipulation. Ergonomic shapes reduce strain during long modeling sessions.
  • Stream deck: The best stream decks for architects act as customizable macro keyboards for SOLIDWORKS. Their LCD keys switch between sets of shortcuts, macros, and functions. This complex workflow is at the push of a button. Integrations with CAD software mean no more memorizing obscure hotkeys.
  • SpaceMouse: The SpaceMouse controller from 3Dconnexion combines a grip sensor with six degrees of freedom to SOLIDWORKS. This allows panning, zoom, and rotating models or views by pushing and pulling the controller. It enables high-speed and fluid interactions without needing a keyboard.

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