Sharing 3D Data with Non-CAD Users… for Free!

If you’re spending your precious time reading CAD blogs, it’s very likely that you’re the resident CAD Monkey at your company. And with that esteemed title comes every CAD-related question your co-workers can throw at you…

“Can you open this and take some screenshots?”

    “I just need to know this one dimension.”

        “Can you just make a quick drawing to send to our vendor?”

            “It just needs one small change. I’d do it but you’re the CAD guy”

The tips below are aimed at helping you – as they’ve helped me – educate your colleagues that they too can get the information they need from 3D models, without pushing everything through the overburdened CAD team. This post is broken into two parts: First, teaching your colleagues how to view, measure, and sometimes even edit incoming CAD models; and second, how to send 3D data to vendors or clients who may not have access to CAD software. And the best part is, if you’re already using SolidWorks, these solutions are all free.

Viewing and Measuring 3D CAD Data Provided by Clients / Vendors

External parties will often provide your engineers with 3D models in a variety of formats, which you’ll need to subsequently measure and analyze for inclusion in your designs. Depending on the type of file sent by the client, there are several free programs and tools that can be used to view, measure, and edit the files.

eDrawings Viewer

Mac / PC

Android / iOS

The free version of eDrawings can view and measure certain 2D and 3D files. Many of us already have this program installed, but it’s limited in the types of files it can read. Install the correct version using the links above, and drag any of the following file types into the window:

With this tool, anyone can then measure, cross-section, and mark up a 2D and 3D file, but can’t edit existing geometry or drawings.

Pros: Free; Mac version available; Views 2D and 3D files; Measure and markup tools; Retains component tree
Cons: Limited file type compatibility; No editing tools; Requires installation; Newer eDrawings files cannot be opened in old versions


Mac (x64 only) / PC / Linux (x64 only)

DraftSight is an entirely free 2D drawing editor, which supports the most common drawing formats, .dwg and .dxf (the same formats used by AutoCAD). Like SolidWorks, DraftSight rolls out major enhancements in yearly releases. DraftSight allows users to edit text and geometry, or even create drawings from scratch. After installing and activating, use DraftSight to open and edit 2D drawings using the ribbon UI, or the familiar Command Line.

Pros: Free; Mac version; Full 2D measuring and editing capabilities; Command Line familiar to AutoCAD users;
Cons: Limited to 2D formats; Requires installation


Browsers: Safari / Firefox / Chrome / Opera

iOS / Android

Onshape is a Cloud-based CAD system that runs in your browser. It can import dozens of 2D and 3D file types. Once imported, files can be measured, sectioned, and modified. However, all files uploaded to a free account are visible to the general public. Onshape features free and paid add-ons to extend its functionality, as well as FeatureScript, a coding environment which lets you write and publish your own features.

Part files

Parasolid B-rep (.x_t or .x_b) from v10 to v29

Parasolid mesh (.xmm_txt or .xmm_bin) from v28 to v29

ACIS (.sat) up to R21, 2016 1.0

STEP (.stp or .step) AP203 and AP214 (geometry only)

IGES (.igs or .iges) up to 5.3

CATIA v4 from 4.15 to 4.24

CATIA v5 from R7 to R25 (v5-6R2015)

CATIA v6 R2010x to R2013x, R2015x

SolidWorks (.sldprt) 1999 to 2016

Inventor (.prt) 9 up to 2015

Pro/ENGINEER, Creo from Pro/E 2000i to Creo Parametric 3.0

JT (.jt) up to 10

Rhino (.3dm)

STL (.stl)

OBJ (.obj)

Assembly files

Parasolid B-rep (.x_t or .x_b) from v10 to v29

ACIS (.sat) up to R21, 2016 1.0

STEP (.stp or .step) AP203 and AP214 (geometry only)

SolidWorks as Pack & Go .zip files from 1999 to 2016

Pro/ENGINEER, Creo from Pro/E 2000i to Creo Parametric 3.0 as .zip files

JT (.jt) up to 10

Rhino (.3dm)

Drawing files

AutoCAD (.dwg) up to 2013

DXF (.dxf) up to 2013

Pros: Free; No install needed; Full 2D & 3D measuring and editing capabilities; OS-independent; Parametric modeling system familiar to SolidWorks users; No file version conflicts.
Cons: All documents created by a free account are public and searchable.

Sending 3D Data to Clients for Review

It’s even more common to work with clients who rarely touch 3D data, and assume they have no way to review your designs without 2D drawings. In fact, there are several ways to share 3D models with your clients for preliminary review. This practice allows interferences and other issues to be caught and corrected before time and resources are spent detailing drawings.


Mac / PC

Android / iOS

In addition to reading CAD data, as mentioned above, eDrawings can create compressed packages of parts, assemblies, and drawings, which are small enough to be sent via email and opened with any other version of eDrawings. Simply open any CAD file in eDrawings (as explained above) and save it as an eDrawings file (.eprt, .easm, .edrw, etc.) before sending. A client, having installed eDrawings on their own computer, can then open, measure, and markup the 3D file, and return it to us. All these features are also available on the mobile apps.

eDrawings also allows the export of Executable (*.exe) files, which include the entire eDrawings program, and therefore does not require a separate installation. Hoever, these files are difficult to send via email and are routinely blocked by spam filters and anti-virus programs.

Pros: Free; Views 2D and 3D files; Allows markup; Password protection (Pro only?); retains component tree; Attach simulation results;
Cons: Requires installation; Newer eDrawings files cannot be opened in old versions.


SolidWorks allows 3D files to be saved as a PDF, complete with measuring and viewing tools. In SolidWorks, save the model as a PDF, then check the ‘Save as 3D PDF’ box:

The resulting file includes the assembly tree, as well as tools for rotation, lighting, cross-section, measurement, markup and more. This file can be opened in Adobe Acrobat Reader and other modern PDF readers. Additionally, other files – such as 2D drawings or documents – can be attached directly to the PDF, or the 3D PDF can be appended to a PDF report (requires Acrobat Pro). This is by far the best technique for sharing data with clients who are restricted from installing programs or using cloud-based tools.

Pros: Free; Lightweight, universally accessible format; Retains component and body tree; No download required; Password protection available; Can be merged with other files or reports.
Cons: No geometry editing features; Created through SolidWorks;


Browsers: Safari / Firefox / Chrome / Opera

iOS / Android

Any model uploaded to Onshape can be shared with anyone via a link, even if the recipient does not have an Onshape Account. Additional features, such as export and re-share, are available if the recipient signs in, but simple tasks like measuring, sectioning, and manipulating are available instantly. Permissions can be set by the sharer, and revoked at any time.

Pros: Free; Retains feature tree and assembly tree; No install or login necessary; revoke access any time; Full measuring and editing capabilities; OS-independent; No file version conflicts;
Cons: All documents created by a free account are public and searchable.

A360 Online Viewer

iOS / Android

Similar to Onshape, the A360 viewer lives in the cloud and is linked to an online account. After creating an account and uploading a model, you can do two things:

  1. Create a regular sharing link, which allows recipients to rotate, measure, section, etc. without creating an account or signing in.
  2. Start a Live Review session, which allows multiple people to simultaneously review the model via screen share and chat. Any participant can manipulate the model, and the driver’s cursor position is shown to all. Again, recipients are not forced to sign in or provide any information to take part in Live Review. The Live Review can take place even while others are viewing the part individually.

Uploads automatically expire after 30 days, but can be extended by the uploader.

Pros: Free; No install required; Files are private; OS-independent; retains component and body tree; Live Review; Supports most 2D and 3D model types;
Cons: Requires free account creation (for sender only); No editing tools; Limited comment tools

Testing the eDrawings Virtual Reality Prototype with Google Cardboard

In the Partner Pavilion at SolidWorks World 2016, the mobile products team demonstrated a prototype of the eDrawings mobile app, with support for Virtual Reality via Google Cardboard.

Cardboard is an inexpensive, open source virtual reality viewer, meant to be used with apps on your phone. An alternative to expensive VR rigs like the Occulus, Cardboard uses the high-quality graphics, accelerometers, and processing power already in your pocket. Inexpensive Cardboard headsets are available available from many outlets, such as this one from Amazon.

The eDrawings team has worked quickly to integrate this technology into their product, and were able to demonstrate a functional prototype at SolidWorks World 2016. The prototype was hosted on an iPhone 6 Plus, but the team assured me that iOS and Android versions are being developed in parallel.

Viewing a model in eDrawings virtual reality allows you to add an extra layer of immersive realism to your design, using the movement of your head, rather than your finger, to manipulate the model.

Similar to other Cardboard apps, the VR function of eDrawings mobile generates two images of the object being viewed, with a slight offset to account for stereo vision, making the object appear three-dimensional. Convex lenses in the Cardboard headset resolve the two images into one, and make it appear farther than a few inches in front of your eyes. The accelerometers in the phone also track movement, so the object moves and rotates, changing your perspective as you move your head.


As a prototype, the new eDrawings VR mode I tested was certainly unpolished, but the basic functions – stereo imaging, head tracking, etc. – were implemented well. However, more functions will need to be added to make VR viable, rather than foregoing the goofy-looking box and simply using your finger.

If all goes well, the team hopes to release the VR feature update sometime this year (possibly alongside the release of SolidWorks 2017). Be sure to stop by the SolidWorks area in the center of the Partner Pavilion at SolidWorks World 2016, to try out the Cardboard prototype, along with a bunch of other great projects now under development.

The incomparable Michael Lord modeling the Cardboard headset

Google Cardboard Kit

Unboxing: Adobe Ink and Slide

I’ve never done an unboxing post before, but I thought the design of the packaging for my latest gadget was too impressive not to share. The design of the product itself is very elegant as well, but it’s almost more remarkable when a company puts so much effort into a part of the experience that’s meant to be so temporary. 

The unopened box


I love the color gradient stripe that divides the box all the way around.


Sorry for the poor quality picture, but the Creative Cloud icom is subtly embossed on the top of the main box.


Opening the hinged box reveals this modern, angular tray, holding the stylsh products.


The divider even includes this moderately artsy quote! That’s commitment.


Revoming the divider reveals these neatly organized accessories.


The carrying case doubles as the charging dock.


The stylus and “digital ruler” are gorgeous, and the LED is customizable with thousands of colors.

If the Adobe ink and Slide looks like a gadget you’d be interested in, check it out on Amazon. (I was able to get mine for under $60 with a coupon from RetailMeNot.)

Incredible Machine Combines Laser Deposition and Milling to Create Impossible Parts


This device will obviously be used to build a time machine soon, because it’s definitely from the future.

This is the kind of awesome machine you would find in Iron Man's garage

Check out this video of the DMG Mori LASERTEC 65, as it makes production-quality steel parts, starting with nothing but powder. Is it a mill? Is it a printer? You tell me.

It seems to be best suited for cylindrical parts, but I can’t be sure that prismatic parts are out of the question.

Mcor Makes 3D Printing Improvements that Aren’t Paper-Thin


I’ve attended SolidWorks World for several years now, and ever since they appeared on the scene in 2013, I’ve been fascinated by the work Mcor Technologies is doing in the field of 3D printing. Mcor’s Iris printer uses plain old printer paper (Letter or A4) for the build material. Each layer is printed using Mcor’s special penetrative ink, then glued to the previous layer in a process called Selective Deposition Lamination (SDL), and cut to shape using precision blades on an X-Y carriage. Lather, rinse, and repeat to create complex geometry with only the most basic building materials.


Continue reading

What’s New in SolidWorks 2015 – Chapter 10: eDrawings

Congratulations! You’ve made it to double-digits! eDrawings is SolidWorks’ solution for sharing 3D data in a 2D world. Every standard communication tool we use today is made for 2D files. Emailing images, PDFs, and even videos only tells part of the story. The eDrawings Free viewer lets designers communicate with their clients, who don’t have or need access to a full-fledged CAD tool, but still need to get their point across quickly and accurately.

Honorable Mentions

Support for SolidWorks MBD

Last year, eDrawings added the ability to view DimXpert dimensions and annotations, and we predicted the coming of full Model-Based Definition capabilities. Now that SolidWorks MBD is finally a reality, the functionality has been integrated into eDrawings Professional Desktop and Mobile versions. eDrawings now supports 3D Views and Annotation Views created by the SolidWorks MBD product. To show a 3D view or Annotation View, those views must have been created using the MBD product. Simply select 3D Views or Annotations from the bottom toolbar, and select the desired view.

In the Annotations or 3D Views menu, if you select the dot button, it shows the annotations in each view. However, if you select the view name, it shows and orients the annotation view. Multiple annotation vies can be shown at once, even if the orientation is changed.


Continue reading

SolidWorks 2015 Launch Event – Twitter’s Favorite Enhancements

The SolidWorks 2015 Launch Event took place last week and Dassault Systemes’ headquarters in Waltham, MA, and as a “user advocate” I was happy to be invited. The SolidWorks team presented a huge amount of information on the dozens – if not hundreds – of enhancements available to users in the 2015 version. If you were following along at @MegaHertz604 or #SW2015, you may have seen that we were doing our best to pass the information along in 140-character chunks to those who are eagerly awaiting the new release.

Because of the way Twitter works, it’s relatively easy to see how other users responded to each enhancement, and what they like most. By favoriting or retweeting a post, SolidWorks users following along from anywhere in the world can tell us what they think. Of course, I wasn’t able to Tweet out every last cool feature we were shown that day, but we should be able to get a good idea of what users are most excited about.

The table below is limited to enhancements in SolidWorks 2015 (excluding other SolidWorks products like Mechanical Conceptual) with more than one interaction, tweeted out by @MegaHertz604 on launch day.

Continue reading

Mcor’s 3D Printing Vision

If you haven’t yet heard of Mcor 3D printers, chances are you will soon. The paper-based builders are poised to launch something that visibly excites founder and CEO Dr. Connor MacCormack. Using only plain printer paper, glue, ink, and the Mcor Iris printer, the company can make incredible photorealistic 3D models. And they want to put that capability in your hands.


About a year ago, we heard about a possible partnership between Mcor and Staples, which would bring the company’s 3D printing machines to your local office supply store as a pay-per-build service. After a brief trial run in the Netherlands, that plan seems to have stagnated, but during my discussion with Dr. MacCormack, he hinted at bigger and better things on the horizon.

Dr. MacCormack worked previously with Airbus and SPS Technologies in the aerospace sector. He also has a PhD in mechanical engineering from Trinity College Dublin and has in depth experience in the CAD/3D printing field. I spoke with Dr. MacCormack On the Monday of SolidWorks World 2014.

What has the Mcor team been working on for the past year, since we last spoke at SolidWorks World 2013?

We’ve improved the Iris color printer by increasing the built speed by 100%. We achieved this through a software upgrade that enhanced the gluing and cutting algorithms. We’ve also been working towards adding more integration into SolidWorks, and other CAD packages. Using the direct 3D printing drivers available in Windows 8 will immensely help broaden our accessibility to the user base. Even so, focusing on CAD users only scratches the surface of 3D printing’s potential.

How so?

We envision that 3D scanners – even those like the Microsoft Kinect – will soon allow more 3D content to be created and printed. We want to ensure that we are ready before that market matures.

We first heard about the partnership with Staples about a year ago. How’s that been going?

The staples partnership is still confined to the Netherlands, but there will be an announcement about a partnership with a big, worldwide player in the retail space later this year. It will be a very exciting year, keep watching.

Has Mcor been developing a personal 3D printer? Since materials are so ubiquitous, it would seem like the next logical step.

For now, our business plan focuses on the customer’s desire for the printed product, not the printer itself.

SolidWorks 2015 to Feature Direct 3D Printing (Probably)

In the Partner Pavilion area of SolidWorks World 2014, DS SolidWorks Corp demonstrated a feature that has never before been implemented in a 3D CAD platform. Running SolidWorks 2015 on a Windows 8.1 device (a Microsoft Surface Pro no less), the product development team demonstrated the ability to print a 3D model directly to a Makerbot Replicator 2, without exporting to a neutral format (such as STEP or STL) or utilizing any third-party software. SolidWorks is the first 3D CAD package to implement direct 3D printing, thanks to the native 3D printer drivers included in Windows 8.1. As SolidWorks 2015 is still early in development, no definitive statements can be made, but the workflow seemed to work seamlessly during the demo on Sunday night. Look for more information possibly during the Day 3 general session.


It’s as Easy as 1, 2, 3-Sweep! Make Full 3D Models From a Single Photo.

Jared FormalIntroducing guest blogger Jared Drake! Jared designs injection molded parts at Micron Products, and is always on the lookout for awesome new CAD tools. This week he found a great one, and I invited him to write about it here. Say hi to Jared on Facebook, and maybe we’ll see more from him in the future!

Imagine that you have a brand new project to model, but the basic idea has already been designed by someone else and you don’t have the exact dimensions of the part or it is too time consuming to measure every little feature. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a starting point to work off of to minimize the time to a finished CAD model?

This happened to me on numerous occasions at work, as my role is the Mechanical Design Engineer at a plastics injection molding company. I often get parts or poorly dimensioned drawings from customers who need to restart production on an old product. I model every feature of the product to the best of my ability, but this sometimes takes a few days depending on the complexity of the part. For quoting purposes, a rough model is generally good enough for material volume and mold size, but if I’m going to model something completely I’d rather do it correctly once. Because of this, the roughing step doesn’t really fit into my idea of productivity and gets skipped a lot.

Let me introduce 3-Sweep, a brand new concept for 3D modeling. My coworker in the IT department somehow stumbled across this video and shared it with me. It demonstrates an early version of a program that might be able to generate 3D data from a 2D drawing or picture. This would be perfect for the rough modeling step which I so often skip, or for generating a basic model that can be detailed later! Basically, the idea is that you can trace the width and depth of a feature in the picture and then sweep or loft the geometry through the height. Any alterations to the geometry along the sweep path such as flanges or tapers seem to be picked up automatically when sweeping, so you don’t need to model each feature individually. The program seems to allow for easy scaling and addition or moving of components. I was really impressed with the closing part of the video where the development team pointed out the program’s shortcomings, such as parallelism issues due to odd viewing angles and the program picking up a shadow as part of the intended geometry. It proves that nothing is perfect, but the team isn’t trying to hide their flaws either.

This could be the next big step in 3D modeling, useful to experienced and novice modelers alike. With the idea of at-home 3D printing skyrocketing in popularity over the past year, I could see this growing right along with that.

After watching the video, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the product, especially if it would be compatible with CAD programs instead of just graphics modeling. Unfortunately, upon a quick search of the program name I wasn’t able to find any demos or release dates. I can’t try this seemingly simple modeling technique at the moment, but I’ll definitely be watching for this in the future!

Editor’s Note: Personally, my favorite part of this video is that they show how their software can fail. It’s nice to see a little humility and realism in the CAD world. Take a look at the video below, and then pick your jaws up off the floor.