Article by Jim Peltier, CSWE updated March 13, 2014


When discussing the ability to insert a picture into a sketch in SOLIDWORKS and seeing how to trace it, the question always arises: Is there a way to automatically trace an image? Obviously, if you want to maintain some sort of design intent, then you will want to be cautious of using any such feature. However, if your design intent is not critical, or you don’t mind going over the results afterwards, then the SOLIDWORKS AutoTrace Add-in is for you!

I will note, however, that this add-in works best with high-contrast images, and not so well with photographs.

This is a good example of a high-contrast image

This is a good example of a high-contrast image

The above example is good because is has sharp, clearly defined edges between the red areas and the white areas. The AutoTrace feature compares two colours (or at least one colour against all others). The next example seems like it would be alright based on contrast, but the red regions are very thin, so it would create a line on both the inside and outside of the rectangles and the same with the maple leaf in the middle. Chances are these double-lines will overlap and you will end up having to make a lot of corrections.

AutoTrace of image in SOLIDWORKS

This may have contrast, but the result will not be very good.

AutoTrace demonstration video

It goes without saying that a photograph of a Canadian flag flying in the wind would not be an ideal candidate for the AutoTrace tool. Let’s use that first example in SOLIDWORKS in this video:


As you can see, the result actually came out quite well. In case you could not see the video,

  1. I enabled the add-in by going to Tools > Add-ins, then I chose AutoTrace from my list of available add-ins.
  2. Then I went to Tools > Sketch Tools > Sketch Picture to browse in my picture.
  3. After I position my picture and size it, I click the blue arrow in the Property Manager to advance to the next page.
  4. In this example I used the eyedrop tool to select a white region, and everything surrounding it was converted into lines and splines. I could have also used a window select tool, or any of the others.
  5. I could adjust the 4 sliders to get the result I was looking for, then I click Apply and/or OK.

In terms of editing it, my splines do not behave as regular splines do: I do not have the Control Points (or Control Polygons) that I have with other splines. In some instances, I can right-click on a spline and choose Simplify Spline, and it will give me control points. Other times, I simply have to delete and recreate the spline. It is still much faster to recreate a single spline than it is to create all the splines as I would have to without using the AutoTrace add-in.

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Jim Peltier, CSWE

Jim has been using SolidWorks since 2001, and has spent most of that time working in the design of industrial automated manufacturing equipment. He has been working as an Applications Expert at Javelin Technologies in Oakville, Ontario since July 2012 and is a Certified SolidWorks Expert (CSWE).