Can you use SOLIDWORKS for 3D Printing?

Article by Rod Mackay updated July 29, 2016


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Learn more about SOLIDWORKS 3D Printing

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.

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Rod Mackay

Rod has been using 3D CAD software for over 25 years and has trained thousands of designers to use their CAD systems more effectively. Rod is the Javelin Webmaster and is based in Ottawa, ON., Canada.