Getting Vector Graphics with Depth from SOLIDWORKS

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When I first came across the “Cartoon” feature in SOLIDWORKS, I admit: I was a bit stumped on how to best utilize the tool.

While there are several ways to use this appearance mode, I stumbled upon a pretty neat way to use it for a recent graphic project I was working on. My goal was to extract a clean piece of vector art for use in an Adobe Illustrator design of a t-shirt. I wanted the t-shirt to feature a 3D printer churning out a worm gear part.

If you’ve ever seen a worm gear setup, you’d know that the worm in the gear setup is helical in nature. I didn’t feel like attempting to draw the curves in Illustrator; I felt it’d be much more suitable if I could somehow extract exacting geometry from SOLIDWORKS.

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After modeling the worm in my mock worm gear assembly, I started to ponder how I could generate quality vector art. I wished to get the silhouette of the worm, while leaving a slight gap in between the worm’s helical sections.

My first thought was to turn off all of the scene lighting in the document. This would’ve been fine if I wanted a plain old silhouette, but remember: I wanted to include gaps in the section where the wrap-around edges appeared, so this method wouldn’t cut it. Here’s what it looked like:

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My second thought was to start fiddling with some of my Document Properties and System Options. For example, I could’ve generated discernible trace paths for Illustrator by applying an all-white background with white model edges with a given thickness. However, I didn’t really want to mess with any of my defaults. It would’ve been a minor inconvenience to switch them all back, remember where I found them in the first place, etc.

I found that the most convenient option would be to use the Cartoon feature. The Cartoon feature does a good job of depth awareness (which worked great for my helical cuts) while disregarding tangent edges. Take a look:

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Cartoon mode also has options of its own, which travel with the document within Document Properties. You can adjust the thickness of edges from 1-6 pixels within a field that applies only to Cartoon mode.

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After bumping the pixel thickness up to 6px, I saved the file as a .AI (Adobe Illustrator) document. This allowed me to import the document into Illustrator in native fashion. Once it was imported into Illustrator, I went to Object >> Image Trace >> Make and Expand, which transformed my raster art exported from SOLIDWORKS into fully scalable vector graphics:

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From there, I put my drawing skills into action, and I was able to draw a worm part being 3D printed.

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Although this project was good fun, I could have made life much easier for myself with SOLIDWORKS Composer.

Composer is purpose-built to deliver all different types of technical imagery and documentation types from your CAD data. If I’d used Composer, I could have gotten scalable vector graphics through its Technical Illustration workshops in no time at all.

For more information on SOLIDWORKS Composer, Click Here.

First image courtesy of wikipedia.org.

About the Author

Sean O'Neill is an Applications Engineer at Fisher Unitech. He is a Certified SOLIDWORKS Expert (CSWE), a SOLIDWORKS World Presenter, and a former SOLIDWORKS VAR Marketing Manager. You can follow him on Twitter: @ServicePackSean