Steven Jones is an Instructional Technology Coordinator and STEAM Specialist in Arlington, VA and MatterHackers Education Ambassador
Steven Jones is an Instructional Technology Coordinator and STEAM Specialist in Arlington, VA and a MatterHackers Education Ambassador

Solidworks Apps for Kids: A Quick Overview

There are numerous ways you as an educator can help your students work through the design process to create solutions to solve problems or just demonstrate their creativity. Today we are going to explore a creation tool that you may want to introduce to your students.

SolidWorks Apps for Kids provides educators and students with a variety of tools to create organic designs that can be 3D printed. If you are already familiar with other 3D modeling applications, it should be fairly easy to pick up the basics to create a simple design. Apps for Kids Classroom also allows you to easily create a digital class with a colored themes and the ability to include multiple educators for one class. Students can be added individually or imported in bulk using a .CSV file.

From the perspective of a student in elementary or middle school, this might very well be their first experience using a 3D content creation tool. Fortunately, there is a lot here to help students create their vision. Students will be able to navigate a virtual space and use a variety of primitive shapes to make and refine into whatever they can imagine, such as turning a simple sphere into a dinosaur. When they are done creating the overall look, they can change colors, draw, or add stickers to the surface of the material. There is even an option to select a background color or scene to complete the picture. Let’s take a better look at what SolidWorks Apps for Kids has to offer.

For the purpose of this brief overview, I will focus on three out of the five apps seen in the image below. More specifically, I will be referring to the Shape It, Style It, and Print It features.

Let’s begin with the Shape It app which is where you and your students will begin if you want to create 3D models.

"Shape It"

When you first begin, you’ll see Untitled as the default name of your new design, but you can click on it and rename it. Aside from using a mouse, the primary focus area to create and manipulate is the bottom center with the following icons: Undo, Shapes, Add Material, and Redo. 

If you click on Shapes, you will see six pre-made shapes [example below] to use as a foundation for creating whatever you have in mind.

When you move your mouse over a shape, a plus shows up on top. There is no workplane, so you just click on a shape and it appears in the center of the screen.

A color is randomly selected for the chosen shape. You immediately have the option to scale, rotate, or translate the shape. Dragging the yellow cone shapes allows you to scale the object, and the color coded arrows control the translate axis.

In the first image on the left, you'll notice the cube has been created with rounded edges. At this point you can “Sharpen” the whole design and change the appearance from that of a subdivision surface, such as Catmull-Clark subdivision surfaces, to hard edges that you would traditionally see in a polygon 3D modeling application.

If you go back to the smooth version of the shape, you can also clone, hide, or delete it. You can also select individual faces, edges, or vertices.

We can now expand on the original shape with the Add Material tool. When you click Add Material and then select a face of the object, it will extrude out additional material in the direction of the face you selected. To cancel or to exit out of the tool when you're done using it, you can click Esc on your keyboard.

In the following images, you can see an example of a sharpened face and the impact of adding edge loops in different directions.

In order to navigate around your design, right click on your mouse and drag to orbit. You can also use the scroll wheel to zoom in and out. Or when using a touchpad or tablet device, you can use finger gestures to perform the same actions.

Clicking on the camera icon makes a cube-like shape appear around your design and creates a preview window in the upper right-hand corner, which makes it easier to view the 3D model from specific angles.

Selecting faces from two different shapes, splitting them apart, and then selecting the center face between the objects allows you to create a bridge between both shapes.

Below you can see a completed design of a dinosaur that I created using the ball shape while working within the Shape It app utilizing the tools and functions outlined above.

"Style It"

Once we’ve completed the steps of designing a shape, the Style It app allows us to finish the design of what we have created in the Shape It app. By adding color, facial features, and backgrounds, the Style It tools bring life into the plain object.

The Bucket allows you to change the color of the whole shape while the Paint Brush allows you to select and color individual faces of the object. I chose to paint individual faces to add a white color on the feet of the dinosaur and a black portion for pupil area of the dinosaur's eyes. Alternatively, I also could have chosen one from the options of premade stickers by selecting the Sticker icon.

To finish off the creation, there is an optional setting to add a Background. You can select either a scene from the list of options or choose a solid color to appear in the background. 

"Print It"

The Print It tab provides different ways to print your creation. One route generates a STL file for a 3D printer, but you can also print out a 2D image for a color printer. 

Finally, you can do a Cube Print which allows you to print out a template for a cube that has your design shown from different perspectives.

Apps For Kids Classroom

Creating your own classroom is a very straightforward process if you are using Apps for Kids Classroom. You will first want to invite teachers from your school or organization to join. Then you can move on and add the student accounts. After you have completed both tasks, you can make the classroom and select the teachers and students you want to associate with it. In terms of customizations, you can choose a color theme for your class, give it a description, and determine whether the class is currently active or inactive.

Deciding what 3D content creation tool you want to use with your students can be a difficult choice. We want something that works and that our students can pick up without too much difficulty. Hopefully this overview has given you enough information to help you make an informed decision. If you want to get some hands on experience and practice for yourself, feel free to check out SOLIDWORKS Apps for Kids.