Learn about the process of importing an STL file.
- Now that technologies like 3d printing are more accessible to students, educators, manufacturers, and designers, the handling of STL files has become more and more crucial to the design process. Unlike other files, like STEP files, IGES files, and Parasolid files, an STL file is actually a MeSH and not solid geometry. So Solidworks has to do some additional work to convert it into something that we can use in our designs. So let's walk through the process of importing an STL into Solidworks.
I'm going to start by navigating to my STL file through the open dialog box. So as of Windows 10 you'll notice that here where my STL file is listed the type does not say STL. So they've changed it so that all 3D printer type files are now listed as 3D objects. You're going to have to be careful when selecting your file. I know for a fact that the only 3D object in this folder is an STL file. But you might have object files, MakerBot type files, or any other type of file that might be used for your 3D printer to print.
So just be sure to check that you're opening the STL file. A good way to do that is to go down to the all files drop down and go up to the MeSH files option. And here you'll see the files that I've listed before STL, Objet, PolyJet, and the updated PolyJet version. Now like the other files that are opened when importing once you select the MeSH files from the dialog box you get the options window here. So I'm going to click on options and see what the options are for importing my STL and Objet file.
By default, the import is Graphics Body option is selected but typically we want to create a Solid Body or a Surface Body so that we can steal geometry and improve our design, speed things up a bit. So I'm going to go ahead and select Solid Body. Another thing to pay attention to is the units. An STL is a unit list file type. So unlike your SolidWorks part file, your IGES file, your STEP file, or any other file format that you might be bringing into SolidWorks, this format has no units associated with it.
So depending on what units you use you'll want to make sure that you specify the same units here, otherwise you're going to have a scaling effect that's going to happen and it's either going to blow your assembly up so that it's very large or minimize it very small and you're going to be very confused as to what's going on. So be sure to designate the right units when opening up your file. I'm going to go ahead and click OK. Now after clicking OK we click open. SolidWorks is going to go ahead and do some processing and convert this STL into a file I can use.
Now depending on the file size that you're dealing with this process can be done very quickly or take several minutes. One thing to note is, SolidWorks 2017 can only convert an STL file that's 20 megabytes or smaller approximately. So very limited in the capabilities of the size of file that it can import correctly. You can see here that this file that I imported as a solid body the MeSH model can only be imported as a surface body and not a solid.
So I'm going to hit OK and see what that means. So typical to the STL files are these triangular elements that are used to create it. So you'll see this typically all over an STL file that you've converted. There's nothing wrong with it, it just creates a lot of data in the background that SolidWorks has to deal with creating all these lines and faces. You can see that it was able to import the safety mechanism for this arm alright into an imported body but the rest of the body came in as a surface and isn't actually a solid body.
If we right click on this part, hit import diagnostics we can hopefully adjust that. You can see that this surface body suffers from many faulty faces, 36 in total, and a gap. What I'm going to do is focus on the gap that's available to us So you can see in blue it's highlighted the gap in this model down below. I'm going to go ahead and attempt to heal all gaps. As you can see we've successfully healed the gap. But if we look at our faces we've also corrected two of the faces that were faulty before.
I'm going to go ahead and accept this. Now you notice that when I go back to my feature tree I now have two imported solid bodies instead of a surface body. This is going to give me a better ability to manipulate this geometry and use it to my advantage. Specifically, if I want to 3D print this part down the line you have to create what's called a water tight solid. So no surfaces, just solid bodies. Let's look at another way in which we could have imported this STL file. I'm going to go ahead and close this.
Now you'll notice the last time we imported this file we chose to do so as a solid body. I'm going to go ahead and select graphics body and show you what the result is. So as you can see, that imported very quickly. But as opposed to having a surface available to me or an imported body available to me in the feature tree I now have a MeSH. So this is literally MeSH 3D point cloud data.
I'm not going to be able to take any point or surface on here and use it to convert geometry, convert entities, or build off of. It's literally just for all intents and purposes a pretty picture in 3D space that I can model around but it can only be used as reference. I still have the ability to save this file again as an STL and export it to a 3D printer if needed but with only MeSHes available, I have very limited options for what I can edit. So it's important that whenever we bring an STL file into SolidWorks, if we're going to be editing that geometry at all we want to bring it in as a solid body and do what we can to repair it as a solid body as quickly as possible.
- Opening files from different versions of SOLIDWORKS
- Importing models from online sources
- Importing 3D files
- Importing 2D files
- Exporting 2D and 3D files