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Create Better Looking Simulation Plots

Everyone loves looking at pretty simulation plots. Your models light up with blues and reds, and contort into funny shapes (hopefully not too much red or too much contortion). But sometimes you want to make a cool-looking rendered image with an embedded simulation plot.


I was discussing this with a customer the other day, and I immediately jumped to the “you need Photoshop for that” response. But then I got to thinking… do you really need to buy another software for this? The answer is no, not really. We have a way to do this using just SOLIDWORKS, Simulation, and MS Paint… that’s right, Paint!

To avoid making this post a 200 page click-by-click adventure, I will keep the steps at a high level. If you have any questions regarding any steps, please feel free to contact us.

The first step is to create a camera in SOLIDWORKS.

This buys us a few things:

  1. A consistent viewpoint to grab images from
  2. Perspective, which is crucial for getting a more realistic image

The type and orientation of the camera doesn’t matter, just make sure your area of simulation isn’t too far away or obscured.

Also, choose “Plain White” for your scene. This will eliminate any gradient or scene you have in the background.

Next, set up and run your simulation. For the image above, I excluded all the components except the pole and mounting bracket, and used a Remote load to simulate the weight attached at the end of the arm. If you run a full analysis, you have the option to only show the plot on selected components.

Make sure you uncheck “Deformed shape” as well. I also went into “Settings” and chose “None” for Boundary options. This removes the model edges from your plot.


With the plot shown, go to the camera view you set up in step one. Use a screen capture program (Snipping tool, SnagIt, or even Print Screen) to grab a screenshot. The higher resolution you have running, the better quality this will be.

Next, hide the plot and go back to your assembly.

Here is where the magic lies. We are going to use SOLIDWORKS to create a “mask” of the components we want to replace.

Change the Appearances of the component(s) that you included in the study to pure black. It is important to turn off all reflections, diffuse, and specularity. These settings are found under the “Advanced> Illumination” tab of the Appearance dialog. This will ensure there is no color variation.


At this point, turn on RealView, Ambient occlusion, and possibly shadows.

Also, turn off “Shaded with Edges”, just use “Shaded”. Now Screenshot this image as well.


There are two settings in Paint that you have to set up before you bring in your screenshots:

  1. Set your “secondary color” to pure black
  2. Make sure “transparent selection” is enabled under the select tool (Windows 7 & 8).

Next, Paste your SIMULATION screenshot into paint.

You can use CTRL+c/v, or the “Paste from” option in paint. Make sure you position it with plently of room around it, since once you click off of the selection, Paint clears the selection.

Now paste the “masked” image in. This is where it gets more finicky. Anything colored black in this image will be transparent. You may have to pre-process this image to clean it up before bringing it in.

Move it around until the mask covers the Simulation plot. You may now paint bucket the background to whatever color you wish.


Voilà! You now have a Realview rendered image with an embedded Simulation plot.


And now for the caveat. If you look closely at the image above, you’ll see quite a bit of aliasing and alignment issues. This is an inherent problem with this method since we are using free (and frankly, unsophisticated) software.

To clean up these edges, we would need to use a more professional software, a la Photoshop.

If you have any questions or comments, we’d love to hear from you. Also, we love seeing your creations, so if you come up with a cool image using this method, please let us know by leaving a comment below in the comments section.

Thanks for reading, and Happy Simulating!

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