Advantages of Rhino over Solidworks

Hi all
Just a somewhat simple question. I recently graduated ID and have been using Solidworks since my sophomore year, now I was recently in an internship where they mostly used Rhino, and some Solidworks. Most of the Solidworks stuff was used for more precision modeling, or the engineer would take our Rhino models and make them manufacturing ready. Now coming from Solidworks I am used to a more dimensionised mindset, where you layout a 2d sketch which can be adjusted through dimensioning. I am going through and teaching myself Rhino via tutorials now. The one advantage I see so far is that it is quicker to do simple surfacing without any errors, however as far as dimensioning goes not so much.

So how do you all use Rhino in an ID environment and what are some of the advantages over Solidworks? Do you make 3d models without precise dimensioning and more freeform?

Parametric programs like SW are great for precision modeling when you are 90% sure of what you need to design, and you’re building to precise specifications. They also excel at all of those minor tweaks that you’ll eventually make to your final model. This can be accomplished in Rhino, but it is far more difficult and time consuming.

Where Rhino really shines is 3d “sketching.” I use it as a tool to ideate my way through form, proportion, etc. exactly the same way I would by making physical models. I’ll build something quickly, slide it off to the side, build another one, compare them and repeat until I have what I’m looking for. It’s far more agile than SW in that way.

I think you’ll find designers falling into two general camps:

For some folks, the workflow starts with Rhino as a 3D ideation tool and then proceeds to SolidWorks for more concrete engineering. I think it has a lot to do with which paradigm you feel most comfortable with. I prefer SolidWorks because it “keeps me honest” in that I can work with the actual internals to make sure my concepts are workable. But I also know many designers who hate using SolidWorks because it feels too restrictive, but I think that has more to do with how comfortable they are with the software. (and to be honest, the reverse might be true for me since I rarely use Rhino any more.) But I’m also not a fan of Rhino since there’s no feature tree and making fast, accurate changes is difficult.

With SolidWorks I can do form development and spin off variations quickly. I actually start out just sketching in 2D to get an idea of where I’m going and what features I might want to control. This gives me a better plan for building the model in a way that I can get the most use out of it. Bear in mind that I rarely use any of these mock-up SW models for the final design. By the time I’m ready to detail, I might rebuild from scratch based on what I learned through my explorations to give me the control I need.

One last thing I would say is that the tool you use is also driven by the role you play within your organization. In your case (at least as a younger designer), you’re creating concepts and forms that are ultimately fed to an engineer who either uses your surfaces or completely rebuilds the model natively in Pro/E (Wildfire, Creo) or SolidWorks. In my case, I’ve worked in firms where there was no engineer to hand models off to–I was the one doing the engineering. So for me, I get more mileage working within SolidWorks to do the concepts as well as the final engineering. But I’m also very familiar with that tool so I can model pretty much any form I want.

Hope this helps and good luck!


I use Rhino to build surface models over scanned objects. Point clouds. Where the original design intent has been created by hand and the surfaces are required to conform to the original. This is not a parametric process, more akin to the process that hand shaped the original.

Rhino encourages you to manually trim every surface, so that every surface feels loved and respected :sunglasses:
(this post is just for giggles but it’s still a little true…)

I just bought Rhino 4.0 and Rhinocam and will be taking classes this Fall so that I don’t have to do it the old fashioned way. They will be used for jewelry, watch and sculptural design works. I hope I made the right choice.

I think it depends which one can make your idea from 2D to 3D faster. There are designs that will work faster using the Solidworks and other design will be done faster using Rhino.

Each have its own advantages and disadvantages.

What i suggest is to learn both software and when the time comes that you need to create something, you will have a good understanding which tool to use.

thanks guys. yeah I think overall its a different mindset and a different way to achieve your design intent. I have noticed Rhino will build just about anything, where as Solidworks will throw errors left and right if something doesn’t add up. I tried out Solidthinking after the IDSA conferences this spring, it seems like a great surface modeler with the advantage of the feature tree; too bad there are not enough firms using it yet

There are certain things that SW just can’t do. Ppl will argue this point but it’s proven out time and again. Trimming curvature continuous surfaces, tweaking or pulling splines, and in general having highly constrained yet organic surfaces give SW conniptions. Good SW surfacers know how to work around these issues, but a stumper always comes up that forces a rethink of the Tree. Super tweaked surfaces tend to blow up, once over the fence with the plastic engineers. They usually make a dumb XT version to start, but then I can’t update the design.

Sorry to resurrect an old thread but I was wondering if anyone uses Rhino and Solidworks interchangeably; like some use Photoshop and Illustrator.

For example, I am aware Solidworks has surfacing capabilities (I am currently self-teaching myself the program, as I am a Rhino user), but are there ID’ers who use Rhino for complex forms/surfaces that they then import into Solidworks to complete their designs? I assume not one software does it all, so possibly there are designers who use Rhino and Solidworks interchangeably?


More often than not it is a one way pipeline. Rhino>Solidworks. Yes you can jump back and forth because both programs can open each others native files- or through iges/stp Most likely- you are faster in one program than the other. Once you start detailing in Solidworks you are typically not jumping back to Rhino. Rhino and Solidworks is a good combo to have on hand.
Rhino 5 has many new killer features and concepting in it is very nice. Solidworks surfacing is robust and feels like cutting butter with the kind of face controls available. Both have strengths


Thanks for the reply. What you describe makes sense as I can see Solidworks as a finishing step, once you have the initial modeling done in Rhino.

I sure am amazed how different Solidworks is, as I go through my tutorials and gain a grasp of the program. Even the “assemblies” aspect is a bit odd to me, as I am used to layers, as in Rhino. Since ID school, I’ve been building my models with all its parts, into one file in Rhino. Solidworks seems to work differently in that you build each part first (on its own file) and then assemble all the parts into a different file.

I am glad I am finally learning a solid modeler though (it’s about time!). I can see the potential of knowing both a surface and solid modeler and also using Rhino for basic form exploration, but when it gets to creating something finalized, Solidworks would be the way to go; I assume. Is that the workflow for most who use both programs, from your experience, MasterBlaster? I ask because I can’t see myself (as of yet) using Solidworks for form exploration but more for definite and dimensioned finalized modeling.

Thank you!

Our process is entirely based around the surfacer->Solid paradigm though we use Alias and Pro E.

Surfacing is all completed in Alias, then imported into Pro E for all of the parametric modelling and detailing.

It lets you leverage the best of both worlds. Trying to surface in a parametric tool is an average experience (at best) and trying to add wall thicknesses and radii in a surfacing tool is a nightmare beyond anything basic, especially if you have to go in and change anything after the fact.

Hi Cyberdemon:

Thanks for chiming. You have always been good about contributing to my posts.

Those are interesting insights regarding both types of modelers. As I gain more work experience and deal with both types of modelers, I will probably end up coming up with the same conclusions.

Actually, one of the first oooh-aaaah moments thus far, as I go about my Solidworks tutorials, is how EASY is it to add wall thickness to a part!! That was always something I struggled with in Rhino and it was full of multiple steps, just to create some thickness or even to shell a part. I shudder now having to create a shell in Rhino anymore, as in Solidworks it’s just a click away.

By the way, after all these years, it’s nice to put a face along with the Cyberdemon handle. :slight_smile:

Rhino 5 does have actual shelling, though it is the first version with it.
I’ve actually made a cottage industry out of “shelling” stuff that Solidworks can’t.
Rhino has some very basic Spaceclaim-like “solid editing” tools, and you can bet there will be more in the future.
Rhino’s nominally “not parametric” but there is an entire architectural movement based on using it to generate forms and structures parametrically.

I suppose for your run-of-the mill plastic parts the cliches dating back to 1999 about ‘surface modeling vs solid modeling’ and ‘Solidworks vs Rhino’ sorta still hold true. I guess.

You might evolve on this perception. I think Cyberdemon is referring to the fact that, while relatively intelligent, the Thicken (and even sometimes the Offset) feature frequently fails and just gives up. Sometimes, if you have extreme angles or complicated geometry, it doesn’t simply do its best-guess; it just thinks “Well there would be self-intersections in this area so I’d better just throw out the whole operation.”

Shelling/thickening is a varied experience across software platforms. Most polygon apps do a literal “blind” offset. Solidworks essentially does an Offset + auto-trim with an eye toward watertightness. zBrush’s DynaMesh shell is the most superior thickening function I’ve used.

As for my thoughts on Rhino, I rarely use it now that we have the atrocious/wonderful beast known as NX. Just goes to show you that a person generally ends up just mastering the stuff they have at their studio; not the stuff they choose to master.

Put together a video showing how you might jump back and forth as well as a scan data use scenario. Solidworks is still my workhorse (90% of the time) but if I hit a creative block at the back end or want to concept at the front end I use Rhino for quick fixes. As noted before Rhino shells are pretty nice- although Solidworks shell can deal with garbage surfaces much better. You have to be much cleaner and precise for a successful shell in Rhino that creates a closed polysurface.

My projects typically change on a dime- handles moved around, motors swapped out, different mechanism mid-program- so Solidworks is VERY powerful at drastic changes that still relatively easily maintain downstream changes.

Edit: I have to correct what I say about point control over splines in Solidworks. This is of course available, but it is nowhere near as easy to control as curves in Rhino and Alias.

Sloppy modelling processes will throw kinks in the process no matter what the tool. If you have a surface with crazy creases it will fail to offset just based on the math. Some apps are better at handling the bad geometry but avoiding the issue regardless of the tool is a good mindset to have.

Some of us are stuck doing cliche plastic parts since some of us still make boring mass produced products. :wink:

The workflow we use with Alias->Pro E actually allows for fairly complex mechanical parts to have surfaces swapped late in the game, and if generated correctly (which sadly isn’t always the case, especially with ODM engineers with limited experience) means you can swap out surfaces with a new design intent, but still have most of your features regenerate on the fly. Sometimes it blows up, but sometimes you can make a substantial design intent change and if your feature references were setup correctly at the beginning, it’ll pop back up with all your features intact like magic!

It’s also all about the right tool for the job. If I’m designing a highly ergonomic pistol grip, surfacing tools allow you to get very deep into the tiny details of the surfacing and sculpt form very quickly. The same job in a solid modeller usually requires a ton of cross section curves and other features to define what Alias might be able to pop out with one direct modelled surface.

But at the end of the day it’s whatever makes you happy. If you feel more productive, you probably are. If you’re banging your head over the keyboard, it’s probably not the right process.

For those of you with SubD experience (I know Cyberdemon has)

How about this (SubD modelling + live booleans) for ideating complex forms. Can anyone see this being of more use than Rhino in an ID firm - Pros/cons?

My current stance with Sub D stuff (and I’m not going to say that stance can’t change) is that I view it as being awesome for idea generation because it’s much more flexible than surfacing. You’ll never need to worry about how to resolve a complex patch, multiknots, or 3 sided surfaces like you would with NURBS.

It’s also valuable in the 3D printing era since it’s easy to get a waterproof solid.

I do think the process breaks down after that point though, especially for “Traditional” thin walled plastic stuff. Sub D’s when converted to NURBs are usually very sloppy so it’s difficult for traditional engineering software to do much with it compared to pure surfaces. Now I’m sure someone could spend a lot of time debugging that process and figure out what works and what doesn’t, but I’ve yet to see it be done in production.

For parts that are a single machined, 3D printed, or single wall thickness block then it’s definitely a new tool to keep an eye on, and it’s how some of the new crazy 3d printed phone cases are done.

Just don’t hand it over to an engineer and expect their heads not to explode.