How Can I Make Stunning 3D Prints with 3D Texture in SOLIDWORKS?

3D texturing has been used in more art-focused 3D modeling programs like Maya or 3DS Max for a long time, but never before in a mechanically-focused program like I’m used to. Sometimes this function is referred to as "displacement mapping"


I love 3D texturing because it makes your 3D prints look amazing, and it helps hide the layer lines. Sometimes the printed part needs to include features like knurling which is very complicated to model, not to mention it's not something that usually gets modeled anyway. SOLIDWORKS makes it really easy to apply them to your models. Let’s walk step-by-step through the process of making these awesome 3D prints.

3D prints with 3D texturing applied

Step 1: Find or Make an Image for your 3D Texture

Some images work better than others. Greyscale heightmap images are preferred by SOLIDWORKS but any black and white image should work. SOLIDWORKS uses the colors to identify the displacement in those areas. Larger image files will tend to take longer for SOLIDWORKS to process.

example images that are good for 3D texturingThe best images for 3D texturing are black and white

Step 2: Select faces you want to 3D texture

Select the faces you want to apply the texture to. I'm using a simple block for this tutorial, and selecting both flat and curved surfaces.

Step 3: Select Image & Create Appearance

Select the image from your computer to apply to the face. SOLIDWORKS will want you to save it as a new appearance file. Do that. If the image is already saved into your design library, then SOLIDWORKS will not ask you to save a new appearance file.

Step 4: Adjust Appearance

You can choose different types of appearance placement and mapping on each face. I like to use “automatic”, and “projection” most often. Flat faces are easy, but curved surfaces get more complicated. The "surface" mapping tends to work best with curved surfaces while "projection" is best for flat faces. You can scale, rotate and position the image pretty easily.

image appearance mapping settingsUse the circled settings to adjust how the image looks on the model's faces.

Step 5: Create 3D Texture

Go to Insert>Feature>3D Texture.

Insert>Feature>3D Texture

Every face that has the image applied to it will have a check box next to it. If you want every face with an image appearance on it to be textured, then check every box. Then, we can set the level of detail we want for each face, and the amount of offset. I like to use roughly 60% definition-or “detail”, and 0.5mm offset from the surfaces. By default, lighter colors will extrude from the model’s surface, while black will stay in line with the surface unless you turn off the option called "white up black down".

3d texture settingsUse the circled settings to adjust the detail ("texture refinement") and depth ("texture offset distance") of your 3D texture.


One thing to keep in mind with this technique, is that 3D textures come out better when they’re on vertical surfaces of your print. That way, we can get the most detail out of the textured surfaces by printing in small layer heights.

I’ve been using this awesome feature a lot over the past few months to add detail to 3D prints and hide the layer lines. I think it could be very helpful for anyone who wants to 3D print end-use parts that look nice. For anyone making prototypes, this technique can create a model that looks and feels more like the final product.

3D prints with 3D texture

Want to have your design printed with a custom texture?

If you’re looking for short runs of parts, samples, prototypes, our FabLab is well equipped to handle what you’re looking for.