SolidWorks 2014 from Dassault Systèmes SolidWorks Corp. has new features that designers never knew they needed but soon won't want to live without. Here are the highlights.

Sketching has undergone some welcome revamping. Have you ever sketched out a shape by eyeballing it? Then, when you start to add dimensions, the sketch turns inside out? Very frustrating. Now, Sketch Scaling lets designers draw a shape and type in a value for the first dimension. The tool assumes the shape’s relative proportions should stay the same and scales its geometry by a ratio to match the dimension’s change. It’s quite a timesaver.

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Another new tool is a lasso selection tool like the ones in artists’ software such as Adobe Illustrator or CorelDRAW. Instead of forcing engineers to use a rectangle selector that can pick the wrong entities when features overlap, the lasso lets them draw a free-form shape around entities to select. Encircling items in a clockwise direction selects anything within or crossing the boundary. Encircling them counterclockwise only selects items within the boundary.

Another useful feature is the Path Length dimension locker, which assumes paths act like pieces of rope that maintain their length, whether laid out in a line, arc, or loop. Engage the tool, then select the path geometry, and give it a value. Now, no matter how a path changes shape, Path Length holds length constant — so if the middle of a sketch is changed, for example, the path’s ends move to maintain the path’s overall length.

The software also lets designers rescale sketch pictures. Insert a picture, say a building, and draw a line that represents a key dimension — on a window known to be 3-ft wide, for example. Add a 36-in. dimension to the line, enter the value it needs to be, and the whole image rescales to the new dimension.

For some, the best feature is the ability to flip planes. Those who have imported a sketch into a model only to have the sketch face the wrong direction will appreciate it.

Another addition is a Style Splines tool. Before, to draw a spline, users created knot points for it to pass through. Now, users create vertex points and vectors that influence the spline like tent poles, so the spline “drapes” over the elements. Plus, everything created during sketch edits keeps associations to downstream features. For example, if an arc is replaced with a filleted sharp corner and then changed to a line sketch, the fillets retain their edges. That’s because the program recognizes there’s an acceptable edge at the intersection, even if it’s technically different, and reapplies the fillet with no rebuild errors.

Conic fillets are now possible, too. These maintain tangency on both ends of the fillet while giving it more height than would be possible with an arc cross section. It even works with variable-radius fillets.

The Sheet Metal program has a new Corner Relief tool that lets one feature have multiple corner styles. Lofted Blends let designers pick transitions on the fly. If they’re modeling a transition between a round stack and rectangular duct, they can either pick a smoothly formed or faceted-bent transition. The flat patterns update depending on what’s specified.

The right-click popup menu has new features, too. If the part being worked on has multiple configurations, a right-click in the graphics area lets the user pick which configuration he wants to see. Another tool conspicuously absent from the software until now is an Exploded-View rotation, which lets users see how parts turn — for instance, a bottle lid screwing onto the top of a mating container.

Another capability locks the rotation of a concentric mate. Before this, a screw mated to a hole had to have a separately created mate to fully constrain it. Now, just right-click it and select Lock Rotation.

A new History folder in the feature manager keeps track of the last few features edited, in case you want to edit them again. Users set the number of features retained. But be warned, it's not an undo, because it doesn’t keep track of deleted features.

SolidWorks 2014 can also display how a model will look at a particular latitude and longitude and time of day — important if the model is going into a specific virtual environment and needs to look natural.