3: User interface

In this section:

3.1: General
3.2: Point clouds
3.3: Align
3.3.1: Origin
3.3.2: Align
3.3.3 Reset
3.3.4 Axis
3.3.5 Flip
3.3.6 Rotate
3.4 Options
3.5 Slices
3.5.1 Slice from plane
3.5.2 CSV (professional version only)
3.5.3 Vector
3.5.4 Outline
3.5.5 Position slice
3.5.6 Plane from slice
3.5.7 Step slice
3.6 Clipping
3.6.1 Clipping in slices
3.7 Shader
3.8 Clash detection
3.9 Point cloud not displayed correctly


3. 1 General

Point Clouds for SolidWorks features a very simple user interface. You’ll see a number of tabs which separate the key controls in the plug-in into logical sections.

In many sections you will see the two buttons below:

  • The “+” button adds an item to the current list.
  • The “” button removes and item from the current list.


3.2 Point clouds

The Point Clouds tab in the plug-in, showing all the options listed to the right.

To add a point cloud to your document, press the + button on the Point Clouds tab and select the VPC file. you’d like to add. When a point cloud is added and selected in the displayed list, a number of options become available which control the appearance of that point cloud. Note that you must select the point cloud in order for those options to work:

  • Quality – determines the density of the rendered point cloud. The higher the quality the better the appearance, but the slower the performance.
  • Point size – increase or decrease the size of points. Useful to highlight certain points to make the clouds look more solid when visualising.
  • Render – enables you to draw using Intensity, Colour or Ramp values.
  • Filling – fills gaps in the point cloud data by intelligently sampling the point data. Only works when using the perspective view.
  • Ratio – controls the power of the filling setting for distance.
  • Opacity – adjusts the transparency of the selected point cloud(s).
  • Brightness – adjusts the brightness of the selected point cloud(s).
  • Contrast – adjusts the contrast of the selected point cloud(s).
  • Drawing tool  choose a point, line or splice, select and drawings will snap to the cloud point.
  • Zoom this button centres the SolidWorks view on the currently selected point cloud(s).
  • Restore this button restores any points that you’ve deleted from the selected point cloud(s), restoring the point cloud to its original converted state.
  • Clash detection  detects clashes between point clouds and meshed surfaces. See section 3.8 for more.
  • Convert clashes  this button converts clashes to native SolidWorks points.
  • Server  see section 5 for more information.
  • X, Y, Z – the position of the selected point cloud(s) in SolidWorks.
  • Scale – adjusts the displayed size of the selected point cloud(s). Can be scaled up or down.
  • Align – used to manipulate the position and rotation of the point cloud(s). See section 3.3 for more information

Learn more about the basics of loading and editing point cloud settings in this video.






3.3 Align

This set of tools is used to position and rotate the selected point cloud(s) within SolidWorks.

NOTE: using the Point Clouds for SolidWorks Drawing Tools with origin and align gives accurate point selection with the point cloud(s).

Let’s look at each of the different tools in more detail:


3.3.1 Origin

Ensure “point” is selected in the Point Clouds tab when using the origin function. Note the “add” icon shaped like a pencil to the right.

Position a “point” on the selected point cloud (if point snapping is required then please ensure point is selected from the Point Clouds tab, and click the add icon). Select the newly created point, which will highlight it blue, and click the origin icon. The point cloud will be moved to X,Y,Z 0,0,0 centred on the selected point.

Learn more about the origin function in this video.




It’s important to add a 3D Sketch in SolidWorks before pressing the “add” button in the plug-in

Selecting your newly created point will highlight it blue.

NOTE: make sure a SolidWorks “3D Sketch” has been added before using Point Clouds for SolidWorks add icon. Otherwise the points you try to create will not be displayed and you will not be able to set the origin.






3.3.2 Align

Select “Line” from the Point Cloud tab if you want to snap your lines to the point cloud. Again, note the “Add” icon shaped like a pencil

Draw two new axis “lines,” one representing X and the other Y, on the selected point cloud. If snapping to the point cloud is required ensure line is selected from the Point Clouds tab, followed by clicking the add icon. Select both lines (horizontal and then vertical – it won’t work the other way round), which will highlight them blue, and select the align icon. The point cloud will transition to align with the new axes.

Learn more about the Align function in this video.



Selecting your two axis lines will highlight them blue.

Note: use axis flip and rotate to correct the orientation if the point cloud doesn’t align correctly.


3.3.3 Reset

Resets any of the align or origin operations back to the original location/rotation of the point cloud(s).


3.3.4 Axis

Selects which axis (X, Y or Z) will be affected by the flip and rotate operations.


3.3.5 Flip

Flips the selected point cloud(s) 180° around the axis you have selected.


3.3.6 Rotate

Flips the selected point cloud(s) 90° around the axis you have selected.


3.4 Options

The options panel features settings that affect all point clouds.

  • Lighting – adds dynamic lighting to the scene. The light source is always behind your current position.
  • Rendering – removes point cloud(s) from the view displays.
  • Copy – copies the point cloud(s) and properties (slices, clips, alignment, origin etc.).
  • Paste – pastes the contents you’ve copied into a new SolidWorks Part or Assembly.

Note: perform the Copy then select or generate a new Part or Assembly before selecting Paste. Otherwise the operation will not work. Watch this video to learn more about copying and pasting.


3.5 Slices

Slices are a way to quickly visualise a section through the point cloud(s).

You can define the size of the slice manually, after which the slice is visualised in the viewing window. If no size is selected, Point Cloud for SolidWorks will use the last defined slice size.

Learn more about slicing in this video.

A slice of a point cloud in SolidWorks.

The slice can be moved by using the stepping function. See section 3.5.7 for more information.

Note: It is not possible to have multiple slices enabled at any one time.

The Slices tab, showing you all your available slices and their settings.

Each slice has the following properties:

  • Enabled – turns the slice on/off.
  • Lock – prevents the slice from being moved.
  • Colour – selects the colour the slice will appear as when the highlight option is ticked.
  • Name – lets you give your slice a meaningful name to help you identify it.
  • Width – in units of current part or assembly, such as metres or mm.
  • Step – the distance you will move through your slice every time you use the step function. See section 3.5.7 for more information.
  • Clipping – selecting this means that any clipping you will only affect the points within your slice. See section 3.6 for more information on clipping.
  • Highlight – highlights your slice with your chosen colour.

At the top of the slice window, you’ll find an additional button:




In the SolidWorks FeatureManager Design Tree, you can select the plane you wish to slice from.

3.5.1 Slice from plane

Slices through the point cloud at the position of the pane you have selected from the SolidWorks “FeatureManager Design Tree” tab. The new slice is added to the Point Clouds for SolidWorks slices tab.

At the bottom of the slice window are seven buttons:


3.5.2 CSV (plane analysis, professional version only)

Creates a text-based CSV (comma separated values) file containing X,Y,Z, RGB, intensity, classifications, and distance data (distances are calculated from the centre of the slice outwards in both directions).




3.5.3 Vector

This generates a vector drawing of your slice. To use, make sure your slice is positioned as required within the point cloud data, position the view to full screen where possible and squared to the slice, then select vector.

With your slice positioned correctly, pressing the Vector button (bottom right) will create a vector drawing of your slice.


3.5.4 Outline

Used in the same way as the vector option above, but the resulting drawings will be an outline of the point cloud data within the slice rather than showing a line representing the points.


3.5.5 Position slice

Click directly where to position the active slice within the point cloud.


3.5.6 Plane from slice

Generates a SolidWorks plane from the currently selected slice.


3.5.7 Step slice

The two step buttons at the bottom of the Slices tab allow you to move a step through the currently selected slice. The distance each step takes can be set in the Slices tab. The “direction” the step moves in will depend on how you have the slice oriented.


3.6 Clipping

The clipping tab in the plug-in.

The clipping tab is used to select areas of point data (called clips) that you wish to hide or unhide. The four main controls of the clipping tools are:

  • Select  activates the clip tool in the current active window. Use the left mouse button to add points to the clip polyline and the right mouse button to end the selection.
    All data within the polyline will be added to the clip and will turn green.
  • Unselect works in the same way but unselects everything within the polyline.
  • Invert toggles the effect of the select and unselect tool. Instead of selecting everything within the polyline they will select everything outside the polyline.
    Once data is selected it will turn green in the main viewing window.
  • Remove removes selected clips.

Learn more about clipping in this video.


Selected clip data in a point cloud. As it has been selected, it has turned green.














At the bottom left of the clipping panel are four buttons:

  • Select all selects all the points in the currently enabled point cloud(s).
  • Clear  unselects all the points in the currently enabled point cloud(s).
  • Invert inverts the current selection.
  • Hide  will make selected points become invisible/visible.

Professional version users will see an additional three buttons:

  • Delete removes the points in your clip from the point cloud.
    Note: to restore the point cloud back to its original appearance, see section 3.2.
  • Copy copies the points in your clip to a new Point Cloud. The plug-in will ask you to set a new file name for the new point cloud.
  • Plane through points creates a custom SolidWorks Plane based on your clip.

Watch this video to learn more about deleting and copying clips.

As well as creating individual clips you can group a series of clips into a clip group. For example, you may have made a number of clips to isolate a chair in a room. You can select all these clips and create one single clip group by pressing the create clip group button,  located in the clipping tab beneath the top box.

Individual clips or clip groups can be applied at any time by either double-clicking them in the list, or clicking the process button  opposite the table. This will make them visible. Note that when loading up a part or assembly, clips are usually not applied and must be applied manually.

There are two delete selected buttons;  the one next to the top window in the clipping tab deletes all individually selected clip(s), while the one in the group section deletes all individually selected clip group(s).

Note: This option does NOT unselect all the points in the currently enabled point clouds. For this to happen, select the clear button.


3.6.1 Clipping in Slices

If you perform any of the clipping actions while you have a slice active, only data within that slice will be affected.

For example, you may have a slice cutting through the floor of a room, meaning only the floor is visible. Creating a new clip whilst this slice is active will ensure only data from the floor is selected.


3.7 Shader

The Shader tab of the plug-in. In this example you can see that the shader is pointing directly along the Z axis.

The shader panel provides control over the planar shader. The planar shader colours data along a plane or vector from a given position or offset, and is a great way of seeing differences in height on surfaces that might otherwise look flat.

Once the shader has been enabled you can change its direction by changing the X,Y,Z values in the shader tab. If your point cloud is aligned to the planes, the X,Y and Z values should add up to 1, with the value 1 being placed in the plane direction you wish to shade. If your point cloud is not true to the planes then you will need to offset the values to align the shader (for instance, you may have X = 0.054, Y=-0.041, and Z=0.998.)



A simpler option is to align the shader to your current view direction. Pressing the eye icon will set the X,Y,Z values for you and set the shader “zero” point to your current view position.





The PropertyManager tab in SolidWorks, showing the X, Y and Z values needed for the Shader tab.

The rest of the options in the shader tab are as follows:

  • Point – useful for positioning the start point of the shader. Use the add point option (select a point on the point cloud as per section: 3.3.1, but do not click align) to position a point directly at the start position. Once the point is selected, copy the X,Y,Z values from SolidWorks “PropertyManager” into the fields in the Shader tab. Point Clouds for SolidWorks works in metres; you can also set SolidWorks to work in metres to make this process easier.
  • Range – sets the distance over which the shader will calculate values, in the units the current part or assembly is working in.
  • Offset – determines the distance from the shader zero point to start calculating from. Useful for moving the shader along the axis.
  • Repeat – how the shader should act once it has gone beyond either the start or end location as calculated by range + offset. The options in the dropdown include:
    • Clamp continue with first/last colour.
    • Stop don’t apply colours beyond range.
    • Repeat – loop through the colours again.
  • Colours – lets you choose between your own custom colour palette in the shader, or to use the entire RGB hue values.
  • Blend – changes how much the true colour of the point cloud shows through the shader.


Changing the units in SolidWorks can make it easier when working with the plug-in.









3.8 Clash detection

Clash detection at work in SolidWorks. Each red cross denotes a clash between the Point Cloud and the Meshed Surface

When activated, this function will detect when point clouds and meshed surfaces come into contact, and the clashed areas will be highlighted with a red cross.

Turning the clash icon on/off will display or remove clashed arears.

Note: visual performance will be reduced with clash enabled.

Learn more about clash detection in this video.


3.9 Point cloud not displayed correctly

There are conditions that may stop a point cloud being displayed:

  • Some VPC files are “protected.” Protected files disable export functions and users can add an expiry date to the data. Once the expiry date has passed you will no longer be able to view the data.
  • The point cloud file(s) may have been moved from its original directory location. If this is the case the point cloud will have to re-loaded from its new location, or moved back to its original location.

If your point cloud data is not visible, check with the person who provided the VPC file whether they protected and enforced an expiry data on the files you were provided.