Rhino vs. Solidworks compare/contrast

I haven’t used Rhino, but I’ve got some experience with SolidWorks. How do the two compare? Similarities/differences? User friendly?
I want to use it to build hollow models. Advice? Opinions?

The two complement each other quite well in an industrial design practice, but some projects are definitively easier to get done in one over the other.
Can you show an image of the kind of project you want to do?


If you are a designer, Rhino is the best way to go. The software allows you to create beautiful flowing surfaces (and mechanical, hard edges are even easier) and then EASILY change or experiment.

SolidWORKS is better for manufacturing and engineering. If the design is already done, then its linear (some call it ‘anal’) workflow is great for getting to a finished model. Using parametrics (‘history-based’) every dimension is input at every step of the way. This definitely helps when a change is needed after the model is completed, but many designers like to experiment with alternatives and build ‘test geometry’ to see how it looks … which is not easy or what SolidWORKS was designed to do.

The best answer to this hot-button question was given to me by a friend who did the following:

  • Use Rhino to design, experiment, and make it beautiful with world-class rendering engines like V-Ray.
  • Then, bring the geometry into SolidWORKS for any shelling, bosses, or structural stuff.

Here’s a cute little penguin I did with Rhino. As far as I can tell, this shape is close to impossible with SolidWORKS.


The ideas are for model kit designs (no images yet) with some curves, some hard angles, shells that will fit together and some moving parts.

I like the penguin. Would you be able to take him from this point and create a multiple-part shell for manufacturing if you wanted to?

Will you work alone or within a team?
A handful of products or hundreds.
For some projects I did the main shape in Rhino and then used SolidWorks for the shelling, filleting, adding draft, some parametric features like snaps holes for screws, producing 2d drawings.
All of this can be done in Rhino but it can be more efficient in SW if you have to repeat for a lot of objects or you’re going to have a lot of iterations.


Thanks. He appreciates it. :penguin:

It definitely could be done, and I’ve done shelling before with similar organic shapes and characters. However, this model was designed for ‘viz’ only – so I’m sure it has negative draft issues and is not production ready.

1 Like

The PowerSurfacing plugin for SolidWorks could handle this. It uses subd modeling, and can generate the controlling subd using the plugin, or with any poly modeler that can save quads in an OBJ file.

1 Like

Yup, I have heard of it, but the current price is $1500 retail. No educational discount available.

As I mentioned, I’m not a big fan of the parametric workflow. I can’t imagine that doing organic shapes with parametric dimensioning would be much fun … but I could be wrong.

I’ll be creating the designs/sculpts alone, but designing as if they were for mass production. I’ve around a dozen ideas in mind for now, something not unlike egg plane model kits in function and size, but with more toy-like durability and moving parts. Each project will be related, but unique.

I’m playing with a personal hobby challenge, but would consider expanding into a business if I like how it looks and depending on feedback.

Having used SolidWorks, I know how to approach my ideas with that tool regarding final assembly of the parts. I have Rhino 4, but have not yet used it (life happens). I know, with SolidWorks, that I could create a model, then slice it, create a separate shell for parts that would be molded in different colors or materials, etc., and that the parts would fit precisely when assembled because they were modeled as one.

Maybe that’s a better question to follow with: Can I create a model in Rhino and then slice it into sections along complex lines, create shells of selected surfaces on each section, and maintain the relationships between sections/parts when adding further features like in SolidWorks?

I appreciate all the feedback and tips. It’s been over a year since I was able to do any modeling, and it will be at least a couple of months before I can start on my ideas, but they’re always cooking in the back of my mind.


No. There are no relationships between parts in Rhino. There is some form of history in some commands (for a list of these in Rhino 4, see here. More commands can record history in RH5) but that history will be gone when you split surfaces.

Best advice to give is to just start modelling and ask questions and get help as you go :smile:

1 Like

There are some difficulties with organic shapes and nurbs modeling in general, unless using T-Splines, PowerSurfacing, Clayoo, etc, which is why these products are so important.

Parametric dimensioning is really a separate concern.

SolidWorks allows for constraints/relations to be established in sketches (SolidWorks term for the underlying curves and lines that define the surfaces). Its optional to establish some of these constraints/relations when the feature is defined, and some are set by default. Is possible to turn "off " constrains/relations, so that when you draw a rectangle for example, editing the length on one side will not automatically adjust the length of the other side.

There are reasons why you might choose NOT to use constrains, so it does require some consideration.

In a year from now, after you’ll have put hundreds of hours in your projects, I believe that you will find that either tool would have taken you at more or less the same point. But your product would look quite a bit different.
In SolidWorks, certain tasks are a lot faster and easier;

  • Filleting, shelling, special features like lips
  • Assemblies (constraints, movements, relations)
  • Sheet metal
  • Documentation

But you’ll encounter road blocks (like a shell that is impossible to do or a modification you have to do but that breaks all your feature tree) and then you’ll compromise your design to make it work.

In Rhino, all is very manual and “hands on” in comparison. For example, it seems almost retarded for somebody coming from a “solid modelling program” to do fillets surface pair by surface pair, but this way there’s no situation that cannot be resolved. There’s literally no modelling challenge that cannot be done in Rhino. And I don’t talk about plug-ins like T-Spline, I don’t feel they are very useful for most uses: spending time towards a better knowledge of Rhino is better invested than in disparate tools that require different workflows.


Thank you, Marc. That is exactly the information and perspective I was looking for.


Great analysis, indeed. Well said.

FYI: The penguin was all done with Rhino’s surface-from-curve-network command and some blending. No T-Splines.

From a technical point of view, Rhino is a NURBS modeler based on the proprietary OpenNURBS kernel; Solidworks is based on the Parasolid kernel. Also the history of the systems development has a certain importance: solidworks was born in the middle '90 as a feature-based solid modeling system, so its main application domain was the modeling of parametric parts with “simple” surfaces (i.e. plane, cylinder, cone) surface modeling capabilities have been added later on, mainly to deal with the issues related to the design of cavities of moulds.
Rhinoceros was firstly released in the late '90 and it was meant to be a pure free-form surface modeler; the application domains were more related to computer graphics than production and the focus was on flexibility in the modeling of complex surfaces.
This premise is somehow important to understand that some of the suggestions mentioned in previous posts, like modeling the surface in Rhino and then do the shape engineering in solidworks, can be tricky because if the surface model does not meet some requirements, like not having 3 boundary patches, the convertion into a solid, shelling and other operations may fail.

I’ve used the Rhino-to-SolidWorks/Pro/E workflow for years and it works really well. Although I tend to design in Rhino then hand to design engineers to detail up in SolidWorks/Pro/E.

Actually, the current project I’m working on is Rhino-SolidWorks. I’m able to modify surfaces in Rhino and the engineer is able to ‘update’ the part in SW which updates all the downstream features he’s built. It’s great.

Design/explore/craft in Rhino. If necessary you can also build the detail like shelling, bosses etc. It’s quite a manual process as Marc says, so works fine for designs with fewer features.There is some history and the ‘Solid Editing’ tools are great at quickly modifying basic geometry like cylinders, cubes, planar faces etc. as is ‘Box Edit’.
If needing the control to make the workflow more efficient for downstream production, then a solid modeller with parametric is probably the way to go at that point.


Just taking an alternative view on this - for our type of work, SpaceClaim makes a pretty good companion product to Rhino. It handles the tough stuff that traditionally has been the fail point for Rhino, without all the problems associated with importing and exporting dumb data and history trees.
We have found that Rhino/T-Splines/SpaceClaim makes for a fairly comprehensive toolbox, and you can even import/export files between the two programs at a click of a button!

Back in the day auto industry would use Alias Studio for style/shape development and Catia for engineering and to bring the product to life.

Rhino and Solidworks used to make a nice poor man’s alternative to that combo, used together in a production workflow.

How about Rhino and Fusion 360 as a real poor man’s alternative. Modifying models exported from Rhino with Fusion works quite well and you get T_Splines in fusion as well.


1 Like