Colorful Assemblies: Working with Display States

In SolidWorks, display states are a great way to highlight components or features, particularly in an assembly, and make it clearer for the user to understand what is going on. In my opinion, display states are largely under-utilized. I think it’s because users don’t see the benefit to them, or simply don’t know how to use them properly. Today I’m going to try to change that.

Before we really dig in, what is a display state?

Display states are basically a defined group of visual settings for parts, or sub-assembly, within a top-level assembly. We can sort-of think of them as being synonymous to configurations, but for colors and appearances rather than features. The visual settings we will control include visibility, color, texture, and transparency of the component. Display states allow us to save certain ways to color an assembly, and give us quick access to switch back and forth between them without having to toggle each separate part.

Ok, that’s neat, but so what?

Let’s take a look at an example. I’m working with the assembly below of a fan-forced electrical resistance space heater.


As you can see from the design tree, we have few sub-assemblies, and that’s where the real meat-and-potatoes of this product is, so to speak. The enclosure is certainly important for product design, but we want to take a look at what is inside. Of course we can do this using a cut-away assembly view, but let’s take a look at this using a display state:


What I’ve done here is create a display state showing off the internal components, as well as the hardware that is used to assemble the cabinet. This was done by first defining a new display state from the bottom half of the configuration manager. I split my feature tree so I could show it all in one screen, it’s in the bottom left corner. Next, using the display pane I was able to control several visual settings. Here I’ve colored all the components that I didn’t want to focus on in white, and then made portions of the cabinet and grill transparent. This is a quick and easy way to show the functioning mechanical components, without losing a frame of reference in the finished product. In addition, I colored all the hardware in a bright red, making it easy to see where the attachment screws will be located in the final assembly.

Below is a breakdown of the display pane, and what features it controls. As you can see, each of the parameters is mapped as a column that allows you to change it for every part, sub-assembly, or part within the sub assembly.


The sparks really start to fly when you implement display states into drawing views. Below, I’ve utilized a display state in conjunction with a cut-away assembly view. I selected an isometric view, and displayed it in shaded with edges. However, the property manager of the view also allows you to select which display state you want to show. I selected an “Internal colored” display state I created where I just showed several components as hidden lines removed. Now, even when looking at a drawing view, our internal components clearly stand out.


If you don’t own a software like 3DVIA Composer, this can be a great way to create images for technical documentation such as assembly instructions or manuals. While display states don’t give you the rendering or documentation tools like in Composer, they will allow you to create colorful images that you can then import into software like Adobe Illustrator to fully annotate.

There’s really no limit to the number of ways we can work with display states. I’ve heard of them being used to color-code components that are manufactured in-house versus purchased parts. It is even possible to link display states to configurations. This way, when switching configurations we can also change color schemes. This is great, especially at the part level; it makes it much easier to recognize which configuration we’re working with.

Wow, display states are pretty cool!

Yeah, I had a feeling you might think so. Now go add some color to your assemblies. Explore what you can do with them, and I’m certain you’ll find that they’re a powerful tool you can implement into your design process. I’m sure the rest of your team will thank you when they find it much easier to see what they’re working with.