This page is intended to answer some of the more common questions about Blender 3D and its usage. If your question is not answered here, feel free to use Blender Underground’s Forums, and post a question directly in the General Questions and Help thread.
Frequently Asked Questions about Blender 3D
- What is Blender 3D?
- Where can I download Blender?
- Who can use Blender?
- What platforms does Blender support?
- Is Blender hard to learn?
- Where can I find Blender documentation and tutorials?
- Where can I read about Blender’s features?
- Where can I get help with Blender?
- Where can I get the latest experimental and beta builds?
- Where are the user preferences?
- What are mouse gestures?
- What are the different windows for?
- How do I use the built-in Screen Layouts?
- How do I create my own layout?
- How do I save my settings?
- What’s the difference between the various object types?
- How do the Draw Panel buttons work?
- What are constraints?
- What is the Active Object?
- What is the object Origin Point?
- How do I manipulate an object’s Origin Point?
- What is the 3D Cursor?
- What is a Transform Manipulator?
- What are Pivot Modes?
- What is Parenting and how do I use it?
- What is mesh editing?
- What is the relationship between Vertices, Edges, and Faces?
- How do I use Proportional Editing?
- How do I use Vertex Snapping?
- How do I manipulate an object’s Origin Point in Edit Mode?
- What is a normal?
- What are modifiers and how do I use them?
- How do I use Smoothing effectively?
What is Blender 3D?
Blender is an open source 3D modeling and animation package that is mature and fully featured, being virtually feature parallel with suites that cost thousands of dollars. You can read more about it at Blender’s Official Home Page. If you’ve ever wanted to learn how to model and animate, or if you want to add 3D effects to your arsenal of professional tools, then Blender 3D might just be perfect for you.
Where can I download Blender?
You can get the latest official Blender release at the following link: Get Blender.
Who can use Blender?
Anyone! Blender is free for personal and commercial use. See Blender’s GPL FAQ for details.
What platforms does Blender support?
Blender supports Windows, Linux, and Mac, to name a few. Refer to Blender’s Download page for the complete list.
Is Blender hard to learn?
Blender isn’t any harder to learn than any other professional modeling and animation package, in my own opinion. However Blender’s approach to some interface conventions is a little different, especially for a Windows user. This because Blender’s interface is virtually identical across supported platforms.
For anyone willing to invest a little time into learning Blender, the rewards are worth it, and Blender’s interface becomes simple and intuitive after the learning curve is breached. For anyone looking for an excuse not to learn Blender, the interface should suffice.
The Blender community has produced a lot of documentation and tutorials that will help make learning Blender a breeze. See the next question.
Where can I find Blender documentation and tutorials?
There are a wealth of tutorials available for Blender, both written and video. You can find these all over the web. Check out Blender Underground’s Resources page to find a host of links to websites with tutorial content.
You can also look into Blender Underground’s own video tutorial series for beginners, Blender Basics. See the Video Tutorials List for details.
You can find the official documentation at the Blender Wiki.
Where can I read about Blender’s features?
Blender’s features are extensive, and can be seen here: Features and Gallery, along with a gallery of user-submitted artwork in Blender that’s quite impressive.
Where can I get help with Blender?
The main support portal for Blender is the Blender Artists Forum.
Where can I get the latest experimental and beta builds?
Blender’s build portal is at GraphicAll. Here you can get your hands on to the latest developer, custom, and optimized builds.
Where are the user preferences?
The User Preferences are in their own window, tucked away at the top of the viewport.
What are mouse gestures?
Mouse gestures allow you to draw with the mouse to activate Grab, Rotate, and Scale modes. With an object selected (right click) do the following:
- To activate Grab (move) mode, draw a straight line with the mouse.
- To activate Rotate mode, draw a “C” shape.
- To activate Scale mode, draw a tall “V” either rightside up or upside down.
To be a little more effective with transform modes, use the keyboard equivalents for Grab, Rotate, and Scale: G, R, and S.
What are the different windows for?
- 3D View – Much, if not most, of the action in Blender happens here. This is the main view for modeling and animation.
- Ipo Curve Editor – This window allows the user to manipulate key frames and motion curves for animating objects and skeletons.
- Action Editor – If you’re doing skeletal animations, this is the window you’ll want to use most. It allows for the abstraction of multiple Ipo Curves to a single keyframe, making complex animations involving multiple bones possible without going absolutely mad.
- NLA Editor – The Non-linear Animation Editor allows for animations assembled in the Action Editor to be combined in timeline fashion, much like editing a video. Along with the Action Editor, this window allows the animator to assemble complex animations and still remain sane.
- UV/Image Editor – Primarily this window is used for UV mapping of polygonal geometry. However it can also be used to paint textures, and as a backdrop for node editing and rendering preview.
- Video Sequence Editor – This window provides for sequencing imported video, audio, or scenes within Blender and compositing the output.
- Timeline – This handy window can be added to a workspace to provide timeline scrubbing, and access to several options, such as automatic keyframe insertion and start/end frame settings.
- Audio Window – If you need to import sound files for use in the Video Sequencer, or for lip syncing, they can be added and worked with here.
- Text Editor – That’s right, Blender has a text editor. This is handy for things like writing scripts, adding licensing information to a blend file, or adding large amounts of text as a text object.
- User Preferences – Self explanatory, except that many people don’t realize that the Blender User Preferences window is visible right at the top of the main viewport.
- Outliner – This window is useful for all sorts of tasks, from selecting unseen objects to showing the heirarchies of objects and their data. It can also be used for hiding and showing objects, and prohibiting an object from being selected. The OOPS view is also available here, by selecting View->Show OOPS Schematic.
- Buttons Window – Normally at the bottom of the screen, almost all configuration options for objects in Blender are available in this window.
- Node Editor – This powerful and seemingly arcane window provides access to both material node and composite node editing. Do not taunt the Node Editor.
- Image Browser – Similar to the file browser, but allows for the browsing of images by thumbnail. Very slow, at least on my machine.
- File Browser – You will see this window everytime you want to load or save a file of any sort
- Scripts Window – Allows for the loading and execution of Python scripts.
How do I use the built-in Screen Layouts?
The built-in Screen Layouts allow for differing workspaces quickly and effectively. To switch between layouts, use CTRL+Left Arrow and CTRL+Right Arrow.
Also notice that at the top of the 3D viewport (which is actually the bottom of the User Preferences window) there is a drop-down menu showing a list of the available Screen Layouts. They can also be selected here.
How do I create my own layout?
Follow these steps to create a custom layout:
- From the Layout Menu (at the top of the 3D Viewport) select ADD NEW. The new layout will be a copy of the one that was active previously.
- Give the new layout a name of your choosing. Note that adding a number at the beginning of the layout name will allow it to sort properly in the list.
- Modify your window layout by changing pane contents, adding panes, or removing them. Any changes made to any of the layouts are saved with the current file.
How do I save my settings?
Any changes to settings are saved with the current file. If you want to change settings and make them the default, it’s best to start with a new file. Here are the steps:
- Save any projects you are working on.
- Choose File->New from the menu.
- Modify your preferences or any other aspect of the scene.
- Choose File->Save Default Settings from the menu.
Blender saves these settings to a file called .B.blend. Everytime you start Blender from here on out, you’ll start with whatever is saved to your .B.blend file.
What’s the difference between the various object types?
Blender has several Object Types each designed to help you accomplish a specific set of tasks, from mesh modeling to skeletal animation, to text and logo design. The Add Menu (Spacebar->Add) contains 11 of these types:
- Mesh – This is a polygon-based object with a substructure consisting of vertices, edges, and faces. This object type is more common than the others because it allows the user to create an editable object something like a lump of clay. Many of Blender’s tools are geared toward editing this type of object.
- Curve – Known as a Bezier Curve, this object type allows the editing of “curvy lines” that can be the basis of virtually any type of object, from tubes and wires to text to 3-dimensional logos. Curves are often used to trace logos imported from a graphic file; they are then extruded into 3D space.
- Surface – Surfaces, or NURBS (Non-Uniform Rational B-Splines) are one of Blender’s lesser-used object types, but are useful for modeling organic subjects. They are good for creating subjects consisting largely of smooth and curved surfaces. For many tasks, modelers opt for Subsurfaced meshes instead.
- Meta – Meta Obects are a rather strange object type, and are procedural in nature. They exist as one of several pre-defined shapes: ball, tube, plain, ellipsoid, or cube. One of the main properties of a Meta Object is how it influences another Meta Object. Create two of these and move one into proximity to another and they begin to merge their geometry.
- Text – Text objects are essentially extensions of Curve objects. Users can create text objects, choose a font, extrude the text, then work with it much like a Curve. Text can also be easily converted to a Curve object, to make the sub-object components accessible.
- Empty – Empty objects are known in other circles as Null objects. These non-rendering objects serve a variety of uses such as working as animation aides. Once you’ve worked with Empties in a few contexts, their usefullness becomes apparent.
- Group – This type isn’t really an object type, but represents a group of objects. If a group of objects is created, such as a number of plants for a nature scene, the group can be placed easily from the Add menu.
- Camera – A camera represents the primary viewpoint for rendering. When a scene is rendered, the position and rotation of the Camera, not to mention it’s lens magnification, are used as a basis for determining the perspective of the render. Cameras are often animated in a scene to produce changing perspectives, much like a camera in a motion picture.
- Lamp – Lamps are used to light your scene in Blender. There are several lamp types for different uses. One of the more common types are Spot Lamps, which produce a directional and boundaried lighting effect.
- Armature – The Armature is Blender’s skeletal structure. Armatures are primarily used for character rigging and animation, but can be applied to many objects that require animated motion. Blender’s armature system features Inverse Kinematics and vertex weight painting, along with a host of other features.
- Lattice – Lattices are used to deform other objects. The lattice acts as a “cage” of sorts, and deforms its target object according to its own shape.
How do the Draw Panel buttons work?
In the Object buttons context (F7) there are several buttons and switches in the Draw panel. These control how an object is represented in the 3D viewport.
Drawtype – These determine how your object is represented in the viewport. Note that setting these don’t force your object to a specific draw type, but rather enforce a maximum draw type relative to how the viewport is configured.
- Shaded – Draws the object according to its material, and the lights in the scene.
- Solid – Similar to Shaded, but uses Blender’s default scene lighting. This mode is generally much faster than Shaded
- Wire – Only the object’s wireframe representation is drawn.
- Bounds – Only the object’s absolute dimensions are drawn. The bounds mode is very fast.
Draw Extra – These switches enable draw features in addition to the object’s Drawtype.
- Bounds – Draws the object’s absolute dimensions. The Bounds Type can be selected in the selector below this button.
- TexSpace – Draws a box representing the object’s Texture Space, or the default space in which mapping was applied.
- Transp – Enables Alpha transparency for this object, depending on the Alpha setting of the object’s material.
- Name – Draws the object’s name at the origin point.
- Axis – Draws the local axis of the object at its origin point.
- Wire – Enables drawing of the wire mesh of the object. The mesh is drawn on top of the object’s shaded representation.
- X-Ray – Allows the object to be visible even if it should be obscured by another object. This essentially causes the object to be drawn “on top of” everything else.
what are constraints?
Constraints allow the user to limit or enhance how an object can move or rotate in 3D space. Here are some examples:
- Copy Location – Copies the location of the target object to the constrained object. The constrained object will have the exact location as the target object at all times. There are also Copy Rotation and Copy Scale constraints.
- Limit Rotation – Limits the constrained object’s rotation to specific angles, specific to each axis, as defined in the constraint. There are also Limit Location and Limit Scale constraints.
- Track To – Causes the constrained object to point at another object. The point axis of the constrained object is configurable in the constraint propertes. This is commonly used to cause the scene’s Camera object to always point at another object in the scene. If the target object moves, the Camera will follow its motion.
- Clamp To – Forces the constrained object’s motion on a specified axis to translate to motion along a curve. This constraint should target a Curve object.
- Floor – Keeps an object from moving beyond an imaginary plane, on any axis.
- Follow Path – Causes an object to animate along a Curve Path. For instance, an airplane object could be constrainted to a Curve path serving as its flight path.
What is the Active Object?
The Active object is any object on which Blender will affect changes made to its parameters. Here are some rules for working with and selecting Active Objects:
- When changing an object’s parameters, only the Active Object in a group of selected objects will be affected.
- The object selected last in a group of selected objects is the Active Object.
- Using SHIFT+RMB on an object in a group selection will make that object the Active Object.
- Pressing TAB for Edit mode will enter Edit mode for the Active Object.
- The Active Object in a group will be outlined in a slightly brighter color shade
What is the object Origin Point?
An Origin Point of an object is a single point in 3D space at which Blender considers the object to exist. Objects are drawn relative to their Origin Points. The Origin Point is visible as a small dot, usually located toward the center of an object. If you manually enter a location for an object in the Transform Properties Window (N Key), the object’s Origin is actually what gets moved to that exact location.
How to I manipulate an object’s Origin Point?
The main method of relocating an object’s Origin Point in relation to its data is the use of three buttons in the Editing Context’s (F9) Mesh panel:
- Center – This button causes the objects “data” to be shifted around the Origin Point. In other words, the Origin doesn’t move, only the object’s data moves.
- Center New – Essentially the opposite of the above: Causes the object’s Origin Point to be relocated to the center of the object’s data. The data (vertices, etc) remain fixed while the Origin Point is relocated.
- Center Cursor – Causes the Origin Point to be located at the position of the 3D cursor (See below). The object’s data doesn’t move, only the Origin Point moves.
What is the 3D Cursor?
When you left click in Blender’s 3D viewport, the 3D Cursor appears whereever you click. By default it appears as a red, white, and black crosshair. This cursor is a tool that determines a number of things:
- When objects are added, they appear at the location of the 3D Cursor.
- Certain Pivot Modes (see below) make use of the 3D Cursor for transformations.
- An object’s Origin Point can be shifted to the location of the 3D Cursor.
What is the Transform Manipulator?
The Transform Manipulator is the Red, Green, and Blue widget that appears with the Active Object. If you don’t happen to see a transform widget when you select an object, make sure the little hand/finger icon on the 3D header is selected. It can also be activated by pressing CTRL+SPACE while your mouse cursor is over the 3D Viewport. The Transform Manipulator allows you to transform an object on a per-axis basis. There are three separate widgets available, each activated by their respective button on the 3D header, next to the hand/finger icon:
- Translate Widget – Allows you to translate (move) an object along the X, Y, or Z axis. (Triangle shaped button.)
- Rotate Widget – Allows you to rotate an object around the X, Y, or Z axis. (Doughnut shaped button.)
- Scale Widget – Allows you to scale an object along the X, Y, or Z axis. (Square shaped button.)
You can select multiple widgets to be activated at once by shift-clicking their respective buttons.
What are Pivot Modes?
Pivot Modes determine how an object is transformed. When an object is rotated or scaled, the selected Pivot Mode will determine which part of 3D space is considered to be at the center of the rotating or scaling. Transformations can have fairly differing effects depending on the selected Pivot Mode, especially when multiple objects are selected. The location of the Transform Manipulator will give away the pivot point of the current selection. Here are the available Pivot Modes:
- Median Point – For a single object: the object’s Origin Point. For multiple objects: the weighted average of all the selected object’s Origin Points. For Edit Mode: the wieghted average of all the object’s selected data elements (vertices for instance).
- Bounding Box Center – For a single object: the object’s Origin Point. For multiple objects: the center of a box drawn around all the selected objects. For Edit Mode: the center of a box drawn around all the object’s selected data elements.
- 3D Cursor – Regardless of selected objects or Edit Mode, the pivot point will be at the location of the 3D Cursor.
- Individual Centers – For a single object: the object’s Origin Point. For multiple objects: each selected object rotates around its own Origin Point. For Edit Mode: each selected data element rotates around it’s own median point.
- Active Object – For a single object: the object’s Origin Point. For multiple objects: the Origin Point of the Active object (SHIFT+RMB to change). For Edit Mode: the weighted average of all selected data.
What is Parenting and how do I use it?
When one object is Parented to another, it becomes the child of the target object. When the Parent object is moved, rotated, or scaled, it passes these transformations onto any child objects attached to it. It’s kind of like the sun, earth, and moon. As the sun moves through space, it drags the earth along with it. As the earth rotates around the sun, it takes the moon along for the ride. Because of the sun’s gravity, the earth is “attached” to it. Because of the earth’s gravity, the moon is “attached” to it.
To understand Parenting it helps to understand a little bit about coordinates and coordinate systems. 3D coordinates are expressed as three values, X, Y, and Z, representing directions: left/right, back/forward, up/down. All objects by default use the coordinate system of the world, which is that grid you see when you look in the 3D viewport. In the center of the grid are the X,Y, and Z coordinates of 0.0, 0.0, and 0.0 respectively. Coordinates away from the center are represented by positive or negative numbers (direction) for each of the axes.
When an object is Parented to another, the parent object becomes the child object’s coordinate system, instead of the world. The child object is free to move, rotate, and scale on its own, but it must also move, rotate, and scale along with the parent.
To set up the parent/child relationship between a set of objects, do the following:
- Select the object or objects that you want to be children.
- Select the Parent obect last.
- Press CTRL+P and choose “Make Parent” from the menu.
Now when you transform the parent object, the child object will be transformed as well. Notice that you can move the child object independant of the parent, but when you move (or rotate, scale) the parent object, the child object transforms as well.
To break a parent/child relationship, select the child object, press ALT+P, and choose “Clear Parent.”
What is mesh editing?
Mesh editing refers to the act of manipulating the data of a mesh, or polygon-based object. Meshes consist of vertices, edges, and faces, and these elements can be carefully manipulated to mold and shape an object. Polygonal objects are common in part because video game engines process polygonal geometry almost exclusively as part of their rendering pipeline. Computer hardware, especially in regards to the video card has evolved around the polygonal mesh.
What is the relationship between Vertices, Edges, and Faces?
Each type of polygonal sub-object type is part of the whole. Vertices are single points in 3D space that form the basis of a mesh. Edges are essentially the lines of connection between interconnected vertices. Faces are the highest level structure of the three, existing where three or more vertices are joined together by edges.
You can think of vertices, edges, and faces this way: imagine a piece of fishing net wrapped around a vase. The knots in the net that form the basis of the mesh work are comparable to vertices. The strands of netting material between knots compare to edges, and the surface of the vase inside of the knotted strands compare to faces.
In polygonal geometry, the vertices and edges are not usually visible in the final render, but are manipulated in the construction of the model itself. When two connected vertices are selected, the edge between them is selected. When three or four connected vertices or edges are selected, the face that they make up is selected as well. You can see this effect by selecting an object, tabbing into edit mode, and selecting geometry in either vertex, edge, or face mode — then switching between the different modes to see how the selection holds up.
How do I use Proportional Editing?
Proportional editing is basically a soft selection of vertices. With Proportional editing active (in Edit Mode) selecting and moving a single vertex will influence the movement of the vertices around it, with the area of influence falling off from the selected vertex or vertices.
How do I use Vertex Snapping?
Vertex Snapping allows you to easily position one vertex in the location of another. It can be activated with the magnet icon at the bottom of the 3D header.
Once active, you can grab a vertex and snap it to the location of another vertex by holding the CTRL key and moving your mouse over the desired destination vertex. Keep in mind that while Vertex Snapping is enabled, grid snapping will not function.
A vertex can be snapped to a vertex on another object by CTRL clicking the object. The newly selected object will be highlighted and it then can be used as a snap target.
When Snapping is active, selecting a snapping mode becomes possible with the mode selector. Any of these choices are only in effect when multiple vertices are selected. If you’re snapping a single vertex at a time, none of these modes will have any effect. If you’re snapping multiple vertices, generally Closest mode will be the most desirable.
Axis constraints can be used in conjunction with snapping, to align elements with one another on a single axis.
How do I manipulate an object’s Origin Point in Edit Mode?
You can’t really edit the position of the Origing Point itself, but you can manupulate the data in relation to it. In essence, by relocating an object’s data (vertices), you’re adjusting it in relation to the Origin Point. If you need the origin at the bottom of the object, select all vertices and move them above the origin.
What is a Normal?
A normal is a perpendicular line drawn from out of the center of a face. It represents the direction the face is pointing, and is used in lighting calculations. When lighting is calculated for rendering, the angle of the lamp is calculated against its angle to the surface normal, to determine lighting intensity and falloff. There are other factors considered in lighting calculations as well, such as distance.
Sometimes during the course of mesh modeling, normals will get “flipped.” This produces dark lines on the surface of the mesh. It can be remedied by selecting all the geometry of the model and pressing CTRL+N, for “Recalculate Normals Outside.”
What are modifiers and how do I use them?
Modifiers work just as their name implies: they modify a mesh or other object in some way. Modifiers can be found in the Modifiers panel of the Editing context(F9).
One of the most common and useful modifiers is Subsurf, or the Subdivision Surfacing modifier. This uses an algorithm called Catmull-Clark, which creates higher resolution meshes based on the original geometry. It can be an effective tool for high polygon count modeling, allowing the modeler to use a cage of low poly geometry to control the shape of a much higher number of vertices.
How do I use Smoothing effectively?
The Set Smooth button produces even lighting between faces on a model. For high angle face releationships, such as those between the front and sides of a cube, smoothing can produce undesireable results in the form of darkening effect, and/or triangle artifacts.
Smoothing is made more useful in combination with edge splitting, or the Edge Split modifier. With this modifier applied, edges can be automatically separated from each other depending on angle. The Edge Split modifer can also act upon edges that are “Marked as Sharp.”
To mark edges as sharp, select them in Edit mode, press CTRL+E for the Edge Specials menu, and choose “Mark Sharp.” Make sure that the “From Marked As Sharp” button is active.
I can’t rotate or scale my objects or bones!
There’s a little button on the 3D header called “Move Object Centers Only,” located next to the Pivot mode selector. This is a convenient mode for rotating or scaling object positions without affecting the data itself.
The effects of Move Object Centers Only are only apparent when more than one object is being transformed. When this mode is active and only one object (or bone) is selected, nothing happens. This can seem at first like protected transforms (N). If you’re like me, you’ve gutted more than one project trying to figure out what’s wrong before realizing that you were using Move Object Centers Only only minutes before.
The Blender 3D FAQ is a work in progress. If you have suggestions or corrections, please feel free to send them along via Blender Underground’s Contact Form.