Blender Basics

Updated February 2021

Blender is a powerful, open source 3D creation tool. While the comprehensive docs are wonderful, figuring out where to begin can be a challenge if you are new to the software. This page is intended to be an ongoing list of Blender wrangling tips that I find valuable, written from the perspective of someone who already sifted through the noise as a beginner.

General

My base file configuration

  • Render with a transparent background by toggling Transparent in Properties panel → Render Properties tab → Film → Transparent.
  • Access global contrast settings in Properties panel → Render Properties tab → Color Management → Look dropdown. I find bumping up the contrast to Medium High Contrast is a good starting point.
  • Hover over a corner of an editor section and your cursor will display as a +. Click and drag to split the section into two and select the dropdown icon in the upper left of any section to choose the editor type. Blender's UI is customizable to your liking.

Keyboard Shortcuts

General

  • spacebar brings up a spotlight esq. menu search.
  • shift + a brings up the Add menu at your cursor.
  • x deletes the selected item.
  • option + z toggles x-ray view. I find this so useful when modeling that I mapped the toggle to a button on my mouse.
  • tab toggles between Object mode and Edit mode. Object mode is used for manipulating whole meshes/objects, while edit mode will allow manipulation of individual vertices, edges, and faces.
    • In Edit mode, 1 toggles vertex selection mode, 2 toggles edge selection mode, and 3 toggles face selection mode.
  • Clicking and dragging (left/right) on a numerical input field will adjust the input.
    • Holding control while doing this will lock the field to whole numbers (or easy decimals).
    • Holding shift while doing this will allow for fine adjustments.
  • n toggles the transform panel.
  • right click on a menu option to add it to your quick favorites.
    • q brings up a list of your quick favorites.

Transform Keys

  • g for grab - move selected objects or points within the 3D space.
  • r for rotate - rotate selected objects within the 3D space.
  • s for scale - scale selected objects larger (mouse away from origin) or smaller (mouse towards origin).
  • Holding shift while performing a transform will allow for fine adjustments.
  • In Edit mode, with vertices selected, double pressing g will slide vertices along the connected edge.

Axis Keys

  • x locks a previously selected transform key transform to the x axis.
  • y locks a previously selected transform key transform to the y axis.
  • z locks a previously selected transform key transform to the z axis.
  • shift + axis key locks a previously selected transform key transform to the other two axes. Ex. g → shift + z will allow moving the selected object on only the x and y axes.
  • Double pressing an axis key locks the axis of transform to the objects normal rather than the world axis. Ex. s → x → x will scale the selected object on the object's x axis, rather than the world's x axis.

Pie Menus

Pie menus are circular UI selection menus that appear on a keypress at the cursor. Moving the cursor away from the menu's origin will select the designated menu item. Getting used to using these and forming muscle memory will speed up your workflow significantly.

  • ~ invokes the viewpoint pie menu. Use this to change your view to the camera, selected object, or any orthographic direction.
  • z invokes the viewport shading pie menu. Use this to change your viewport shading between wireframe, solid, material preview, and rendered.

Modeling

General

  • right click an object and select shade smooth to achieve smooth shading on a curved surface.
    • Prevent smoothing over edges above a chosen angle by toggling Auto Smooth in Properties panel → Normals tab → Normals → Auto Smooth. This is helpful when you are working with a shape that needs both curves and hard edges.
  • When modeling, try to stick to creating and manipulating objects that are made of Quads (4 vertices per face) rather than Tris (3 vertices per face) or Ngons ( > 4 vertices per face). This will make working with modifier properties easier.
    • The default sphere mesh is made of Tris. To create a sphere composed of Quads, start with a cube, apply a Subdivision Surface modifier with 4 subdivisions, and then apply a Cast modifier.
  • set origin (easily accessed through the spacebar quick search) will allow you to change the transform origin of an object.
  • control + r in Edit mode will allow you to create a loop cut. This is a very helpful tool to use when you are trying to manipulate meshes and need some extra vertices to work with.

Modifier Properties

All Modifier Properties are found in the Modifier Properties tab of the Properties panel. Below are the general modifiers that I find most helpful for basic modeling. Experiment by applying them to default meshes to learn the ins and outs of each modifier.

Note - clicking apply after selecting a modifier is a destructive action. Often you do not need to apply modifiers and can work non-destructively.

  • Bevel - used to bevel edges of the selected object.
    • Bevel Limit Method - a helpful tool to limit what edges are beveled. Angle is useful to limit beveling to only sharp edges (defined by a degree input). Weight will let you bevel only selected edges by weight. Weight is assigned to edges in edit mode in the transform panel under "Edge Data."
  • Subdivision Surface - used to subdivide all faces of the selected object. Great for creating curved surfaces from angled meshes.
    • Assign creases to edges in edit mode in the transform panel under "Edge Data."
  • Solidify - used to give a third dimension to two dimensional meshes non-destructively.
  • Mirror - used to mirror a copy of a mesh over a selected object and axis. Use this to easily create symmetrical meshes.
  • If you have previously explored design tools like Sketch and Figma, you may have used the Boolean Operation tool. Blender has a similar Boolean operation modifier, but I would recommend trying to avoid it when you are first starting. It has a tendency to create messy geometry in your meshes and screw things up when used in combo with a Subdivision modifier.

Shading

Open up a Shader Editor editor to use Blender's node based shading. Node editors can get complicated fast. To keep it simple, stick with the Principled BDSF shader that is added when you create a new material.

  • The best way to learn shading is to experiment with all the sliders in the Principled BDSF node.
    • The primary values I find myself editing are Base Color, Metallic, and Roughness.

Concluding Thoughts

Start small. Don't jump right into creating involved models and complex shading trees. The learning curve for Blender can be steep, but getting these core basics nailed down will help make the experience enjoyable.