Blender 3D: Noob to Pro/Blender Windowing System
|Applicable Blender version: 2.59.|
The Blender user interface may appear daunting at first, but don't despair. This book explores the interface one step at a time.
In this module, you'll learn about Blender windows:
- recognizing windows and their headers,
- the different types of windows,
- how to activate and resize windows,
- how to split and join windows.
You'll also practice launching and leaving Blender.
An Interface Divided
Blender's user interface is divided into rectangular areas with rounded corners. These areas are called windows (or sometimes, areas). The overall arrangment of windows is called a workspace.
If you haven't already launched Blender, go ahead and do so. You should soon see something that resembles the following.
Blender has had some major changes to its user interface (UI) since version 2.4x. Some of these changes include moving buttons and changing the space bar hot key from the “add menu” to the “search menu” (Shift+A is now the "add menu” hot key). This is important to know when trying to follow tutorials.
Other changes include the addition of the tool bar and window splitting widget. The shelf widget (indicated by a plus sign) opens hidden tool shelves. The object tool shelf can be toggled on and off by pressing the T key. The properties tool shelf can be toggled on and off by pressing the N key. The splitting window widget allows you to split and join windows. Blender 2.59 is shown below.
Did you find all five headers?
Every Blender window has a header. A header can appear at the top of the window, at the bottom of the window, or it can be hidden. Let's take a closer look at the headers.
If you click withon the header, a menu pops up which lets you move the header (to the top if it’s at the bottom, or vice versa), or maximize the window to fill the entire workspace:
To hide the header completely, move the mouse to the edge of the header furthest from the edge of the window (i.e. the top edge of the header if it is at the bottom of the window, or vice versa); it will change into a vertical double-headed arrow. Now click with . Click this with to bring the header back.and drag towards the window edge, and the header will disappear. In its place, you will see the following symbol appear at the corner of the window:
Blender has 15 types of windows. You've just encountered the Info, 3D View, Properties, and Outliner windows. The rest will be introduced as needed in later modules.
Every window header in Blender has an icon at the left end to indicate the window type. For instance:
Any window can be changed to any type. Blender doesn't mind if there are multiple windows of the same type.
The workspace layout is saved along with the document. Anybody subsequently opening the document will see the last-saved layout.
If you've changed any window's type, please change it back (or reload the factory settings with File → Load Factory Settings) before continuing with this tutorial.
The Active Window
The active window is the one that will respond if you press a key. Exactly one Blender window is active at any given time.
The active window is usually the one containing the mouse pointer. (Blender uses a "focus follows mouse" user interface model. When a hotkey fails to work as expected, it is often because the mouse pointer has strayed into a neighboring window.) To change the active window, simply move the mouse pointer into the window you wish to activate.
Practice changing the active window by moving your mouse between the 3D View and the Timeline windows. The Timeline window is exactly below the 3D View header. At this point, it is worth mentioning that the header for the 3D View window and Timeline window is at the BOTTOM of its own window instead of the top as the name "header" implies.
When a window becomes active, its header gets brighter.
Resizing windows is easy.
Dragging on a Border
Whenever you increase the size of one window, you decrease the size of another. That's because Blender has a non-overlapping window interface: unlike many other programs, it does not permit windows to overlap.
Maximizing a Window
Another way to resize a window is to maximize it. When Blender maximizes a window, it makes it as big as possible. The previous window configuration is saved.
- To maximize the active window, press + , + or + .
- When a window is maximized, use + , + or + to restore the previous (unmaximized) window configuration.
Practice maximizing and un-maximizing the 3D View and Timeline windows.
If you are running a version of Blender before 2.57, you cannot maximize a User Preferences window.
You will notice that the 3D View window (the largest window in the above screenshots) has a bunch of buttons down the left. This rectangular portion is called the Tool Shelf. This is like a window within a window, and you can drag the boundary between it and the main part of the 3D View to resize.
Too Much To Fit
If a window or shelf contains too much information to fit within its display area, scrollbars will appear along the bottom or right edge. You can scroll the contents by dragging these with; alternatively you can drag with directly within the contents.
A window header may also contain more than fits within its displayable area. There is no explicit visual clue for this (except maybe the tell-tale of widgets being cut off at the right edge), but if it happens, you can drag sideways within the header withto scroll its contents.
Splitting And Joining Windows
At the top right and bottom left of every window, you will see something like this: . If you move the mouse over this icon, you will see the pointer turn into a cross. At this point, you can do one of the following by clicking and dragging with :
- Split the window into two copies horizontally by dragging horizontally away from the edge.
- Split the window into two copies vertically by dragging vertically away from the edge.
- Join the window to the adjacent one horizontally (getting rid of it and taking over its space) by dragging towards it.
- Join the window to the adjacent one vertically (getting rid of it and taking over its space) by dragging towards it.
Of course, the last two are only possible if there is in fact another window in that direction. Note also that you can only join windows horizontally that are the same height, and windows vertically that are the same width.
The Default Workspace
If you look at the above screenshot of the default workspace, you will see the following window types:
- The menu bar at the top (outlined in green) is actually a window, called Info. In previous versions of Blender, you could resize this to reveal the User Preferences, but in 2.5x they have been moved to their own window type. Instead, all you can see here if you enlarge the window are some debug messages, which will probably be removed once this version of Blender goes to final release.
- The largest window on the screen is the 3D View. This is where you work on your model.
- The Properties window is the tall area on the right; this is where most of the functions are located for performing operations on models, materials etc. In previous versions of Blender this was called the Buttons window, and was degenerating into a disorganized grab bag of functionality that made it difficult to find things. This has been cleaned up in a major way in 2.5x. Note also that it defaults to a vertical layout, rather than the horizontal one of previous versions. The new design prefers a vertical layout, which works better on today’s widescreen monitors.
- The Outliner (at the top right) gives you an overview of the objects in your document. As your models get more complex, you will start to appreciate the ability to find things quickly here.
- The Timeline (across the bottom) becomes important when you’re doing animations.
Of course, this is just the default layout. For example, if you’re doing a static model or scene, not an animation, you can get rid of the Timeline. If you’re doing heavy script development, you’ll probably want the Console available to try things out. And so on.
Selecting from this menu lets you quickly switch between various predefined workspace layouts, tailored to various workflows. Try it and see—you can return to the default layout by selecting “Default” (but note that any changes you make to the layout are immediately associated with the name being displayed here). The menu even has a search box at the bottom: typing some text in here will restrict the menu to only showing items containing that text. Hard to believe it has much use here, but perhaps in complicated projects which need dozens of different layouts, a search function could become very useful indeed!
Note also the “+” and “X” icons to the right of the menu; clicking “+” creates a new entry which is a duplicate of the last-selected entry, while clicking “X” gets rid of the currently-selected entry. You will see these conventions appear consistently in menus elsewhere in Blender’s new, revamped interface.
One Document At A Time
Blender can only work with one open document at a time. To save changes to the current document, select one of the Save options from the File menu (or press+ to save under the last-saved name). To open a new document (actually load a copy of your last-saved user preferences), select “New” from the File menu (or press + ), and select “Reload Start-Up File” from the little popup that appears, but be aware this will not automatically save changes to the previous document—you should have remembered to do that first.
A scene is like a separate Blender document-within-a-document. Different scenes within the same document can easily share objects, materials etc, so you can define them once and make different renderings and animations from them. You create, delete and switch scenes using the scene menu in the info header. A new document starts by default with just one scene, called “Scene”.
To close down Blender:
- If there's a tool active, press to exit the tool.
- Press + . This brings up an OK? menu.
- Confirm Quit Blender by clicking or pressing .
Blender will not prompt you to save your work. However, you can easily restart Blender and then pick up where you left off using File → Recover Last Session.
- YouTube video on Splitting and Joining Windows in 2.49 at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uYb1j8X-ulc
- YouTube video on Splitting and Joining Windows in 2.59 at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mGK1gwFhx9M
- the Blender Manual page on "window types" at http://wiki.blender.org/index.php/Doc:Manual/Interface/Window_types
- the Blender Manual page on "changing window frames" at system/Arranging frames http://wiki.blender.org/index.php/Doc:Manual/Interface/Window system/Arranging frames