Blender interface is extremely flexible, but in my opinion, it can be improved. In this tip, I will cover some basics to Blender Interface manipulation, and give some suggestions what can be done to improve things, including the creation of a “camera viewfinder” window that we’ll be using in upcoming articles to help keep track of a scene from a camera’s perspective.
Introduction to the Blender Interface
Blender’s window is essentially a container; inside the window is a global box with the ability to change its role using the “editor type” drop-down box.
Note the bottom-left corner of that box, where those bars are? There is a similar set of bars on the upper-right corner of the global box as well.
In the case of both set of bars, if you click on one and drag horizontally, it will split the current window into two parts, one next to the other. If you click and drag vertically, it will split the current window into two parts, one above the other. Each part will then have its own “editor-type” drop-down box, which will then allow you to choose what each of those windows do.
Every single type of section and panel is its own editor type, even the toolbar at the top. Because of this, you can move, resize, or replace everything in Blender with anything else. For example: the top toolbar is known as the “info” view, and includes the classic “File” and “Help” menus, as well as the window-layout preset, the scene, and which renderer you intend to use with Blender. The main editor window showing the cube, camera, and light is the 3D view; each 3D view can be independently adjusted as needed. Under the 3D view is the timeline, which handles animation keyframes. On the right side, you have the “Outliner” view listing the objects in the scene, and the “Properties” view listing all the options in expandable sections under several tabs.
Each of these areas can be split, resized, or merged as you wish.
To split an existing section, as previously mentioned, just grab the corner bars and drag, either horizontally or vertically. What will happen is that the section will then split into two parts, the original one being dragged, while the second one is left behind from where you dragged.
In the image below, you can see the result of first dragging upward, and then clicking and dragging right to create two splits, one horizontal, and then one vertical.
Each of those splits can then, using the editor type drop-down, be changed to a different section type if I choose… or I can just assign each one a different angle. If I were to horizontally split the bottom section as well, I could arrange all four into a classic CAD model, using a top view, a side view, and a front view, along with a perspective view (with a fifth section underneath all 4 to allow for a full-length toolbar):
Note that the top, side, and front views are in orthographic mode, while the perspective view is just that: perspective. This is the level of configurability you can have; each view is independent of the others, but the scene being edited will remain the same in all four; if I make any changes to that box, its dimensions will change in the other sections, provided that dimension is visible.
But… there are only four boxes here, right?
No, there are 5. Do you see that toolbar along the bottom? That is another 3D view with the actual 3D part concealed by virtue of the fact that it’s too narrow to show anything but the toolbar.
Wait… where are the toolbars on the other four?
If you clicked on the above image, you’ll probably noticed the presence of three plus marks, one on each side and one at the bottom of each of the four boxes. These indicate that there is a toolbar that has been hidden in that view, which is for convenience’s sake in this case, since we don’t want to see the toolbars on the four boxes.
When you click these plus marks, the toolbars they conceal will be revealed. There are way too many toolbars to really go into detail here, but you can check them out. If you reveal them, then you simply resize them all the way back to the edge of the section to re-hide them.
What if I’m not happy with the positions of the sections? Is there a way to resize them?
Resizing sections is not so much changing the size of one section as it is moving the border between two sections. One of the most important aspects of Blender is that it’s non-overlapping—it’s not possible to cover up one section with another. This allows you to focus on the work you’re doing, and not have to worry about moving a dialog box out of the way to get the job done.
To move the border between two sections, you simply need to put the mouse over the dividing line between them and drag.
One thing to note: if two section’s borders on one side are the same line, then everything that line touches will be moved. What this means is that the above four-panel window is global at this point; dragging the vertical or horizontal split will resize all four boxes, regardless of where you click on the lines to drag.
It is possible to unlink them, but you need to learn about “merging” first.
What you can split, you can merge again. Take our above example: suppose we want to do away with the perspective view altogether and just have the top view cover the entire top two panes. To do that, we click the “split bars” of the top view’s section, and drag in the direction of the section we want to remove, in this case, we select the top-right bars of the “top” view, and drag right. The section to be removed will show a ghostly arrow in it, indicating that it will be replaced by an expanded “top” view.
Once done, we now have three sections:
Now, we cannot merge this new top with the bottom two, because the merge can only happen over a single split. To merge everything back together, we’d have to use the merge to replace one of the bottom two with the other of the bottom two…
…after which, the top will then be able to merge into the same-sized bottom section.
Borders can be linked together, so that when you attempt to move the border of one frame, the entire line becomes movable, resulting in all connected sections being resized at once. This is useful in that there is never any wasted space in the Blender window, and can ensure that nothing gets overlaid. However, sometimes, you just want to move one border segment, and not the expanded one.
The process of linking borders is pretty simple. You simply drag a border so that it aligns completely with another border of the same orientation. Vertical borders that become a single line will always become linked. Same with horizontal.
In the above example, the horizontal border is solid. However, the vertical borders are unlinked, because they are not lined up. Each vertical border can be moved independently of the other, so you can resize both windows as you prefer. To link up these borders, however, you need to make sure that they are completely lined up:
Now that the borders are aligned, they go from being two small borders to one large border.
Now, once linked, the large border cannot be instantly unlinked. However, there is a way to unlink it so you have two small borders again, and it uses the above-described methods of splitting and merging panels to do so.
To unlink the panels, use the split feature to make a new panel. You don’t have to make it any specific size, you just need to make sure the split exists.
This split-off border is the one we ultimately want to be the new window border; since it’s not lined up, it is not linked. All that’s left to do is merge the linked panel into the small, unlinked panel:
At this point, the merge has resulted in the new border bing unliked, just as we wanted.
You will notice in the following picture that, while I have three 3D editing environments and a preview window, there is only one toolbar along the bottom, one mode control bar along the left, and scene properties bar along the right of the editing environment itself.
This is a benefit of the splitable sections; you can resize a section and a toolbar so that the toolbar can completely fill a section. What you are seeing above are not four sections, but actually seven.
How did I make this? We will start from the default window, before I ever did the 4-pane split.
Making the Bottom Toolbar
The spanned toolbar should be made first, since it should span the bottom of the entire “3d” display, including the sidebars. So, we start with splitting the main 3D window, by dragging the ridges on the bottom-left upwards.
From here, simply drag the border between the two toolbars until it’s just above the bottom toolbar.
Finally, drag the top toolbar’s top border down until the top toolbar disappears, and a plus mark replaces it.
Now, no matter how you split up the 3D editing view, its toolbar remains where it is, spanning the entire area underneath the multiple-pane 3D editing display group.
Adding Universal Sidebars
The very same principle works with the sidebars as well. For these, it’s recommended that you create the universal sidebars after the universal toolbar; this way the toolbar can border everything on the bottom.
As before, you simply split each side out…
…and then, inside the outer split, press the plus button to open the sidebar.
Once open, expand the sidebar to fill the space, moving the border to make what room is needed.
Repeat the same for the right side of the main 3D window; split, display sidebar, expand.
Now, you can split the main 3D window in as many ways as you need, and the toolbar and sidebars will remain exactly where they are, uncut, unshortened, and in full control of the scene, regardless of which 3D window you’re editing the scene in.
You may notice some weird coloring along the borders of the universal panels. Unfortunately, Blender was not designed to have toolbar-only or sidebar-only panels, and those colors are actually the center of your 3D display. It’s safe to ignore them, however.
Creating a 3D Camera Viewfinder
I’ve never heard of a camera without some form of viewfinder, the ubiquitous little window that shows you what the camera sees. So why is this not always available in the default Blender view?
I’ve learned early on, when discovering about the flexibility of the Blender interface, that I could add 3D views anywhere I wish, and having a camera view off to the side is a valuable tool for ensuring that I keep my edits in the camera’s sight as much as possible. I can go back and forth in the main window, or I can create multiple viewports, but sometimes, having a single, big 3D window is more useful for fine editing than having multiple 3D views open, and you can’t wrap one view around another; you have to lose something in the process.
So, I decided to create a miniature camera viewfinder above the outline on the right side of the main window, just above the outline. In a pinch, I can use it to manipulate objects, but the primary purpose is to give me a camera’s eye view of the action at all times, so I can adjust the main viewport with an eye to ensure everything fits in the camera view.
To create the viewfinder, you simply need to split the properties or outline panels (I tend to choose the outliner)…
…Change the desired split to 3D view mode and hide the toolbar…
…change the 3D view to camera view (using the zero key on the numeric keypad)…
…and then adjust the borders so everything is usable. If resizing the viewport display, go ahead and zoom so you can see the actual view clearly.
Saving Your Changes
Once you have a layout that you’re happy with, how to you set it to be the default layout?
Simply go to “File” and “User Preferences” and click the “Save As Default” button. This savesall user-set changes, not just the changes made in the user preferences window.
There’s a lot more to go around, but I decided to provide these suggestions, because they (particularly the viewfinder panel) will no doubt be useful in upcoming Blender-based tutorials. Even if you don’t find them useful, I hope this helps you get a better picture of how you can make your own customized Blender layout.