Part 2: The User Interface and Basic Navigation

We now get to the stage of downloading and installing Blender. After that, we go through some very basic navigation to help you move around the 3D view port.

In the previous part of our guide, we just discussed Blender in general. We talked about whether Blender is hard to learn among other topics people have. Since you are still here, it suggests that you are willing to give Blender a try. Great! Let’s get started.

Downloading and Installing

First thing is first, you’ll want to head on over the official website at and download the latest stable version. As of this writing, the latest stable version is Blender 2.79b. You can try Blender 2.8, but it is currently still in development. Since you are new, you’ll want version 2.79b. So, go ahead and download and install Blender.

Selecting With the Left Mouse Button

When you open up Blender for the first time, it will look something like this:

Simple click anywhere outside of that splash screen to get rid of it. Now, if you left click anywhere in the main screen, you’ll notice that you are simply moving around the little red and white ring (the 3D cursor). This is where many users experience their first frustration. Counter-intuitively, Blender selects with the right mouse button instead of the left. Since this likely will change with the next version, we are going to change that to be more in line with the way most software runs (which is, selecting with the left mouse button). To change this, simply click on “File”, then click on “User Preferences…” like so:

Next, you’ll want to click on “Input” along the top of the new pop up window. On the left hand side, you’ll see “Select With:” Click on “Left”. After that, click on “Save User Settings”:

After that, close the window.

The Interface

Moving Around in the 3D Viewport

Now, you’ll be left with the main window:

So, the largest part of the window which contains the cube is called the 3D viewport. When you are modelling, texturing, and doing other things, this is the main screen you are using. At this point, it is ideal to have a three button mouse or a two button mouse with a tracking wheel. Most modern mice with the wheel in the middle are able to middle click. Most users who don’t do art may not realize that this is a button, but you’ll be using this a lot with Blender as you get used to the interface and basic navigation.

If you do not have this kind of mouse, it is possible to emulate the middle mouse button through user preferences. Just go back to user Preferences. Where you clicked on “Select With” “Left”, there is an option just above that. It’s a tick box that says “Emulate 3 Button Mouse”. Click on the tick box so it’ll be possible to follow along with just a two button mouse. If you already have a three button mouse, skip this paragraph.

You’re first reaction may be along the lines of “whoa, look at all the options on the left and right side!” Don’t worry, just ignore those for now and concentrate on the main 3D viewport.

The first thing to show you is the middle mouse button. Click and hold it and move the mouse around. You’ll see that you are moving your perspective around. You can view the cube above, below, left, right, and every direction in between. When you are done turning your stomach inside out by moving everywhere, let go of the middle mouse button. It doesn’t matter where you wind up because you can easily get some useful perspectives through the magic of your number pad.

For those of you who don’t have a number pad, this can be emulated in Blender as well. Simply go back to File, User Preferences. Where you clicked on “Select With” “Left”, you’ll notice an option just a below that that says “Emulate Numpad”. Tick that box and Save User Preferences. If you already have the number pad on the right side of your keyboard, just skip this paragraph.

The first number pad button you should try is “1”. When you do that, you’ll see the front of your cube. This is the “Front Perspective”:

Now, try tapping “3” on your number pad. You’ll get the “Right Perspective”:

Now, try tapping “7” on your number pad. You’ll get the “Top Perspective”:

Finally, tapping “9” will give you your bottom perspective. You won’t use that much, but now you know what each number does. Just remember it’s the numbers in the four corners that give you those perspectives. As you use those numbers more and more, knowing which does which will become second nature after a while. It’s all just passive practice.

The Basic Objects

As you moved around, you’ll probably notice that the cube isn’t the only thing in the space (also known as the “scene”). One of those objects is the camera. It’s the triangular thing with the up arrow. I’ve clicked on this below:

When you render an object out, what you see is what the camera sees. You can do all sorts of things with this, but for now, we’re just going to acknowledge that this is what it is and what it does.

The other object of note is the lamp. This is that round thing with the dot in the middle. I’ve selected it below:

The lamp does exactly what you think it does: it provides light. You can create shadows, light things up, and do all sorts of interesting things with it. For now, however, like the camera, we’re just going to acknowledge its existence.

Advanced Movements

So, we can orbit around an object and snap to specific perspectives. All of this is useful, but we want more control over what we see. The first thing we can do is zoom. To do this, simply move your wheel forward to zoom in and backward to zoom out. Here’s what it looked like when I zoomed in:

This will certainly help when you are doing some finer detailing of something. Of course, wouldn’t it be nice if we could move up, down, and side to side? That can very easily be done. Hold down the shift button and then hold down the middle mouse button/wheel. When both are held down, move your mouse around. You’ll be able to achieve these movements.

Again, when you are making detailed adjustments with whatever you are making, this will no doubt come in handy.

As a practice exercise, you can zoom, pan, and orbit your way to and around the camera. Then, do the same to the light. If you are ambitious, go back to the cube and orbit around that for a bit. Don’t worry about perfect movements, the point is getting used to moving your perspective around.

When you are done, you’ll notice that orbiting around is off. In fact, the focal point of where you are orbiting around is probably just a random location by now. Simply click on an object you want to focus on. I’ll just select the camera. After that, tap the number pad “.” (period). When you do, you’ll zoom to that object and it’ll become your focal point. Zoom out a bit and you’ll be able to pan around normally.

If I were to do the same thing to the lamp (selecting it and hitting number pad period), I’ll zoom to that object as well. Doing this to the cube will bring me back to where I was before in that I am focusing on that cube.

That’s it! If you can get used to these movements, you’ll see how Blender can gradually get easier to use!

Keyboard Shortcut Roundup

For those of you who are practising and don’t want to read through paragraphs of content to get to the keyboard shortcuts, here is a list of everything we covered in this part:

  • Middle Mouse Button + Moving Mouse = Orbiting
  • Numpad 1 = Front Perspective Perspective
  • Numpad 3 = Right Perspective
  • Numpad 7 = Top Perspective
  • Mouse wheel = Zooming
  • Shift + Middle Mouse Button + Moving Mouse = Panning
  • Numpad . = Zoom in/Focus on selected object

< Initial Thoughts on Blender | Index | Moving and Manipulating Objects >

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