Blender – Controlling the Interface

Blender Interface

One thing I like to do when learning a new software package is understand how to configure my interface for the highest level of efficiency.  That usually means placing my 3d viewer, selection tools, timeline, etc in a place that’s consistent, where windows don’t overlap each other, and I have access to the information I need for 80-90% of my work time.

[x_pullquote cite=”Me – when thinking about moving windows around while I work.”]I hate moving windows and dialogs around while I work.. I just want to get to the tool I need, and get the software out of the way! [/x_pullquote]

I’ve worked in tools where I’m constantly opening dialogs and windows and moving things around in order to see the thing I actually want to work with.. and it drives me nuts.  I would much rather spend 10 minutes getting the interface to be exactly the way I want for the task I need.. and then never think about it again.

Luckily.. Blender is really quite adept at creating a streamlined workspace!  It just takes a few moments to really get comfortable with the main controls.  So in this section, we’ll look at:

  • The Default Layout
  • The Header Bar
  • Choosing Editors using the Editor Type Selector
  • Splitting Panels using the Splitter Widget
  • Potential Configurations

Default Layout

When you first open Blender, it loads with a default configuration of window frames (sometimes called areas, or you can call them panels if you’re used to Maya), each containing an editor.

The default frame layout in Blender consists of 5 frames, each containing a specific editor:

  1. Info Editor
  2. 3D View
  3. Outliner
  4. Properties
  5. Timeline

It may look like there are more editors in there.. because there is so much information on the screen, but if you look carefully, these are the only editors visible.

Q: How do I know what an editor or frame or whatever is??!?!

That’s a great question.. I’m so glad you asked!  There are some clear signs that the thing you’re looking at is a window frame:

  1. It has a Header Bar
  2. It has a Editor Type Selector
  3. It has a Splitter Widget

The Header Bar

The header bar contains most of the menu items and options for the editors.  For example, for the 3D Viewer the header bar lets you set your view settings, control what mode you’re in (object, edit, paint, etc), provides access to tools you need and more.   It’s essentially the main place you’re going to go for most options in your viewer.

Unfortunately.. the header bar doesn’t always sit at the top of the pane where you would expect based on other animation software.. like Maya.

This can be really confusing the first time you look for menu options for your editors.  To make it even more confusing.. sometimes the same editor will have the header bar in different places.

For example, if you use the editor type selector (we’ll get into this later) to switch the 3D viewer to the properties editor, the header bar in the new properties editor will be… on the bottom.

As for why this would happen.. I.. really don’t know.  I’m not sure where the setting for this gets saved, or who decides it for the default .blend file.  Luckily.. if you don’t like where the header bar is.. you can move it yourself!

You simply right click on the bar and choose Flip to Top.

In the following video, you can see me flipping the header bar in the 3d viewer to the top, then switching to the graph editor.  Notice that the header is back on the bottom after I switch to the graph editor.  Luckily, once I switch the header for the graph editor to the top, then popping back and forth between the graph editor and the 3d viewer maintains the position of the header.

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Another way to flip the header is to use a hotkey.. hover over the header bar and hit F5.

For more information about managing the header, definitely check out the Blender documentation – there’s some great information here!

Choosing Editors


Blender editors available in Blender 2.75

I demonstrated this concept quickly above when I used the Header Bar and switched between the 3D viewer and the Graph Editor.  What’s great about Blender is that you can choose any of the 16+ editors (at the time of this article) for any frame.  Yes, you can have every single frame be a 3d viewport, if you want.

To switch editors.. you use the Editor Type Selector.

The Editor Type Selector is a little pulldown (or pop-up) menu that lets you choose what type of editor is in the frame.

Depending on the type of editor you’re looking at, the Editor Type Selector will look different.  Check out the image on the right to see the icons representing the various editors.  Once you get used to them, you’ll be able to identify your editor quite quickly.

To choose a different editor, simply click on the Editor Type Selector and then choose your new editor.  Try it a few times.. you’ll get the hang of it!

Splitter Widget

The splitter widget sits at the top right and bottom left of each frame area.

However it can be a little confusing.. the first time I used it, I ended up creating 15 different 3d views!

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There’s a trick to using the splitter widget to work the way you want, and it’s all about the direction you’re dragging in relation to the widget’s position in the frame.

If you look at the widget itself, you’ll see that it always sits in the upper right or lower left of the frame area. If you look at the frame edges, you can determine which direction you want to drag in order to either create or merge a frame.

Creating new frames..


Merging frames..

This is definitely one of the tricks you want to practice a few times.  I recommend trying to split your 3d view from a single pane to three panes, and then back again.  Try this a few times until you can do it correct every time.

In the following video, I’m just playing around splitting views.. merging them again.. not trying to make anything in particular, just making sure I’m ending up with layouts I like and so I feel in control.

[x_video_embed type=”16:9″ no_container=”true”][/x_video_embed]

Another cool trick that comes in handy is reversing direction when trying to merge views.  Let’s say I have my graph editor on the left and my 3d viewer on the right.  If I want to merge the two so the 3d view is the one that sticks around, I can click on the splitter handle and drag right first, then drag right!

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As always, there are more options I’m not covering here.. so check out the fantastic documentation on arranging areas.

Creating your favorite layouts

Once you feel like you’ve got a handle on organizing frames and replacing editors.. try creating some common editor layouts you might enjoy.

For example, an animator might be interested in creating a layout that has a curve editor on the bottom, a dope sheet and outliner on the
left, and the camera view on the right.

[x_video_embed type=”16:9″ no_container=”true”][/x_video_embed]

A video editor might go for a file browser on the left.. a non linear editor on the bottom and two movie viewers on top, one with the final output and one to help edit the video.

[x_video_embed type=”16:9″ no_container=”true”]


As you can see, there are a bunch of possibilities.. post your favorites in the comments section below!

Jason Schleifer
Jason Schleifer
Jason and his mad scientist eyebrows have been pushing the boundaries of CG animation and sharing his knowledge for nearly 20 years. Widely recognized as an industry leader and mentor to hundreds of animators, Schleifer, formerly of Weta Digital and Head of Character Animation at DreamWorks, now works as Head of Content and is a co-founder of Nimble Collective.


  1. Alessandro says:

    Did you find how to select with the left mouse button? 🙂
    There is a setting in Input

    • Hi Alessandro, thanks for commenting! As you mention, it’s possible to adjust your selection paradigm to use the left mouse button (I talk a little bit about this in the next tutorial). However, since Blender’s default is the right mouse button, I’m attempting to learn the package by sticking with the defaults for the most part. The reason for this is that not all of Blender adapts well to the left mouse button input.. for example, the graph editor. If you use the left mouse button for selection, you loose the ability to scrub. There are plans to adjust the Blender defaults to use LMB as a standard.. but until the change is thought out through the entire interface, I’d rather stick with the defaults and learn how to use those. 🙂

  2. Adam Juhasz says:

    I would love to see what are the the pros and cons of blenders graph editor for you. coming from maya I’m amazed at some features (small stuff such as: ctrl+click left or right of the current time playhead selects all keys left or right of the current time *in blender default config!* – which makes retiming animations really easy etc.) and missing a few others that I guessed I’m used to in maya. Also – rigging wise i love the potential of being able to reset bones (in maya joints) translations without hassle (grouping hacks in maya) and bla-bla-bla i just went fanboy mode….sorry >P just really excited to see you doing this…

    • Jason says:

      I haven’t found that graph editor trick yet for selecting things before or after the current playhead.. that’s very cool! I’m sure as I animate more in Blender, I’ll learn some tricks I really like, and find things that drive me crazy. 🙂 Can’t wait to share them all!

  3. Sven Akelian says:

    Hey Jason,
    Nice to see your switch progress. I did the Maya -> Blender switch progressively during the past year.
    As a long maya user I was a bit obsessed by trying to match as much as possible keymaps and such.
    This made me loose quite some time trying to dig in the input preferences to find the original shortcuts.
    I finally started fresh and only changed the left > right mouse click as it was really hard for me to switch between softwares having to recalibrate my brain…
    Anyway just posting to tell you that I can right click to scrub in the graph editor. I actually think that switching the clicks is pretty straight forward.
    Nice blog!


    • Thanks Sven!

      I know that they’re talking about adjusting Blender’s default hotkeys and button menus.. so I’m waiting for that discussion to be all worked out, and then I’ll switch to it. It definitely helps to not try and map Maya to Blender.. but to just say “okay, I’m using Blender. It works like this. Cool.” Glad to hear you had the same experience. 🙂


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