Blender’s 3D Viewport

Using a wacom tablet!

Welcome to the next post in the Blender learning series! In this post, I focus on learning to use the 3D Viewport in Blender so you can effectively view and navigate around objects in your scene. In our previous tutorial I demonstrated a few techniques to adjust the Blender interface to increase your efficiency. Now that you can fill your entire window with 3D editors.. wouldn’t it be great to understand how Blender can help you view the things you want so you can interact with them and make animation awesomeness?

guitarThe most important thing to do when you’re learning a particular skill is to make sure that your muscle memory allows you to focus on the thing you want to focus on. For example, when learning to play the bass guitar it’s important to know how to fret properly before trying to play Longview by GreenDay. If you are learning to paint, you should understand how to hold a fanbrush vs a pointed round. For 3D animation, you must learn how to manipulate the 3d view to see the things you want to see.

Like most software these days, it’s possible to create shortcuts and hotkeys (or hotcuts and shortkeys) for interacting with your software. Blender is no different, there are a bunch of ways to manipulate the 3D view, and many techniques you can use to simplify your interaction. For the purposes of this tutorial, I’m going to try and stick to the standard defaults that come with Blender.

Many of you will read this and quietly scream “AGGH!! I’m used to Maya/Modo/Max/Animation Master/Mirai/Wavefront TAV/XSI.. Why can’t I just change my interaction to match my favorite software of choice?!??!?!?”

It’s okay, of course you can change the interaction. You can change the hotkeys and shortcuts to match your favorite software. I’ll even demonstrate how Blender is pretty good about letting you do this. However, there’s a very important reason to try and limit the amount of changes you make when learning a new tool. The fewer mental leaps you need to go through, the easier it will be to absorb information and move forward quickly. If you search for Learning Blender on Google you will find around 2 million entries. Most of these are going to be using Blender’s default settings. So if you have to translate the tutorials from the defaults to your own personal settings every time, you will find resistence to learning. My recommendation is to keep the defaults as long as possible, unless you absolutely have to change them. It will make life easier in the long run, and give you good arguments for a particular adjustments when reading the Blender Artist Forums.

Setting Your Input Preferences

Using a wacom tablet!

Using a wacom tablet!

Before we get into the details of how to navigate your view, it’s very important to make sure Blender knows what sort of input device you’re using! Many artists like to use Wacom or Pen devices to interact with their scenes. Others use these fancy vertical mice (supposedly great for ergonomics). I prefer to use a 3-Button mouse with a scroll-wheel, however if I happen to be sitting at Backyard Coffee Company I will sometimes just use the trackpad on my Macbook Pro.

It’s really up to you to determine which tool you want to use, but know that your settings for Blender will need to be adjusted based on your choice.

To set your input settings, go to the File menu and choose User Preferences and click on the Input tab.

For specific information on how to adjust your settings, check out the detailed Input Preferences Documentation.  Since I’m sticking with the Blender Defaults and using a 3-Button Mouse, I will be leaving all these settings as they are. If you’re using a 2 button mouse, or a trackpad.. you may want to enable Emulate 3 Button Mouse Mode. This simply means that instead of using the Middle Mouse Button to do most of you’re manipulation.. you’ll use ALT+LMB. But if you’ve got a 3 button mouse, leave that baby turned off.

One important note which we will be getting to later is the Emulate Numpad option.  There are a few shortcuts and hotkeys which use the numpad on an extended keyboard.  As you can imagine, if you’re using a laptop you may not have easy access to a number pad.  We will talk about this later.. for now, leave it as it is.

There are also other settings that we’ll be talking about later as well.. just stay tuned!

Basic Navigation

There are three types of main interactions that you’re going to use to do most basic navigation in your scene: Pan, Orbit, and Zoom.

Pan the view left/right and up/down.

Pan the view left/right and up/down.

Orbit the view around a point in space.

Orbit the view around a point in space.

Zoom in and out of the view.

Zoom in and out of the view.

Depending on the type of input device you have available to you, you’ll have different hotkeys you can use to get into these modes. Since I’m using my trusty ol’ 3 Button Mouse (with a scroll wheel for that middle button), here are the commands I use.

3 Button Mouse

Mode Hotkey + Mouse
Orbit MMB
Zoom CTRL MMB or MM Scroll Wheel

To be clear, there are other ways you can zoom in and out and rotate around using hotkeys as well.. for example you can zoom in and out using CTRL + to zoom in.. or CTRL - to zoom out.. but I hardly use these types of interactions, so I won’t go into big detail here on them, as you can find all the info you want in the Blender documentation.

Practice Panning, Orbiting and Zooming

Now that you know your hotkeys, go ahead and practice! This is key.. practice going left. Practice going right. Practice zooming in. Practice zooming out. Orbit left, orbit right. Orbit then pan. Pan then zoom. Zoom then orbit then pan than zoom out then zoom in, then orbit, then zoom out. Understand what you’re looking at and why you’re looking at it. Do this over and over until you can zoom when you mean to, pan when you mean to, and orbit when you mean to.

I know this sounds silly, but it’s the most basic part of interacting with your scene.. and unless you master it, you’ll sometimes accidentally zoom when you mean to pan and you’ll end up throwing your computer off your desk. We don’t want that!

Ack! What am I looking at?!??!?!

Frequently you’ll find that you are stuck in a particular view, or zoomed into a certain area and you want to just pull out and see your whole scene. Don’t worry, it’s relatively easy to pull back and reset your view!

Actually, there are a few different ways to do this.. each of them can be useful in their own right, depending on what you’re doing.

Mode Hotkey What it does
View All HOME This just zooms out to see everything. Great if you want to see your entire scene quickly. Great when modeling! A little less useful if you have a massive scene and you just want to zoom out a little bit.. you could pull back so far you almost loose what you were just looking at!
Center Cursor and View All Shift C This will center your cursor (that weird little target looking thing) at the origin and zoom out to show everything in your view. It’s like a total reset.

I Want To Focus on THAT!

Another thing you’ll want to do all the time is focus your view on one particular object you’ve got selected. Again, there are lots of ways to do this, and depending on whether or not you’ve got a numberpad on your keyboard, you may need to adjust some settings.

In addition to this, sometimes you want to zoom-in when you focus on an object, and other times you want to just slide the view over to center the view on the object. These can be very different things! If you are working on many objects that are about the same size.. just centering your view may be just fine. However, if you constantly are working on something big (like a house), and then want to zoom into something small (like a door knob), you’ll want to zoom in.

Command Hotkey What it does
Box Zoom In SHIFT B + LMB This lets you create a box around the area you want to focus in on and zooms you to that area. Very fast and very handy. I love this technique.. although between the two of us I often forget about it.
View Selected Numpad . Zooms to the selected object. This is probably the technique I use the most since I’m used to it from Maya. Unfortunately, I don’t often have a number-pad handy to use this technique! I will demonstrate a way to change this hotkey for those of you who don’t have a number-pad available.
Center View to Mouse ALT f Centers the 3d view over the mouse. This is pretty cool – just hover the mouse over the thing you want to look at and hit ALT f. Boom.
Box Zoom Out SHIFT B + MMB This is very similar to the box zoom in technique.. but it zooms you out instead of in. Also very handy, but a bit tougher to control.

I don’t have a number pad! Now before you start practicing these tools, I did want to make a quick hotkey modification suggestion. As mentioned above, Blender’s default hotkey for zooming to a selection is Numpad… I don’t often have a numpad with me, so I’m always looking for alternate ways to manage this. I received a great suggestion from rigging master Charles Wardlaw to use the ` hotkey for zooming selection (basically, the “tilde” or ~, but without hitting SHIFT). This is pretty sweet, because it’s easy to hit, and it’s on every keyboard!

So let’s set this up.

Setting up Zoom Hotkey

Go back to your Input Preferences (File->User Preferences->Input) and look at that center column of text. This is the area where you can set your hotkeys for various items in Blender. There are a lot of options here, but don’t get overwhelmed – we’re only changing a few things. That being said, if you want to throw your latest trance playlist from Spotify, grab a glass of red wine and spend then next few hours checking out all these settings – go for it! We’ll wait here for you to get back.

Blender Hotkey Preferences

Blender Hotkey Preferences

Search down that list for the 3D View section.  This is where we will find all the hotkey settings we’re looking for in relation to navigating the view.  Open up that area and look for 3D View (Global).  Then find the area for the view selected hotkey.


View Selected hotkey settings. Notice how it has numpad . as the hotkey. This is what we’re going to change.

Click on the text that says Numpad .  Once you do that, you’ll be able to enter whatever hotkey you want!  It’s just that easy!  Once the field says Press A Key, simply hit the ` key on the keyboard (remember, it’s the ~, but without holding down SHIFT.

Save your preferences and then hop over to your 3D view. Select an object by using the Right Mouse Button and hit `. Voila! Your view zooms in! Magnificent!

Adding Double-Tap

One of my big pet peeves in any animation software is two hotkeys that are totally unrelated which do similar things. For example.. now that we have ` zooming in.. we have HOME or SHIFT C to zoom out. Those aren’t related to the ` at all! It makes things so much easier to remember when similar commands are placed in similar places. So I really enjoy using a double-tap idea for the ` to do a zoom out. Hit it once to zoom in.. once to zoom out. Love. It.

Go back to your preferences and scroll down your hotkey settings until you find View All. Open up the little arrow next to it to show all the options.

Change the press option to Double-Click.


Then switch the key to a ` just like you did before.


Now when you click and double-click, the view will zoom in and out! Sweet!

Rotate Around Selection

One other last little setting I use that helps me with my interaction is an option in the Interface tab of the preferences. It’s called Rotate Around Selection


Without this option selected, the orbit tool always will orbit around the center of frame, regardless of what you have selected. If you turn this on, you’ll orbit around the selected object. To me, it just feels better. Try it and see what you think!

And The Rest…

So those are the main settings I use for navigating the 3d Viewport. There are a number of other options available which you should try out, and choose what feels right to you. The big takeaway here is:

  • Pick a single tool for interacting with your scene and learn with that: Mouse, Wacom Tablet, etc.
  • Practice the simple things – pan, orbit, zoom.
  • Learn the hotkey for zoom in to selected, and zoom out to frame all.
  • Learn the hotkey for zoom in to selected, and zoom out to frame all.


Include some of your tips and tricks in the comments 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. Looch says:

    Hey man, to change that shortcut, thing i do when i work on my laptop aswel, is go on to your 3d view then the view menu> view selected rightclick it and “change shortcut” you can do with that with every tool!

  2. Guitarzan says:

    This software is so flexible!

    I agree that users should learn the Blender default workflow. Then, set it a pipeline and UI that meets your needs…with ease! (Great tip, Looch!)

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