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Chapter 14: Preferences and Options: Customizing Blender

By Roland Hess

In Chapter 2: The Blender Interface, you learned how to configure screens, windows and panels to suit your
workflow, and how to save that configuration as your default (Ctrl-U). Blender offers even more
customization than that, in a "hidden" preferences screen.
Open Blender and take a look at the header at the very top of the screen.

The main header.

This header is just like any other in Blender, and if you carefully examine the screen layout, you will realize
that the 3D Window below it already has a header. So, which view is this one the header for? Place the
mouse over the line between this top header and the top of the 3D view. The cursor changes to the double-
headed arrow symbol, indicating that you can LMB drag to change view sizes. LMB on the line and drag
downward. You've just expanded and shown the User Preferences window.
The "super-secret" user preferences panel, exposed.

Let's go through the different sections of the User Preferences, highlighting some of the more useful options.
Feel free to experiment with the options that aren't covered here — the tooltips you see when hovering the
mouse over a control can give you some more information about available settings —and don't worry about
messing things up. As long as you don't use Ctrl-U, the changes you make will not be saved as your
default.

View & Controls

If you really cannot stand the way that Blender uses the RMB for selection, you can change it here. The
"Select With" option allows you to swap the left and right mouse button functionality. Just remember that if
you set Select to use the LMB, all tutorials and instructions will be backwards from now. If you think that
getting used to new selection methods is tough, try doing a tutorial with inverted instructions!
The “Select With” preference for switching the left and right mouse buttons.

The "View rotation" control can be useful when you will be focusing your work on a single object for a while.
Setting this to use "Turntable" and "Around Active" will cause MMB view rotation to keep the Active Object
as the center of view rotation, allowing you to easily change the viewing angle of the object in question
without having to worry about losing it in the 3D View.
"Around Active" is great when working for long periods on a single object.

Other helpful options are:

The “View Name” button in the Display controls on the far left. View Name displays the name of the current
view (Front, Top, Camera, Side, etc.) in the upper left corner of all 3D windows, helping you to maintain your
orientation at a glance.

“Emulate 3 Button Mouse.” If you are working with a mouse that has no middle button, or on a laptop with a
touchpad or ministick, enabling this option will allow you to simulate a MMB click by holding down the Alt key
while use the LMB. So, the Shift-MMB combination that pans the view would be accessible by using Alt-
Shift-LMB instead. Zooming is Ctrl-Alt-LMB. View rotation becomes Alt-LMB.

Edit Methods

The "Auto keyframe" controls are a handy tool for animators. You will recall from the animation chapters that
keyframes are set by using the I-key, followed by a LMB click on the appropriate key types. Turning on the
"Action and Object" button in this control set will cause Blender to automatically insert keys at the current
frame whenever an object or bone is transformed.

The "Available" button will modify this behavior slightly, only setting keys for Ipo channels that have already
been keyed. This means that if you have manually set keyframes for an object's location, then both move
and rotate it, only keys for the translation will be automatically set, while the rotation will not receive a key.
Auto keyframe controls can speed up your animation workflow.

Undo

If you are dealing with enormous scenes that contain large amounts of high-polygon meshes or animation
data, Blender's Undo system might cause your computer to drastically slow down due to memory
requirements. If you find this happening on a particular scene, you can alleviate the problem by reducing the
Undo “Steps” that Blender keeps around, or take the even more drastic measure of turning off “Global Undo”
altogether. Of course, this means you're working without the safety net of Undo. Just remember to save
backup copies of your previous work!

Language & Font


Blender can change its display to anti-aliased fonts.

By default, only a single un-activated button appears in this section of the preferences. Turning on
"International Fonts" will cause an immediate change to the whole Blender interface. The font changes and
becomes nicely anti-aliased. This alternate method of viewing the interface can slow Blender down a bit, but
if you like the look, it may be worth it for you. Once International Fonts have been enabled, you can change
the main font and font size for the interface and even select from (at this point) eighteen different
translations. Please note that not all translations are complete.

Themes

Themes affect the way that Blender draws the interface elements themselves. The simplest way to see this
is to change from "Default" to "Rounded" in the dropdown menu.
The “Rounded” theme.

After you change from the Default theme, all of the theme configuration tools are exposed. If you want to
spend the time, you can use these controls to customize the drawing of every widget in the interface. You
can even save a Theme you've created through the File menu. Choose “Export” near the bottom of the File
menu and select “Save current theme..." to bring up a window that will save your current theme into your
Scripts directory. The created .py file can be shared with other Blender users so that they too can
experience the genius of your theming skills.
“Save current theme…” in the File->Export menu.

Of course, you can also obtain themes from other users as well (do a web search on "Blender Themes"). To
activate a theme that you've downloaded, place it in your scripts folder, then run Blender. Change one of
your windows into a Scripts window (the one with the snake icon), then find the Themes entry within the
Scripts menu on the header.
Selecting a created Theme from the Scripts menu.

Selecting a named theme here will add it to the selectable themes menu in the User Preferences window.
Once you click the Theme's script, it is added to the Themes selector in the preferences window.

If you like the theme, remember to use Ctrl-U to save it into your default configuration. Otherwise, you will
have to re-import it every time you run Blender.

Auto Save

While you work, Blender saves temporary files for you behind the scenes. This can be great, especially if
your system (or Blender) crashes, leaving you with unsaved work. Go to this preferences screen and press
the "Open Recent" button, which will load the most recently saved temporary file, hopefully resurrecting at
least some of your work. If you are a paranoid person with an unstable system, you may want to set
"Minutes" as low as "1," so a backup file is saved once every minute.
Auto Save settings.

System & OpenGL

The three Solid OpenGL light controls affect the way that Blender draws the Solid style in the 3D Window. In
fact, these are the virtual "lights" that Blender uses to shade the Solid drawing style. The “Light” buttons
enable and disable the three lamps, while the color swatches set diffuse and specular colors by LMB clicking
on them. LMB dragging on the spheres moves the light source.
The Solid OpenGL lights controls.

The other useful control in this panel is "Emulate Numpad." When using Blender on a laptop or with any
keyboard that lacks a separate number pad, this button will cause the standard numeral keys that are
normally used for layer assignment to be used as their Numpad equivalents instead. For example, the 1-key
that would normally trigger Layer 1 would be used to set Front View, which is usually Numpad-1. Enabling
this option loses the layer hotkeys, but if you don't have access to the number pad for view switching, it's
definitely worth it.
File Paths

Unless you find that you are constantly browsing to a certain directory to find your renders and texture
images, this set of controls won't be of much use to you at first. They mainly set the default locations where
Blender will either look for or place something. If you want to change the default Render or Texture paths to
a different folder, just click on the folder icon to the right of the control. This pops up a file browser from
which you can select your new default folder.

The one setting you should definitely take a look at in this section, though, is the “Temp” path. Many of
Blender's background functions like animation rendering, auto save, and crash recovery require that this
path be set to a real, existing folder on your hard drive. Some systems already have the default directory
(“/tmp/”) in place, and some do not.

Perhaps the simplest way to test whether or not your system is configured correctly without doing anything
technical is to click the “Open Recent” button in the Auto Save set of preferences. If it gives an error stating
that the file was unable to be opened, then the Temp directory is not configured. In that case, you have two
options:

1. Go to your home directory (c:\ in Windows; ~/ on Linux and OS X) and create a new folder called “tmp.”

2. Click the folder button on the right of the Temp control and use the file browser that pops up to locate a
directory somewhere on your hard drive where Blender can store temporary files.
Files Path preferences.

Now that we've gone through the different sections of the preferences, you can hover the mouse back over
the dividing line between the preferences window and the 3D view. LMB click and drag it back up.

Lest you think that the Preferences view is some kind of "special" window, take a look at the Window type
menu:
The User Preferences window is a view type just like any other.

That's right. In addition to hanging out at the top of the Blender work space this entire time, the User
Preferences have been available from each and every window you've worked with so far. Any window in
Blender can be set to any window type, including the User Preferences.

Now that you know where they are, though, you are sworn to secrecy.