How To Navigate 3D Space In Blender?

It is one of the first challenges that you will face when learning how to use a 3D application for the first time. How do you navigate 3D space using a mouse on a 2D screen? It’s not as difficult as it sounds but is certainly more complex than just hovering your mouse over a 2D interface and clicking on a random button.

There are three main methods of navigation in the 3D viewport using Blender. The first method is orbiting, where the user rotates the view around a point of reference (orbiting) using the mouse and the middle mouse button. Zooming is where you move the view closer to and further from the point of reference using the scroll wheel. Panning moves the view camera on a 2D plane using the shift and middle mouse buttons.

There are other means of navigating around the 3D viewport but these are the three that you will need to learn right off the bat. As with many other tools in Blender, there are multiple ways to perform each of these functions making it surprisingly easy to navigate 3D space.

Why Is Navigating 3D Space Different To A 2D Interface?

That extra dimension makes a big difference to the interactivity of the application. Around 99% of all applications that you will come across only use a 2D interface, and so all you need to do is hover your mouse over to a button or toolset and click to begin using.

This is actually true for most of what you can do in Blender as well, but the 3D viewport is the one area where you will also need to navigate using other buttons. For 2D, we are talking about height and width, but for 3D we are looking at height, width, and depth. This means just moving the mouse is not going to work.

The method for navigation needs to be different because the Blender interface itself is still 2D, and so additional buttons are used whenever we want to either orbit, pan, or zoom in the viewport.

How To Orbit In The 3D Viewport

Orbiting involves navigating your camera’s view around a point of reference, much like the moon orbits around the earth. You can move your view camera around your scene by orbiting and always facing the same point or object.

That point of reference can be anywhere in the viewport, it can also be a specific object or a selection of objects. To orbit around your viewport, hold down the middle mouse button and then move your mouse to begin orbiting your view.

Don’t have a mouse to use? Learning Blender on a laptop? There is another way to orbit your viewport. You will find in the top corner an interactive axis that you can use for navigation. Just hover your cursor over the axis and you will see the axis highlighted inside a circle. Left-click and drag to begin navigating around the point of reference.

The Interactive Axis

Changing Your Point Of Reference?

There are three ways to define your point of reference. The 1st is to pan your view which changes the point of reference as you are moving your entire view. The second is to focus your view on a specific object in your scene.

To do this, go to View > Frame Selected in the 3D viewport. This will snap your view to the selected object, and also zooms into that object as well.

Frame Selected

In addition, you can use the period key on your keyboard or on your number pad as a quick means of framing your selection.

The third is to frame your entire scene, which will move the POR (Point Of Reference) to the center point of your scene, which is dependent on the positioning of your objects. To frame all go to View > Frame All to center the view on your scene.

Frame All

Alternatively, you can also use the Home key on your keyboard to frame your scene.

How To Zoom In And Out Of Your Scene?

Much like the orbiting function, zooming will require a point of reference, which always exists in your viewport. By default, this is set to the coordinates of 0,0,0 at the center of the scene, and only changes when you use one of the methods listed above.

There are three methods that you can use to zoom in and out of your objects. The 1st method is to use the scroll wheel on your three-button mouse. Scroll forward to zoom in towards the POR and scroll back to zoom out.

Alternatively, you can also perform a dolly zoom, which is a more seamless way of zooming. Hold down the Control key (Windows) or Command Key (Mac) and then you use the middle mouse button to begin zooming as you move the mouse up and down.

The third method also involves using the dolly zoom but there is a button that you will find in the viewport that will perform the same functionality.

The Dolly Zoom Button

Below the interactive axis you will find a row of buttons, the 1st of which has a camera icon that represents the zoom tool. Left-click and drag on this button to use the zoom function but be warned that this can be quite sensitive.

How To Pan Your View Around Your Scene?

Panning is the 2D method of navigating the viewport, as it does not change the angle from which you are viewing the scene, nor does it move in or out of the scene as zooming does.

What it does do is change the point of reference, and has a direct impact on the other two main methods of navigation.

If you were to pan your view to another area of the scene, and then use the zoom tool, you would no longer zoom towards the coordinates of 0,0,0. The same applies to orbiting, as you would now orbit your view around the new POR created by the pan.

Normally, when we want to change our POR we want to focus on an object that is not at the center of the scene. So we will often use the frame selected tool instead of panning. But it is a good tool if you want to view larger scenes.

To pan the view, you can hold down the Shift key on your keyboard and then use the middle mouse button to begin panning your view.

The Move/Pan Button

Alternatively, you can locate the pan button in the 3D viewport just below the zoom button. It appears with a hand icon and is used the same way, just click and drag to begin panning.

Getting Back To The Center Of The Viewport

Of the three main methods of navigation, panning can cause the most problems for beginners. Once you leave the center of the scene through panning it becomes difficult to get back there. But you do have a couple of options to do so.

One option is to select an object at the center of the viewport and then frame the selected object. The focus is still on that object but if the object is at the center it should work just fine.

Another option is to use the 3D cursor, which has a variety of purposes including acting as the location for newly added objects. If you do not have the cursor at the center of the scene, you can press N in the viewport to open up the side panel. You will see a row of tabs at the side, then go to View (Tab) > 3D Cursor and switch the three location values back to 0,0,0.

Resetting The 3D Cursor

Then you can go View (Menu) > Align View > Center View To Cursor and this will reset your POR to the center of the scene itself.

Center View To Cursor

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