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Erik Selin
Erik Selin

3D artist & all that other stuff

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10 New or hidden features in Blenders outliner

In Blender 2.81 the outliner had a face lift with a range of improvements so that we can work faster with it. We will go over some of these changes as well as some older features that you may not know about.
If you didn’t know, the outliner is the list of objects and everything that is inside the file you are working on. It is located in the top right corner by default. You can always bring the outliner up in place of any editor anywhere within the user interface. It works just like any editor within the user interface.

Let’s now jump into our 10 features. Actually there are a lot more, but I had to present them in some way, right? Let’s get into it!

1. Synced selections between outliner and 3D view

If you are new to Blender this is a confusing thing of the past. It used to be that in the outliner you could select something and that would be indicated with a blue background. But this selection was not synced to the 3D viewport. You had to click the actual text of the object to make it selected. Then the selection would make the text change color to a light or dark orange color. Dark for selected and light for selected and active. But the blue background never had a function.

Now though in 2.81 and onward, the blue background selection is synced to the orange text selection. This makes selection overall easier and more clear since you don’t have to click exactly on the text anymore.

If you don’t like this change for some reason, the old way of unsynced selections is still here. Just hit the filter icon and uncheck “sync selections”.

2. New hotkeys in the outliner

There are several new hotkeys added in the 2.81 release that was not there before. I will just list a few of them in a table here for you.
Keep in mind that your mouse needs to be hovering the outliner for these hotkeys to work.

  • Arrow keys Up/down: Navigate and change selection
  • Arrow keys left/right: Open to expand and close to collapse collections and objects to reveal their content for navigation. Hold shift to expand/collapse on all layers below
  • Mouse left click and drag: Box selection in the outliner
  • CTRL+Click: add to selection
  • Shift+Click: Select all objects from your currently selected up to the clicked object. In other words, select a range.

3. Filter what icons to view and what those icons do

We have a filter menu in the top right corner of the outliner. Next to the “add collection” button. In this menu we can choose what we want to be displayed as well as a handful of settings.

The first top row of this menu is the most important and this is where we will focus our attention. It dictates what icons are available for us in the outliner. By default, only the eye icon is visible. This toggles the viewport visibility of an object or collection.

The most important one to turn on is the camera icon. This makes us able to toggle visibility of an object or collection in rendered view. This is very useful when we have imported a collection of objects that we want to distribute around our scene. But want to keep the original mesh hidden from the final render.

Apart from that we have a few other features here that are for more advanced use.

  • Arrow icon: Lets us toggle selection of an object or collection on or off.
  • Monitor icon: Let us hide objects in instances of this collection. If you don’t know what a collection instance is, in the 3D viewport in the add menu, you can find collection instances. This will add a copy of the collection that you choose and this icon can toggle the visibility of objects in those instances.
  • Holdout & indirect only: As far as I can tell, these only work in cycles. The holdout will make the pixels that make up the object transparent instead. Leaving a hole for composition effects.
    Indirect only will not render this object. Instead, it will render the effects this object has on other objects in the form of reflections and indirect lighting.
  • Checkbox: The checkbox is added in form of the collection name instead of the row of icons. It enables you to toggle the collection as a member of this view layer or not.

4. Purge data from the blend file

Blender is famous for not allowing you to delete unused data that you accidentally added. That is not true. But the feature to delete unused data is hidden in the outliner.

In the display mode menu. Choose “orphan data”. This will display all the data in the current blend file that does not have a user. The data is well categorized depending on what type of data it is.
It can be brushes, materials, meshes etc.

When in “orphan data” display mode, you can hit the “purge” button to delete any data that does not have a user or is marked with the fake user flag.

Unless the fake user flag is set, in that case the data will still remain even after the file has been reloaded.

You can see all the data entries in the list that has an “F” on the right side. Blender will keep these data blocks around even if you purge. Click the “F” to toggle it on or off before purging.

Keep in mind that you can undo the purge action with “CTRL+Z” but once it is outside your history the data is gone.

There is also the atom bomb add-on that is free for Blender 2.8x.

5. Select by clicking on the icon row of an object

My best guess is that this feature is still a work in progress. It is a new feature in 2.81 that allows you to click on any icon in the outliner panel to select that object collection or mesh data.

What I mean by the icon row is the icon that are listed right after the name of an object or collection in the list.

If you click an object icon that object becomes selected. With the green mesh data icons this is taken a step further. Once you click a green mesh data block in the outliner you select the corresponding object but you also toggle into edit mode.

6. Eyedropper selection

In some places in the interface we have slots for adding objects. Some examples would be the Boolean modifier where we select an object to Boolean with. Another example is the depth of field settings for the camera where we can set an object as the focus point.

Wherever we find these object input slots there is an eye dropper icon that let us pick an object from the 3D viewport. This eyedropper now also works together with the outliner, and we can pick from there.

Not a huge change but a neat trick when an object is hard to see in a crowded scene.

7. F2 to rename and Ctrl+F2 to batch rename

Not directly related to the outliner, but still kind of. Starting with 2.81 there is now a new rename shortcut. Just press “F2” and type a new name for your selected object.

The more interesting addition is that you can use “CTRL+F2” to batch rename your whole selection. This does not just go for object names but it can be used for stuff like nodes, materials and sequence strips.
Start by selecting the type of data you want to change the names for and Blender will tell you how many things it found in that category to rename.
Then you can add multiple operations on top of each other that Blender will run through one by one for all names.

Operations available are things like Find/Replace and changing the entire name and or suffix and prefix.

We can also do operations like removing all spaces in a name or change the casing to lower upper or title casing to name a few useful ones.

8. Drag and drop to parent objects

When I started to learn Blender the way to parented objects was by using “Ctrl+P” in 3D viewport to parent your selection to the active object.
If you wanted to unparent, you had to select the objects to unparent and hit “Alt+P”.

Two shortcuts that I continue to forget even today many years later.
Now though, we can hold Shift while drag and dropping in the outliner to have our drag and drop affect parenting. This is a small but very welcome feature change.

9. The registry of a Blendfile

This is a big one, especially if you are doing any form of scripting in Blender. Once an object or some data has been added to Blender, be it a particle system, a brush or some mesh, you can now see every parameter in the outliner. You can also manipulate most of them from here.
In the display mode go to “Data API”. In this view you can drill down to any data in the entire blend file. If you are new to add-on development this is a goldmine to access data.

You can also find the path in the API to each of the parameters by going to Edit->Preferences and in the “Interface” section then tick “Python tooltips”.
Now you can just hover any parameter in the outliner or anywhere in the interface for that matter and see the python access point for that data.

10. Search for anything

We have finally arrived at the last feature on the list. Here I want to send you a reminder that the search functionality in Blender is awesome. We have the F3 search or Space if you have that setup.

But apart from that we have searches all over Blender for finding different data and it is fast to filter the results for us.

Same is true for the outliner. In any display view in the outliner we can type in the search field to start to filter the list. This is a very powerful feature that should not be underestimated. Use it whenever you need to find some specific data. Be it for deletion by purging data or finding your lost cube.

Final thoughts

With this list of features I hope that you found something that is useful for you. I would like to encourage you to check out the resource section that has recently been updated. Also, if you are interested, check out our newsletter, above in the header or just below the article.
Thanks for your time.

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