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Blender beginner 3D modeling tools and shortcuts tutorial

Blender can seem like an intimidatingly complicated program to start learning with its vast user interface. The simplest of tasks can be accomplished in numerous different ways, with varying tools, in order to work in the most efficient and organized manner possible.

One of the first steps for creating in Blender is modeling, and Blender’s modeling features are incredibly versatile tools that can be used in combination to create some of the most intricate or detailed meshes. So let’s take a look at these modeling tools, what they can do, and how to use them.

  • Transformation Tools
    • Move
    • Rotate
    • Scale
    • Transform
  • Annotation
  • Measure
  • Add Cube
  • Mode Switching
  • Vertex, Edge, and Face Select
  • Modeling Tools in Edit Mode
    • Inset
    • Extrude
    • Bevel
    • Loopcut
    • Knife

Let's get started!

Transformation Tools, move, rotate and scale

The most basic of tools in Blender’s 3D viewport is the transformation tools, usable in both Object Mode and Edit Mode to move, rotate, and scale entire meshes or even specifically selected edges, faces, or vertices.

Move (Shortcut: G)

This tool, selectable in the toolbar visible on the left-hand side of the 3D viewport, allows the movement of the selected object(s) along the X, Y, or Z axes. Upon selecting the tool, arrows can be seen at the center of the object(s), and these are selected and dragged to move the objects in the same direction.

Alternatively, the G shortcut can also be used to move selected objects freely, with no regard to one particular axis.

Pressing the X, Y, or Z keys immediately after pressing G allows restricting movement to that particular axes. For example, hitting G and then Y afterward allows the selected objects to move only across the Y axis.

Alternatively, hitting G and then following up with Shift+Y allows the object to move on any axis other than Y, and hence only on the X and Z axes.

In edit mode, pressing the G shortcut twice allows Edge Sliding or Vertex Sliding, depending on the selection mode. This allows selected edges or vertices to move only along the surface they are currently on.

Rotate (Shortcut: R)

Similar to the move tool, the rotate tool can be accessed in the toolbar on the left-hand side of the 3D viewport. This displays a sphere with 4 different rotating options. The first three, colored red, green, and blue, allow for rotation pivoting around the X, Y, and Z axes respectively.

The fourth option, shown as the white circle, allows rotating from the user’s current perspective. Holding and dragging each of these circles allows the user to rotate the selected objects.

The R shortcut can also be used to rotate the cube freely, and hitting the shortcut for any of the axes immediately afterward restricts rotating to that particular axis. Following the R shortcut with Shift+X, Shift+Y, or Shift+Z allows the rotating of objects, edges, vertices, or faces on any axis other than the selected letter.

Scale (Shortcut: S)

Once more, the scale shortcut can also be found in the toolbar to the left-hand side of the 3D viewport, with its functionality being quite similar to that of the move tool. Selecting and dragging any of the colored arrows visible at the center of the objects allows scaling on that particular axis. Selecting the white circle allows for even scaling on each axis.

Using the S shortcut, the objects are scaled evenly in all directions from the origin of the objects.

The origin of each mesh is shown as a small orange dot and can be reset towards the geometric center by right-clicking on the object and selecting Set Origin > Geometry to origin.

Once more, scaling can be restricted to any of the axes by following the S shortcut with X, Y, Z, or Shift+(axis letter).

Transform Tool (Shortcut: Shift+Spacebar, T)

This tool allows for the use of the move, rotate, and scale tools all at once for a quicker workflow, and is also accessible in the toolbar. Enabling this option can be done by hitting Shift+Spacebar followed by T.

Annotation Tool (Shortcut: Shift+Spacebar, 5)

Annotating your work for future reference or even feedback can be quite useful, and this can be done easily with the annotate tool available in the toolbar. The tool comes with a series of options, including stabilizing the stroke with a radius and factor to adjust the extent to which it is stabilized, as well as the placement. 

There are three placement options:

  • 3D Cursor: Place the annotations in a fixed location in the 3D space
  • View: Place annotations relative to the current view, and moves with the view as the user changes perspective
  • Surface: Write or draw on surfaces (faces) of any mesh.

The color of annotations can also be changed, but only after a stroke has been drawn.

Holding on the annotate tool in the toolbox also shows further annotation options, such as drawing straight lines, and polygons, or accessing an eraser to delete certain annotations.

Related content: Annotations in Blender (Create, delete, shortcuts, settings)

Measure Tool (Shortcut: Shift+Spacebar, M)

This tool allows the user to click and drag across a certain object to measure a particular length. At times when detailed accuracy becomes an important factor, this tool becomes helpful in determining exact measurements and sizes with high levels of precision.

Pressing Ctrl while measuring allows snapping the measurement to certain vertices. Alternatively, holding Shift while measuring shows the total thickness of a surface. To delete a measurement/ruler, simply select it by clicking on one of the handles and press X.

Related content: How to accurately measure in Blender

Add cube Tool (Shortcut: Shift+Spacebar, 9)

The add cube feature allows the creation of cubes by clicking and dragging to draw the flat base of the cube and then adding the third dimension either vertically or horizontally. This tool is helpful in adding objects of certain dimensions without having to scale them on each individual axis.

Once more, pressing the left Ctrl allows you to snap the corners of the new cube to previously placed vertices, whereas holding left Alt allows the flat base of the cube to be extended with the cursor as the center of the base, rather than one of the corners.

Holding Shift while creating the base allows for it to have a constant aspect ratio, meaning it will be a square base rather than rectangular.

Holding on the Add Cube tool shows more options for available meshes, including cylinders, UV spheres, icospheres, and even cones.

Mode Switching (Shortcut: Tab)

A lot more modeling tools become available in Edit Mode, which can be accessed by selecting the object and hitting Tab or selecting it from the Modes menu in the top left corner of the 3D viewport.

Vertex, Edge, and Face Select Modes (Shortcut: 1, 2, 3)

In edit mode, it is possible to switch between selecting one or more vertices (shortcut: 1), edges (shortcut: 2), or faces (shortcut: 3) by pressing the respective shortcut or selecting it from the Select Mode list at the top-left corner of the 3D viewport.

In case you’d like to select entire faces in edge or vertex select mode, simply select all the edges or vertices of that face.

An alternative method is to hit 3 to switch to face select mode, select the face, and then hit 1 or 2 to go back to vertex or edge select mode, and the required vertices/edges will already be selected.

This image shows the object interaction mode dropdown set to edit mode, and the select mode set to vertex select.

Similar to meshes in Object Mode, selected faces, vertices, or edges in Edit Mode can be transformed using the transformation tools.

Modeling Tools in Edit Mode

Within edit mode, a lot more modeling tools can be used to extrude, bevel, or cut meshes to create the desired shapes.

Inset Tool (Shortcut: I)

This tool can be used in face select mode to create a smaller face on the surface of an already selected face. After the inset is complete, further amendments can be made using the menu pop-up in the bottom left corner.

It should be noted that this menu closes after any additional clicks are made, and can’t be brought back unless the last action is undone with Ctrl+Z.

This image shows a face, outlined in red, insetted using the I shortcut. The operation panel menu in the bottom left allows further customization, such as thickness, which determines the size of the new insetted face.

Extrude Tool (Shortcut: E)

Blender’s extrude tool allows for the extrusion of one or more faces, vertices, or edges by pressing the E shortcut. This creates duplicates of the chosen vertices, which can immediately be moved across an axis normal to the selected face, or you can press X, Y, or Z to move it along a specific axis.

It is also possible to use any of the transform tools to now further manipulate the extruded meshes.

Once more, numerous options become available in the Adjust Last Operation panel in the bottom left corner of the viewport.

Related content: Extrude in Blender: Basics, along curve, circles, manifold and more

Bevel Tool (Shortcut: Ctrl+B)

Quite often, objects require smoother edges in order to seem more natural or aesthetically pleasing, and such rounded edges can be accomplished using Blender’s bevel tool.

After selecting the edges to be beveled, pressing Ctrl+B and sliding the cursor creates a bevel with 1 segment. Scrolling the center mouse wheel up or down will increase or decrease the number of segments in the bevel, hence making it smoother. 

Once you click to confirm the bevel, the same properties panel in the bottom-left corner gives further customization options.

The width of the bevel can be adjusted again here, as well as the shape. A shape value above 0.5 will direct or point the bevel more outwards, whereas a shape value below 0.5 will direct it inwards.

In case a beveled edge seems to look incorrect, stretched, or generally out of scale, ensure the object's scale is applied by going to Object Mode > Ctrl+A > Scale, and try the bevel again.

Related content: How to bevel in Blender using the tool and modifier

Loop Cut Tool (Shortcut: Ctrl+R)

In order to add further geometry to a mesh, loop cuts can be added in the form of straight edges or rings wrapping around entire meshes. To add these, simply use the Ctrl+R shortcut and hover over an existing edge to view a yellow line - this shows where your loop cut will appear. 

Scrolling the middle mouse wheel up or down increases/decreases the number of loop cuts. After clicking to confirm the number of cuts, it is possible to slide the location of the cuts across the surface of the mesh. 

In case you’d like to keep the cut on the center of the face, right-click to cancel this sliding movement. If you change your mind, you can always select all the edges of the loop cut and hit the G key twice to allow movement confined to the surface of the mesh.

Related content: How the loop cut tool works in Blender

Knife Tool (Shortcut: K)

Although loop cuts are customizable in their own way, it often becomes necessary to add vertices or cut certain edges or faces in a more flexible manner. This can be done using the knife tool by hitting K, which allows the drawing of any shape onto a surface by clicking where you would like to add a new vertex. 

Clicking to place multiple vertices creates new edges between them, and closing off vertices in any shape creates a new face.

In order to create straight lines using the knife tool, it is often helpful to use the gizmos in the top right corner of the screen to align your view to the surfaces and use the A shortcut to create straight lines.

To make a cut from a knife pass through the entire mesh and show up on an opposite end of the mesh as well, press C before you start drawing the vertices.

Related content: Blender knife tool tutorial

Final Thoughts

Blender 3D has a wide range of flexible and highly customizable modeling tools, and each of these can be used in combination to model anything you could possibly think of.

There are still many different tools available for more complex use, and further info on those can be found on the official Blender manual here.

Thanks for reading and start modeling!

Written by: Nabihah Zaheer

Editor & Publisher

Erik Selin
3D artist, writer, and owner of artisticrender.com

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