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Last update: August 24, 2021

Blender, saving and recovering: Don't lose your work ever again

Saving files isn’t particularly hard. But sometimes knowing what you save can be a hassle. What is the difference between saving and exporting? Is that render really saved? How about that video I just rendered, where did it go?

How to save in Blender? We save through the file menu or by using “Ctrl+S”. This will save your actual blend file or project file. If you want to save an image you just rendered, you press “Alt+s” in the image editor or go to the image menu and choose save. Careful here since “Alt+S” has other uses in other editors.

So that is the basics. But what about animations, where do they go? How do I save them? And what are those blend1 and blend2 files that we keep seeing? Those are just some questions we will continue to explore. We will also look at restoring lost work.

Saving for recovery in Blender

Before we dive too deep into saving, I just want to address some basics. What happens when we save?

When we hit save from the file menu, we will be prompted to store our files somewhere on disk. The keyword here is disk. Before we save, the project will be stored in RAM. The RAM is flushed every time we turn off our computer and if we did not save our work in time; there is a big chance that we lose our work in case of system failure, forcing a restart.

Save a blend file by hitting “Ctrl+S” or go to “File->Save” or “File->Save As…” if you want to save a new file with a new name.

That is the basics. That is true for almost any software. But a lot of modern programs have fail-safe mechanisms in place to prevent this kind of data loss.

Blender is no exception. But for Blenders fail-safe system to work it is best to save your work once before you start working. This way Blenders default settings will use the location where you store the file as the fail-safe folder.

If you have seen those files called .blend1 or .blend2, you have come in contact with Blenders backup feature. Blender will save a backup file in the same directory as your primary blend file. When you save again, the old save is not overwritten, it is just pushed to a blend1 file, and your new save is saved to the .blend file.

Blender save settings

Let’s look at the save options that we have and what we might want to change. The default settings are good for most users, but we will go through them so you know what options we have.

Go to Edit->Preferences and find the “Save & Load” section. Here we will look at the “Blend Files” section.

We have a handful of check boxes and numerical settings. Let’s go through them. Some of these might seem overly technical, but I will do my best to explain them.

Relative paths: This is a more advanced setting not directly related to saving and loading, but what it does is that it decides if external data should be loaded in using a relative or absolute file path. A relative path might look like this:


While an absolute path looks like this


If you move your blend files around you want to have absolute paths, if you keep them in their folder, relative paths will do. This can turn into an important factor if you are working with a team, but for solo work, you are probably fine with the defaults.

Related article: Pink textures in Blender and how to avoid them

Compress file: This setting will compress the blend files when we save them saving us some disk space, however the process of saving and opening these files will take longer. If we can spare the extra disk space, we should keep this off. However, if we are low on disk space, this can help us get that little extra space.

Load UI: This setting decides off we load the default user interface layout when we open saved blend files or if we open the most recent UI layout from the when the blend file was last closed.

Save preview images: When this is turned on a preview or thumbnail image will be saved with the blend file that we can then view when we are browsing for .blend files in Blenders own file browser.

Tabs as Spaces: This setting is relevant for those that make scripts and program with Blender. When a text file is saved in Blender tabs will be converted to spaces instead. This is convenient because python, the programming language used to script in Blender uses four spaces as tabs to be compliant with code standards.

Save prompts: With this enabled we will get a warning if we have not saved the .blendfile before closing Blender.

Save versions: This has to do with Blenders backup save feature. This determines how many copies Blender will keep of previous saves. By default this is 1 meaning that we will only have a .blend1 saved and no .blend2 or any higher numbers. Normally this is enough but if you want, you can bump this up to 2 or 3 if you can spare the disk space.

Keep in mind that for every extra save, you will add a full blend file to disk. If you were to combine this with the setting “automatically pack into .blend” from File->External data your blend files will soon take up a lot of disk space. The “automatically pack into .blend” setting will save all external data used by the blend file in the blend file. Every texture, image or other external files will be copied inside the blend file. This is convenient if you need to share the file to someone else but when saving and auto-saving this can grow into gigabytes per file.

Recent files: This slider will decide how many recent file entries will go into the recent files menu found in the File->Open Recent menu. You can also access this menu with “Shift+Ctrl+O”.

Auto save settings: For last, apart from how many files we auto save there are two more settings concerning auto save.

“Auto Save Temporary Files” will toggle autosave on or off. The timer will determine how long Blender will wait between each save. A 2-minute timer is a good number I found, but if your computer don’t have an SSD disk, you may want to increase this number to prevent too much disk activity while you work. Think of this timer as the acceptable amount of work to be lost in case of a crash. It doesn’t have to be your computer crashing; it can just be Blender crashing.

Recovering work

Now that we know about some settings concerning blend files. How do we recover potentially lost data?

Go to “File->Recover” here you will find two entries. “Last session” and “Auto save…” Generally we want the “Auto save…” This will pop-up the file browser for us. Browse for the folder where you saved your file at least once. Select the .blend file and Blender will load the most recent auto save.

If you didn’t save your file at any point, you might still get lucky. Some actions in Blender require you to save your Blend file and some of these auto-save the blend file in Blenders temporary folder. On windows this is the default path.


You can change this directory if you go to “Edit->preferences”, find the “File Paths” section and change the “Temporary Files” path.

Note that this path differs from the “Render output” path.

If you quit Blender yourself and then realized that you didn’t save your progress, Blender saves the file before exiting in the directory above.

In such a case, you can use the “Last session” option instead of “Auto save…”. Blender will then recover the “quit.blend” file from the path above that was saved on the last graceful exit of the application.

Saving vs exporting

We have now learned about settings, saving and recovering data. So what is the difference between exporting and saving them? Let’s explore that now.

When we save in what we generally refer to as a “native format” This refers to the file format and in Blenders case, the .blend file is the native format. Blender can read and write all data in this file and present it in a meaningful way. It is the database of the software if you will.

Many software packages has its own native format. Maya has its format, an unreal engine project has certain files associated with it. So does Microsoft Word or Photoshop.

The file format structures data in a way that makes sense for its application to read and write it. Obviously a Word file contains different data than a blend file, so their file formats are different.

Apart from “native file formats” there are file formats that are more general and can be used by multiple applications. These file formats may not be able to contain all the data that a blend file can hold, but another application can read and understand them.

This is the trade off when exporting. We don’t get all the available data saved to disk, but the file in question can be understood by some other application.

This enables us to export blend files to Unreal engine or image files manipulated in Affinity photo to be used as textures in Blender.

There are a few different file formats that we may export to or from Blender. Here are a few common ones.

.fbx A standard owned by Autodesk. This is probably the most widespread format used for exporting data between applications. It can hold a large range of data, from geometry data to animations, rigs and shape keys to name a few.

.obj a simpler format that holds geometry data and simpler material information. When more advanced formats like .fbx isn’t supported, .obj is often supported in many applications.

.gltf A newer format that has the goal to become a new standard for transferring data between applications. The benefit is that this is an open standard.

That is just a handful, there are many more export formats that Blender supports.

The takeaway here is that there are native formats such as .blend and there are formats supported by multiple applications that we used to transfer data between.

Render and image save

Let’s now leave the realm of saving and recovering blend files and move over to other kinds of data that we have in Blender.

We use images, cache data from simulations and output video files just to name a few. So how do we keep track of all these outputs?

Just as a heads-up, we won’t cover render settings here, just where those renders go once they are done.

Saving rendered still images and render slots

When we hit F12 or go to the Render menu and press “Render image” the render is on its way. What happens when that render is done? That is where we start.

The image editor pops up giving us a view of the render process.
Once it is done we can save it by going to “Image->Save”. The shortcuts are “alt+s” for save and “shift+s” for “save as…”.

Even if we save the file, blender won’t have access to the file. Instead blender has access to the copy of the file that is stored in RAM. In order for us to work on the actual image that we saved, we have to bring it back into Blender first.

We can drag and drop it into Blenders 3D viewport or a shader node editor for example. We can also go to “Image->Open” and browse from the image editor.

Until we have done so, we are operating on the render result. The render result is stored in RAM and is separate from the file on disk.

Note here: When you save an image, on the right side toolbar toggled with “N” there is a button labeled “Copy”. You can uncheck this to have the render result synced to the file you save. This allows you to continue working on the file instead of the render result. However, as of 2.81 there is a bug here. If you render again. The render result slot will be filled with an image file as opposed to a place in RAM, and this makes Blender freeze and hang infinitely. In other words, the “copy” checkbox is currently a trap.

Let’s move on. Sometimes we want to render multiple versions of our scene to compare them or composite without having to save each file in between. To render multiple previews without having to save them on disk, we can use the image slots.

The image slots are placeholders that holds a render in memory. We can change the slot we want to save to in the upper right corner of the image editor.

If we have an image selected in the image editor, we can toggle the properties panel with “N” and find the image tab.

Here we can also manage our slots. We can rename them, add and remove. We can also decide what pass we want visible for our render if we want to examine specific passes.

Since Blender 2.81 we have the feature to view individual passes directly in the 3D viewport with Cycles. In the top right corner of the 3D viewport select “render” shading mode and press the dropdown menu for viewport shading. There you will find a “render pass” dropdown menu.

Saving animations

What about animations, where do they go? Animations are rendered by hitting “Ctrl+F12” or by going to the Render menu and hit “Render animation”.

However they are not directly accessed through the image editor. Instead they are always directly saved to disk. On windows, the default path is “C:\tmp”. Here the animation is stored as a sequence of png files named after the framenumbers they each contain.

We can save the animation directly to a video file, but if a frame becomes corrupt or something happens during rendering that crashes Blender the entire sequence will be lost. Therefore it is better to save the animation as a seequence of images and later bring them into a video editor or back into Blender for editing in the VSE.

The settings for animation output is located in the output tab in the properties panel. Just below the render tab. Here we can find the “Output” section.

We can change the destination folder, output formats and other parameters.

Written by: Erik Selin

Editor & Publisher

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

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