The primary function for the numpad in Blender is to navigate the 3D viewport. There are several other ways to navigate as well.
To emulate the numpad follow these steps:
You can now navigate with the number row.
Navigating in Blender using the gizmo.
In the top right corner of the 3D viewport, you will find the gizmo with a handful of buttons to pan, zoom, switch to camera view and go between orthographic and perspective view. Click on various parts of the gizmo to navigate to the given view or click and drag the gray zone to orbit.
Navigate using Alt and middle mouse button.
While holding down middle mouse button, or the mouse wheel, and dragging around in the viewport orbit the view around our point of focus, you can hold alt while doing so to snap the view to the right angles and putting the camera in orthographic view.
Navigate with pie menu.
Blender has a pie menu for navigation as well. We can bring it up with the backtick key on US keyboards or with Ö on German and Nordic keyboards. Then simply choose the view you want. The backtick key being the key above tab.
Setup custom shortcut keys for navigation and numpad features
Go to Edit > Preferences and find "keymap". Set the search feature to key-binding and type "numpad" in the search. This will filter all hotkeys with a key on the numpad. Click the small white arrow for details on a hotkey or click the button with the key bind to set a new hotkey.
Let's cover it all in more detail.
Emulating the numpad is the most common way to handle shortcut keys that rely on the numpad when you don't have one.
Start by going to edit > Preferences or press Ctrl + , to open it.
Next find the Input section and at the top you should have a checkbox named "Emulate numpad" check it and Blender will change so that your number row corresponds to the numpad key binds to navigate around the 3D viewport.
Related content: Blender viewport navigation shortcuts
While we are here, if we lack a proper mouse with two mouse buttons and a clickable scroll wheel you might want to also click the emulate 3 button mouse.
This will change Blender so that you can hold Alt and left click to emulate the scroll wheel click. Having access to clicking the scroll wheel or emulating it this way is essential for 3D viewport navigation.
When you turn on this feature, it basically lets you use the regular number keys at the top of your keyboard to do all the things that you'd normally need a numpad for.
So, if your keyboard doesn't have a numpad, or if you're working on a laptop that skips the numpad to save space, you won't miss out. The number keys (1, 2, 3, etc.) start acting like their numpad counterparts. This is super handy for quickly changing views, like front view, side view, and so on, which are essential for efficient 3D modelling and navigating around in Blender.
In short, 'Emulate Numpad' is a lifesaver for anyone without a numpad, making sure you can still zip around your Blender project with no hassle.
When you hear the word gizmo in Blender it is referring to graphical navigation tools in your 3D viewport. There are specific ones for each tool that you can select from the left-hand-side toolbar. But there is also the navigation gizmo in the top right corner, together with a handful of navigation buttons.
The three axis icon nicely colored in red green and blue is where you can snap to right angle views.
Simply hover the widget and click specifically on the circle representing the angle you want to snap your view to. The positive angles represented with the solid colored circles and the negative axis represented by the semi-transparent circles.
If you hover your mouse over the widget you will see a gray background appear, clicking and draging on the background will simply orbit your view.
Next we have the four buttons below the gizmo that allow us to zoom, pan, toggle the scene camera view and change between perspective view and orthographic view.
By far the biggest obstacle to using Blender without a numpad is the lack of navigational keys.
However, with no configuration, we can substitute most of our would-be numpad use by using the Alt key together middle mouse click and drag. This snaps the view to right angle positions and automatically jumping from perspective to orthographic view while doing so.
You need to try it to get a feel for it. The first time you try it you probably notice that going from camera view into a right angle view is quite unpredictable. But once you are in any of the side views, it is much easier to jump between views.
Hold Alt+middle mouse button and drag from left to right, right to left or top to bottom or bottom to top to orbit around snapping only to right angles.
In the top left corner you will see some text in the 3D viewport, like "Front orthographic" or "Bottom orthographic". This gives you a hint of the direction you are looking from. You can also use the gizmo on the right hand-side to orient yourself.
The axis you see in the middle of the gizmo is the axis you are looking from. So if you see -Z in the middle of the gizmo, you are looking up from the bottom.
Also, just holding alt and clicking somewhere in the viewport will center your view there.
Pie menu navigation is another alternative. Depending on your keyboard layout the key might be different. For US keyboards the backtick key, located above tab brings up the navigational pie menu. On my Swedish keyboard and similarly for all Nordic and German keyboards the corresponding Ö key brings up the navigational pie menu.
If you cannot find the shotcut key on your keyboard, copy this backtick symbol ` and paste it in your key-bind search. Here are the steps.
Go to edit > Preferences and find keymap. Click Key-binding and in the search paste this backtick ` symbol. You will see several keybinds using the backtick. The one you are looking for is the one called "view" in the "3D view" category.
Click the shortcut and set any other that you want to have for the view pie menu.
Now, when you got your shortcut, press backtick, Ö or whatever key you set to bring up the view pie menu.
You can hold your shortcut key, drag the mouse to the view you want and let go of the shortcut to snap to your view. You can also just click your shortcut and then mouse click or use the shortcut key indicated on each menu item to use it.
If all else fails and we are still not happy with our substitutes for numpad shortcuts we can set our own. Personally I try to set as few custom shortcut keys as possible because I create educational ocntent, but for anyone who is looking to be as efficient as possible this is a great route to explore, and not just for numpad shortcuts.
Related content: Blender shortcut keys: How to find, manage, change, and reset
To find the specific shortcuts that use the numpad, go to Edit > Preferences and Keybind. Click Key-Bind and serach for numpad. This will filter out all features that use any key on the numpad as part of the shortcut.
Not just navigational shortcuts, but all of them.
You can click the shortcut to change it or you can press the small arrow icon for any given keybind to expand the settings for it and use the more advanced controls.
A shortcut can also be removed by pressing the X icon next to the shortcut keybind.
This topic is also discussed elsewhere in the Blender community. In this Reddit thread, alternatives to using emulate numpad is discussed.
External content: Reddit discussion on numpad and alternatives
Here is a similar discussion on Blender StackExchange.
External content: StackExchange discussion on using Blender without numpad
On the Blenderartists forum, there is a discussion about growing and shrinking the selection in edit mode without a numpad that you can find here.
On YouTube you can find this video discussing multiple ways of using Blender without numpad. By Ryan king art.
There are several ways to use Blender without a numpad, but getting one is probably the easiest way if you intend to learn Blender and use it regularly. A numpad together with a mouse with two buttons and a clickable scroll wheel is probably the first investments to make into your 3D modeling and Animation career or Hobby. It makes things much easier and speeds up your workflow.
Thanks for your time.