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Erik Selin
Erik Selin

3D artist & all that other stuff

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How to use snapping tools in Blender

Snapping is really one of those tools that you can’t 3D model without. It is a good idea to get a solid understanding of what it is and how it works early on when you start modeling. Blender has several uses for snapping and different levels it can operate at.

How to use snapping? The simplest way to use snapping is to set the type of snapping you want in the middle of the header in the 3D viewport. You will see a magnet icon that you can toggle to turn snapping on or off. To the right of the magnet you have a dropdown menu with most settings related to snapping.

In the rest of this article we will take a closer look at each of the settings and discuss use cases where snapping is useful or even essential. We will also look at other snapping tools, like those available in the “Shift+s” snapping menu.

What is snapping and how do we use it?

Snapping is to put an element into an exact position in relation to some other entity. Wow, that is a mouthful. So let me explain. When we transform an object, that is, we move rotate or scale it. We may want to put whatever we are transforming into an exact position. This is where snapping comes in.

There are many things we can snap and in almost every editor in Blender there is snapping available.

The most common use of snapping is when we are modeling, and we want to snap one element to another. We accomplish this by using the snapping tool, also known as “Snap during transform”. We will look at this kind of snapping in detail first. Then we will cover the snapping menu that we access with “shift+S” or through the Mesh -> Snap menu in the 3D viewport. From there we will tie up some other loose ends before we wrap up.

The snapping tool can be accessed either by toggling the magnet icon in the header bar of the 3D viewport or by holding “CTRL”. If the magnet icon is turned on, holding “CTRL” will reverse the effect and temporarily turn off snapping.

It can be good to note that as we enable the snapping tool, it is globally enabled. This means that snapping will be turned on in the UV editor and the shader editor fore example if we enable it in the 3D viewport. However, some editors, like the VSE has different snapping tools and won’t be affected.

We can snap to several elements, and we find them in the snapping menu. In the 3D view we can snap to:

  • Increments
  • Faces
  • Edges
  • Vertices
  • Volumes

By holding shift while clicking on each one of these we can add or remove elements we want to snap to. Normally we only use one at a time, but the option is there.

Hint: Same is true for the selection modes in edit mode. We can shift click vertices, edges and faces to manipulate all different elements at once.

We can also choose what basic transformations snapping will be turned on for at the bottom of the menu. This is universal for all snapping methods. For instance, we can let snapping be on when we press “G” to grab and move something and have it turned off when performing rotations and scaling.

Incremental snapping

Let’s begin with increment snapping. There are two kinds. There is absolute and relative grid snap. The absolute grid snap will snap to the current grid. This is useful, for example, when placing modular assets such as creating a game map from pre-made assets that is designed to fit together in a modular fashion.

Note that when using incremental snapping, your zoom level will dictate how much you can fine tune the snapping. A smaller size grid becomes visible as you zoom in. When a new grid size becomes visible, we can start to snap to that smaller increment.

Incremental snapping is also tightly related to the units we use in our scene. We can adjust the size of the grid in the overlay menu and with the unit scale value that can be found in the scene tab under the “Units” section. You can read more about Blenders unit system in our article: How to accurately measure in Blender.

The relative grid snap(meaning absolute grid snap turned off) is dependent on the original location of the object. From the current position, the object will snap to a grid with the same size, but it will be offset by the original position of the object.

Vertex, edge, face and volume snapping

Next we have the snapping methods for each individual mesh element. There is quite a bit of overlap between these, so we will cover them together.

All of these snapping methods can be used in both edit mode and object mode, but most of the time we will use them in edit mode with a few exceptions.

Let’s begin with vertex snapping. I think this is the most useful snapping mode.

Open the snapping menu to the right of the snapping icon and set it to vertex. We can choose a target for the snapping. So, what does this mean? The target refers to the part of our selection that will be snapped to our destination position. These are our options and what they do.

ClosestThis will take the closest element in our selection. For vertex snapping this will be the closest vertex, for edge snap this will be the closest edge etc and snap that element to our destination.
CenterInstead of a single element, Blender will calculate the center point for our total selection and snap that point to our destination.
MedianSimilar to center, but if we have many elements in one part of our selection and another part with fewer elements, more weight will be given to the more dense part of the selection.
ActiveThis will snap the last selected element in our selection to the snap destination.

Below the target setting we have a “project onto self” checkbox. This is only visible and available in edit mode. If we disable this the snapping will only work if we try to snap to elements in other objects than our current one.

Next we have “align rotation to target”. This setting is most useful when snapping in object mode. It will align the rotation of our selection to the target element rotation.

It is very common to use “align rotation to target” in object mode using face snapping to snap objects to the surface of another while also aligning their rotations.

Let’s now talk briefly about edge snapping. Edge snapping has the same settings as vertex snapping. Only this time we can snap to any point along an edge. There is really no other difference between snapping to edges and snapping to vertices.

Face snapping is where things start to get interesting again. It only adds one setting that vertex and edge snapping does not have. That is “Project individual elements”. With this turned on, the individual vertices will each snap to the target, instead of snapping from selection to destination as one large collection of elements(vertices, edges, faces).

This allows us to wrap one object around another. Take a look at this example where I wrapped one end of a cylinder around another. We get a result similar to what we can get with the shrinkwrap modifier. But with a different workflow.

This behavior is heavily dependent on the view angle. It needs to be aligned with the surface you are projecting to. The object you are projecting also need to be aligned.

Auto merge and snapping

Auto merge is another feature related to snapping. If enabled, when we snap one vertex to another they will automatically merge.

We can enable this feature in the “Active tools and workspace settings” This is the top tab in the properties panel.

Here we can find the “options” section and the “auto merge” sub section. Check the check mark to enable it.

The only available option is threshold. This dictates the distance between vertices that is allowed before they get merged.

The benefit of this is that we may model a bit faster without having to merge every vertex that we snap manually. If we want to merge manually we can access the merge menu with “alt+m” and the manual counter part of “auto merge” is “merge by distance”.

Snapping to multiple points

This is a feature that very few knows about. You can actually snap to more than one point. Or rather the median point of multiple points.

When the snapping tool is active and you are hovering a point, you get an orange circle around the snapping location. When the circle is there, press “a” on your keyboard. The point is now given weight. Move your mouse to another point and confirm. The snapping will occur to the median point of the two selected snapping points.

To snap to the middle of an edge for example, you can use vertex snapping. Hover one vertex and press “A” then move the mouse over to the other end of the edge and confirm to snap to the middle of the edge.

You can press a multiple times on a point to give it more weight. You can also press “A” over as many points as you want.

Use the 3D cursor and selection to snap

Instead of being tied to a specific element like we are with the snapping tool. The snapping options available through the snap menu or “Shift+S” is instead using selection and the 3D cursor in a more free-form kind of snapping. We can use this menu to snap anything really by moving the 3D cursor around and snapping to that. The benefit of the snapping tool is speed, but the snapping options available through the snapping menu gives us more options and flexibility.

Hit “shift+s” to bring up the snapping menu. The snapping menu is available in both object mode and edit mode. We have 8 options divided into two categories. We can move the selection or move the 3D cursor.

Cursor toSelection to
World originCursor (Keep Offset)
SelectedCursor
ActiveActive
GridGrid

There is quite a bit of overlap between cursor and selection. This makes the options much easier to understand. They are also quite self-explanatory.

Related content: Blender selection tools, advanced selections, video tutorial

By combining these options we can move the 3D cursor very precisely and then move our selection to the 3D cursor in order to snap.

Keep in mind that snapping in object mode will use the object origin as the point for snapping.

The snapping menu is also often used to move the origin of an object. First we move the 3D cursor to the desired destination with “cursor to selected” in object or edit mode. Then we go to object mode, right click and go to Set origin->Origin to 3D cursor.

When do we use snapping?

When we are modelling we are doing so at different level of detail. By this I don’t mean the LOD thing you have going in game engines. I just mean that we may be working on a single object making it ready for a scene, or we may be a bit zoomed out in our workflow working on object placement in a scene.

Snapping can help us on different levels in our workflow. Either by placing vertices, edges and faces precisely in edit mode when working on our object, or when placing objects in our scene. This could be in a modular fashion or just to make sure we have even distances between objects.

Another scenario where snapping may be used is during retopology. Retopology is the act of taking a high poly object and transforming it to a low poly version. Snapping can be used to remodel on top of our existing object by snapping the new mesh on top of the old one. Normally this workflow is used after an object has been sculpted with dynamic topology turned on.

In this case you set your snapping to face and the target to closest. Then turn off “project onto self”. Now you can start to extrude faces on top of your sculpt to retopology.

Snapping is not a tool only able to move one vertex on top of another. It is much more versatile than that. It can be used in many scenarios where other tools just won’t be effective.

Related questions

How do I connect edges in blender?

Select two edge loops then press “CTRL+E” and select “Bridge edge loops” You can access additional settings by expanding the operator panel in the bottom left corner of the 3D viewport.

How do you slide edges in blender?

In edit mode press G twice to go from “grab” to “slide” mode. To slide outside the bounds of the adjacent edges, start to slide in one direction then hit “C” to disable clipping. Now you can slide to infinity along that edges direction.

How do you align vertices in blender?

Use scaling. Select your vertices and hit “S” followed by X, Y or Z depending on the axis you want to align against. Then press “0” on the number pad and Enter.

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