Discovering Blender Sculpt: The Second Installment

Blender Sculpt Mode.

“Blender Sculpt” is a mode, as is Edit mode and Object mode, therefore its use is not only limited  to our multi-resolution meshes. In fact Blender sculpt mode can be implemented in other ways for example in sub-surf modeling or for animation, so keep this in mind when using it.

Getting to know the tools.

Firstly its very easy to get into sculpt mode, you just have to click on the mode button in the 3D view and then select Sculpt mode. Its as easy as that. If your running the default settings your screen should look like this.

Default Screen
I on the other hand when sculpting prefer to change my screen layout, but this is a personal preference if your happy with the default then sick with it. Basically my set up has everything I need.

My Layout

You’ll notice that I disabled the grid floor, and the world X and Y axis in the 3D view, I enabled the Z axis though, just to tell me whats up and whats not but I make sure to start my sculpt in the front view or X coordinates.

To access these setting go to the “view” button in the 3D View and select “view properties” from the menu

To view the sculpt Properties panel in the 3D view just press the “n” button on your keyboard.

Sculpt properties the run down


You have seven brushes, which are pretty mush self explanatory. In one way or another each one will have an effect on the vertices’s of a mesh/object.(the image below list’s six of the seven brushes)

Sculpt brushes

Draw: Perhaps the most important brush in sculpt mode its easy to imagine what it does, as its name implies it allows you to draw on the surface of an object by displacing vertices’s.

Smooth: I consider this the second most important brush, it will smooth/iron out any bumps or dents on the surface. Although special heed should be taken with regards to the “Strength” settings, as a general rule I keep it  low at  low resolution levels.

Pinch: Brings vertices’s closer together, a good tool for enhancing detail creases and creating edges.

Inflate: The difference between draw and inflate is that draw takes into account the average direction that the normals/faces/polygons are pointing and displaces the vertices’s on that value. Inflate takes into account the direction of each an individual normal/faces/polygon and displaces that face accordingly.

Draw and Inflate

Grab: Does what is says, a very cool tool, useful for touching up.

Layer: I was initially confused as to the purpose of this brush. Its similar to draw as it displaces, but with some major differences. Starting off, you’ll notice that if you use the “Draw” brush and apply it, continuously moving the the cursor back and forth while holding down the mouse button it will continue to displace(up to a point). The layer brush does not, you have to release the mouse button and then apply it again to add another layer of displacement (I tried to illustrate how the layer brush works with the image below, each layer[release of the mouse button] being a separate colour think of it as bits of cardboard one laid on on top of the other).Think Cardboard!

You might also notice that the brush is capped (like a plateau) unlike the draw brush which is round.  Clearly the benefit of this brush is not initially recognized but it can be used for detailed work where you need a certain amount of control.

Flatten: Another self explanatory brush which will flatten out the selected normals/face.

Each brush has its own options which are shown when the brush is selected.

Add, and Sub: Draw, Layer, Pinch and Inflate all have an add or sub option, it will effect the objects surface in a positive or negative way. In simple terms “add” for bumps and “sub” for dents. Pinch though when selecting sub will expand the normals/faces in a similar way to inflate.

Airbrush: all the brushes have this option expect for grab, when this option is active the brush will continue to displace (well it eventually stops) when the mouse button is held, even while the cursor is not moving.(think of it in terms of an aerosol can, it will continue to spray as long as you have the top pressed but it will slow down and stop after a while)

Size: Affects the overall size of the brush, but I find that keeping the brush a certain size and zooming in and out can sometimes be a quicker than always adjusting the size slider.

Strength: Basically how strong off an affect the selected brush will have on the surface off the object/mesh.

Symmetry X,Y,Z: works like a mirror tool, for example if the X button is selected it will mirror along the X axis.(Anything done on the left side will be repeated on the right side and visa versa.)

The Brush Panel


This is where things really start to get interesting and fun.

We have a curve in this panel but theres nothing to tell us what this curve is or does but if we flip the curve on itself it will most likely give us a clue.

Shape of the Brush

Its actually the shape of the brush, or to be more precise the shape of the displacement. So now if you want a brush with maybe a flat top or one that comes to a point it’s easily achievable by altering the curve’s shape. (for more control over the curve click on that small spanner above the curve)

Different brush shapes

The Brush panel also has a few button’s  which can add some variety into the mix.

Curve: selecting or deselecting this button will enable or disable the use of the curve.

Reset: resets the curve.

Space: if you have ever used Photoshop or Gimp this should seem familiar. By default the value is 0, if you increase the value and then apply the brush it will leave a space between each instant that the brush is applied to the surface. You will hardly notice the difference on value 1 though, increase it to 50 or 100 to get an idea of what it does. It produces something similar to a stamping effect (it might, if used correctly be used to speed up the brush due to it making fewer calculations)


View: pulls the brush towards the view, the higher the value the more it will pull but I find that it doesn’t work well in perspective mode (kind of points to the right), but fine in orthographic.

Anchored: (only for the “Draw” brush) what if you only need to apply the brush to a single spot, that is in essence what the anchored button does. First click on the area where you would like to apply the brush and then drag to increase the displacement. (I used the anchored button in the image above to demonstrate the different brush shapes.)

The Texture Panel

Texture Panel

Sometimes a normal round brush wont cut it or you might need a bit more variety, adding a texture to the brush can add that bit extra.

By default the texture panel in sculpt mode is bare. To add a texture to the a brush we have to select one of the texture channels then “Add new texture”  or select a texture which we might already have. If you add a new texture, you will have to go too the texturing settings by pressing “F6” in the buttons window, make sure that that the Brush button is selected in the Preview panel. Now you can texture the brush with a procedural texture or even and image texture.

Lets go back to the sculpt modes texture pannel, you’ll have noticed that after adding a texture some new buttons have appeared. I’ll try my best to explain what these buttons do.

Texture Panel settings

Drag: When this button is selected the brush will behave as it normally does but will use the texture to displace the surface, you might have to increase the spacing(Brush Panel) to actually see the texture.

Tile: As you move your brush over the object it will repeat the texture one after the other in a tile like pattern. This means that you can go over the same area multiple time to increase displacement, but be warned this type of texturing depends on the view itself, rotate or change the view and you’ll alter how the texture is mapped. Tile does not work well with some procedural textures(which I find strange) but fine with tileable textures/images which can be be made in Photo-shop or Gimp.

3D: Ideal for procedural textures, such as cloud or musgrave, but restrictive with textures like marble due to the angle of those texture. Like the Tile option you can move the mouse around multiple times and all it will do is further displace the texture, unlike tile if you can change and rotate the view, it wont make any difference. It works very much the same way that displacement map does, but only that you are using your cursor to select the areas of displacement. You can use it like to tile by increasing the size option.

Angle: this option is only available for Drag and Tile. Certain textures can be useful for example wood or marble but due to the direction that these textures are pointing its almost impossible to use them.  Well thats the purpose of the Angle setting, it will allow you to rotate the texture, but be aware that the value(degrees) is in an anti-clockwise direction. Lets consider the wood texture for example, the textures pattern is pointing at an angle of 135 degrees in the clockwise direction this means 45 degrees in the anti-clockwise direction and so to straighten up the texture so that it points horizontally, a value of 45 will have to be entered. (confused?)

Rotating the texture

Rake: you might of already noticed this but when you move the brush around the surface of the object, the  the texture is always pointing in the same direction. What if I want the texture to be pointing in the direction that the mouse is moving? To enable this, click on the Rake button.


Size: Increasing “3D” size will make it appear as if your shrinking the size of the texture, Increasing the “Tile” size, well.. will increase the tile size. Note that the size option has a lock, if you click on the lock it will allow you change the size of the X and Y value independently (3D also has a Z)

Some Final Thoughts.

When applying a texture to a brush, the shape of the curve in the brush panel should always be considered as  that account mainly for the displacement shape. You could say that the texture compliment the brush. Another thing to consider when using a textured brush is the contrast settings, in the texture settings. The more contrast the more define the displacement form the brush will be.

A tablet comes in handy too and the sensitivity for the size and strength can be adjusted. (setting can be found by clicking on the sculpt button in the 3D view and then go to the input settings) Window users should have no problem with using a tablet, Linux users might have to alter their xorg.conf file so that blender can recognize the tablet. I found that out when using Ubuntu, wacom works fine in Gimp but didn’t work in blender and the problem was the xorg.conf file.

Remember to speed up sculpt mode, use the “Partial Redraw” option (3D view-> Sculpt–> Partial Redraw), if you only want to focus on a certain area while hiding the rest, Ctrl+shift+click and drag the area, speeds up 3D view too.

If you been using blender for a while now and you are in the habit of pressing the “X “and “Z” button on your keyboard be aware that these are shortcuts for symmetry option  in sculpt mode which pertain to the X and Z axis.

If you want a list of shortcuts you can check out the Blender Manual.

The next installment will be muti-resolution and base modeling, I’ll give a date soon when I expect to have that finish

<- Discovering Blender Sculpt: The first installment.

Discovering Blender Sculpt: The third installment->

Content Copyright© 2009 Lindsay C. Kerr


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