Sunday, July 15, 2012

Using Blender on a MacBook

Blender is an amazing 3D modeling, animating, video editing, compositing, game making tool that's designed to be used when sitting at a desk with a full keyboard (including numpad) and a three-button mouse. If you want to use Blender on a MacBook then you'll have to do a bit of extra work to set it up.

There are two main issues you have to solve when using Blender on a MacBook: First is the fact that newer MacBooks have no numpad, second is the fact that OS X provides no built-in way of making a middle mouse click with the trackpad.

Two free tools will solve this problem.

First, the keyboard.

Most information I've seen on the web for using Blender on a laptop advises the use of the Emulate Numpad" setting in Blender user preferences. This setting causes Blender to act as though the regular number keys are in fact numpad keys. This means you can use the number keys to switch between various 3D views but unfortunately you use the ability to use the number keys for their original purpose, which is selecting layers.

I recommend you leave "Emulate Numpad" off. Instead, use KeyRemap4MacBook. This is a nifty preference pane that will let you use the fn key plus number keys to simulate numpad input. This means you can use the numbers to switch between layers in Blender, or use fn+numbers to switch between views. To enable this functionality, install KeyRemap4MacBook, go into System Preferences, open the KeyRemap4MacBook preference pane, and under the "Change Key" tab locate the "Change Num Key (1...0)" item. Click the little triangle to open the item, then check the "Fn+Number to KeyPad" preference. Now, whenever you press fn+<some number> it will be as though you used the numpad to make the key press.

Next, the mouse.

To get left mouse input just make sure you have "Secondary click" enabled in the Trackpad system preference pane. This lets you use two fingers to get RMB clicks.

The middle mouse button is a bit tricker. For this we'll need another piece of software, the very awesome BetterTouchTool.

After installing and running BTT you will see a little icon at the top of your screen that looks like a finger on a trackpad. Go into its preferences. Click "Basic Settings", and enable "Launch BetterTouchTool on startup" (if you want).

In Blender, middle mouse is used to move about the 3D view. We want to be able to hold MMB and move the mouse. It's pretty straightforward to enable MMB clicks in BTT, but being able to drag MMB is a little tricker.

To enable MMB drag in BBT, go into its preferences and click the "Advanced" button. You should now see a little magic wand icon at the top of the window labeled "Action Settings". Click this. Go to the "Stuff" tab, and select "Use special middleclick mode".

Special middleclick mode won't work if you don't have a middleclick gesture defined, so click on "Gestures", select "Global" in the menu on the left, and then click "Add new gesture". Set the Touchpad Gesture to "Three Finger Click" (not Three Finger Tap, that won't work) and set the Predefined Action to "Middleclick".

Now if you go into Blender, push the trackpad down with three fingers and keep it down while lifting two of them, you should be able to move your remaining finger around to navigate in the 3D view.

All in all, a little bit of effort and now you can use Blender full-on with just the MacBook keyboard and trackpad, no external devices required. Enjoy!


  1. This is beautiful! Thank you so much!

  2. Dear Eric, thanks a lot for this!!!

  3. Thanks for this, was finally able to have the KEYPAD_PLUS on my MacBook! Not being able to increase the number of segments for an edge bevel was driving me crazy. Now i simply press FN+MINUS to increase the number of segments or just MINUS to decrease it, while at the same time entering the bevel radius numerically. Sweet!

  4. I'm having to use my macbook for Blender work during a country move while my main computers are in storage. This article has saved me much time. Many thanks.

  5. Thanks for sharing information
    Solution Macbook A1708 A1709 keyboard got liquid so difficult hard to press
    Here a solution