Active Tools Accessibility

This is a discussion on making the Active Tools more accessible. So far there have been a lot of proposals and different experimental solutions, 2 of which are currently default in Blender.
Those are the first 2 listed here.
Going into 2.90 with a lot of polish going into the Active Tools, the way they are accessed needs to be improved. There are also points that the current solutions could be better or are currently counter intuitive.

Spacebar Tools Menu

This was one of the first ways to access the Tools outside of clicking on them in the Toolbar.
The idea is to press Space (or Shift Space) and getting a menu with all Tools listed with their shortcuts.
The user can press space, then the shortcut and quickly access Tools this way.
Alternatively space can also be held and let go with the the mouse hovering over the desired Tool (similar to Pie Menus).


In comparison to other proposals this workflow is quite slow, especially if Space is used for playback or the search menu instead.

Alt as Leader Key


Design Task:

With this implementation the user can simply tap Alt once and get a new set of shortcuts.
All shortcuts that would usually be applied to the modal operators are now assigned to the active tools.
All available tool shortcuts are listed in the status bar.


In a way this implementation is faster and more convenient to access the Tools than the first one but unfortunately this functionality is very easy to initiate accidentally.
Alt is a very commonly pressed key and for many users it happens often that it is pressed instinctively and suddenly the user is locked into a mode for tools.
Often the next key that is pressed will unwillingly change their active tool which then needs to be changed back.
With the option to disable the status bar, which some advanced users do, it is also a completely invisible mode to enter, which leads to a lot of confusion.

Tools Keymap


This is a proposed implementation of a full active tools keymap.
Technically this is already implemented with the Industry compatible keymap but this option would make it possible to switch out all the current modal operator shortcuts with active tool shortcuts while keeping the default keymap.


Some would prefer an option to use access either modal operators or tools both with shortcuts. That is the advantage of the first 2 implementations. With this proposal the user would need to switch between one or the other.

Hold vs Tap Shortcuts


The idea of this feature is to share the same shortcut for both modal oeprators and active tools but based on if the key is tapped or held it will either access the modal operator or the active tool.


This one shares the same issue with many sticky key shortcuts. If you work too fast and move your mouse a lot then it is very easy to accidentally use the modal operators instead of the active tools.
Also one of the advantages of using modal operators is that the shortcut can be pressed and then both hands are available for typing, which is not possible for active tools.
Limiting this by requiring the user to hold down the shortcut unless pressing spacebar afterwards will slow down the modal operator workflow.

Start typing!

If you have your own ideas and thoughts write down below. Let’s start a discussion about this.

Personally: I used my own custom keymap for half a year now where I assigned all shortcuts to the active tools instead of the modal operators.
I got increasingly attached to this workflow and would be more than happy to just have an official toggle in the keymap preferences to switch to a tools keymap.
The current implementation of the leader key to access the Tools should also be made optional since there is no way to disable it in its current form.
A few artists at the Blender Studio have complained to trigger this feature accidentally many times each day.
And with the implementation of an active tools keymap the leader key would be obsolete or could be used for modal operators instead.

  • Instead of Spacebar or Alt key, we could use T as shortcut to access tools and use another shortcut to open/close toolbar (for instance, we could use F9 to open/close Toolbar, F10 to open/close Sidebar, T for Tools and N for Redo Last).
  • There could be a user preference to choose between a menu or a Leader key as access to active tools. I think that users have a preference for one method and don’t use both.
  • We could imagine switching Tools keymap from modal operators to active tools and the opposite by using Menu or Leader Key followed by Tab.
  • When Leader key or Tools Keymap is active, color of selected active tool in Toolbar may be different than when it is not used.

I am for using the tools keymap but be added as an option so that animators can have an easy time animating and retaining the modal tools for an easy time modelling.

I agree!
But after using a Tools Keymap for so long now and trying to use them interchangeably or even mixing the shortcuts up I have to add this: Using one or the other requires a very different muscle memory.
It’s very hard to switch to Tools if you are used to the Operators and vice versa.
So when it comes to shortcuts most people will likely completely choose one or the other.

There are examples of Tools that are great to use together with modal operator shortcuts, especially together with right click select.
Like the Polybuild tool in right click select but those examples are rare.
In the case of that Tool you can get a lot of functionality for your left click + in combination with modifier keys while still being able to select with right click and extruding, bevelling, etc via shortcuts.

I also listed more of my experience and thoughts over here if anyone is interested:


That seems logical that muscle memory has an impact.
But I think that if user establishes his own rules (to determine under which context he uses such tool as an active tool or as a modal operator) ; he should get used to a quick switch easily.

That is why I am in favor of a Tools keymap mimicking default keymap on demand, not as a preference, but as a switch more global than Leader key.

In a modeling session, User could press a Leader key to access Polybuild tool.
Then, when switching to Pose mode, he could press a key to switch all transform tools to active tools keymap, using manipulators.

IMHO at least for basic transform tools, like GRS, we should be able to have a modifier to activate the tool instead of the modal:

For example (and I’m not saying it’s the best solution) ç

G - enable modal (like it is right now)
shift + G - enable tool

Something like that that allows both workflows to co-exist.

Right now I always use modal EXCEPT when I want to animate, for that I prefer the tools way more, so none of them are the perfect solution, but they are compatible and very efficient together, they allow you to adapt their usage to every workflow.

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I would love a simple solution like that but I don’t think that is doable.
Creating separate shortcuts for all Tools would blow up the keymap past what is possible. There are just not enough keys on the keyboard for this :confused:

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Regarding the Alt key

I have to admit, before I read this thread I never realized that Alt worked as a Leader Key in Blender. Now that I tried it, I think that it’s the best and most logical and convenient way to switch between the Tools and the Operators. I’ve never had an issue with initiating this feature accidentally, maybe because I never realized it was possible.

Regarding the spacebar menu

I also agree that the Spacebar menu is less than perfect solution to switching the active tools. I use Space as the apply key all the time and had issues with accidentally switching to the Cursor Tool by pressing the Spacebar twice. Most of the time just clicking the icon on the toolbar beats using the Spacebar menu in convenience.

In addition,I think the default Spacebar action needs to be discussed again, because the 3 available default options are nearly good enough for the biggest and most convenient key on the keyboard. I have a lengthy write-up about this issue as well as the general approach to the further improvement and optimization of the Blender’s keymap and UX. I’ll post is as a separate topic soon.

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Keep in mind I’m only speaking about an addition to the current standard blender keymap, and I’m talking only about the basic transforms, GRS (and select mode), because is something widely used and the usage of modal or active tools, both, are required depending on the situation.

I understand that not ALL the active tools can be managed this way, and that maybe a custom keymap is required for that :slight_smile:

What if gizmos had their own context menu, so users could right click on a gizmo to pull up the tool list or tool-specific settings?

Shift G, Shift R, Shift S are currently corresponding to basic functions, often used : Select Similar, Repeat Last, Snapping menu.

At least, without any addition or change about the way active tools are accessed, we could agree to change default keymap to use manipulators for transform in Pose mode.

That does not solve problem for animating objects in Object mode.
But, at least, that could decrease frustration of animators about default keymap.

The “shift” thing was just an example, the modifier may be different, was just to illustrate what I meant :slight_smile:

Maybe double press, or long press, something like that could be a good solution :slight_smile:

I understand but that is revealing that would be hard to find a key for that.
Ctrl G is grouping (collection, vertex group…). Ctrl R is loopcut, Ctrl S is saving.
Alt is used to clear transforms.
Spacebar, Tab, Q, …they can’t be used as modifier keys.

You can’t do that without exploiting one available F key (what I did by proposing F10 for Sidebar opening/closing) or remapping a shortcut already used for a modal operator to make it a universal modifier key.
For example, T event could be changed from Press to Click to open/close toolbar.
And then, T would be available as a modifier.
T+G , T+R, T+S would be possible.

If people are not frightened that a key in middle of keyboard is used as a modifier ; that could work.

You may be annoyed by closing toolbar, accidentally, and loosing visual indication of active tool.
That has same downsides of Hold vs Tap Shortcuts solution.
But it is true that closing/opening of a region is clearly the less impacting mistake.

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What about using Caps Lock to toggle between an Active and Modal ‘mode’ for the tool shortcuts? So having Caps Lock activated would make the G/R/S/… -shortcuts activate the active tool rather than the modal.

I don’t think caps lock is used for anything else, and I think it could be nice to have this as toggle.
Though I understand that using Caps Lock does have it’s issues as it changes behaviour outside of blender, as well.

You have to give a name to data, in your scene.
That may be a problem to have writing locked to caps.

Im still using 2.79 and checking new stuff from time to time so im biased towards old 2.79. Its nice that someone wants to improve brush management.

Spacebar Tools Menu

Looks like a zbrush ripoff. If it can be changed to something else i dont mind. ANd since there is more and more brushes it can be useful. Space to invoke brush window and another shortcut that can be set by user. I use 2.79shortcuts where space is used as search bar but i rarly use it in sculpt mode. Space is fine.

Alt as Leader Key

i use alt for camera rotation and camera snapping. I would leave it alone.

Tools Keymap

Thats what i prefere. Problem with this is that, in some situations i like to have different variants of same and issue is that shortcuts cycle between brushes of same type and thats annoying. For example in texture paint mode i like to have Draw brush with size set to pen pressure under 2 and Draw brush without pen pressure set to 3, and another variant for Draw brush with blend type set to Erase alpha under 4. With new blender its immposible to do this. For this i would prefere to just get them throught Spacebar Tools Menu proposition.

Hold vs Tap shortcuts

As option? Yeah why not. Personaly im not likin this.

One of the main issues with the Tools Keymap is that some keys are already taken and there are more active tools than modal operators.
Tools like Cursor, Tweak, Lasso Select, Transform, Measure, Add Object, Edge Slide, Vertex Slide, Poly Build, Spin, Spin Duplicates and many Extrude Tools (and more tools in other modes) would need shortcuts.
There are also the different W keybindings on Left Click Select and Right Click Select, which makes this more complicated.
This might mean some more keymap changes so no Tools are left out, which really needs to be discussed & thought out!

I think very few people would actually benefit from mixing the use of active tools and modal operators.
For those that use the Tools just because they want to drag the gizmos, I would just recommend to switch to the Tilde Gizmo Pie Menu in the keymap preferences and work with a mix of modal operator shortcuts and transform gizmos.

For me one of the main differences between the operators and tools is not just the gizmos but the clicking order and use of the keyboard (Some like the knife tool are the same though)
With the modal operators:

  • Press shortcut to immediately execute the operation
  • Move mouse to specify values / Press more shortcuts for settings & values (2 hands)
  • Left Click to accept / Right Click or Esc to cancel
  • Press shortcut again to repeat …

With Tools:

  • Press shortcut to switch to the Tool
  • Click & Drag to execute the operation
  • Move mouse to specify values / Press more shortcuts for settings & values (1 hand)
  • Let go of Left Click to accept / Right Click or Esc to cancel
  • Click & Drag again to repeat …

These are small differences but you only really become fast with the Tools if you get this muscle memory.
And since the tools and operators are so similar it’s easy to mix up these muscle memories.

So that’s one reason why I think a dedicated Tools Keymap is fundamentally the right decision to make.
More options to access both can be added but they should be options.

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The most important thing to figure out is the keybindings of the Tools Keymap sicne there are some conflicts that are not obvious how to solve.
For the most part the keybindings that can be seen when using the Alt Leader Key or bringing up the Toolbar menu with Shift Spacebar are the shortcuts to use.
Whenever there’s a conflict like with the Measure Tool (M), those Tools won’t get a shortcut unless the Tools are essential.
Any Tools that don’t have a shortcut right now can be left out to make the task easier for now.
More shortcuts could be added later or the user can assign their own as well.

My main concern is with the Cursor Tool (Spacebar), the Selection Tools (W,B,C,L) and the Transform Tools (G,R,S,T).
Most can be translated easily but some can’t, especially on the RCS keymap.

  • The Cursor Tool: Spacebar is very likely taken unless it is used for the Toolbar menu. But I would say as a universal shortcut it’s good to use Esc. When using the modal operators Esc can be pressed which brings you back to just setting the 3D Cursor (especially with RCS). Esc is not used for anything else.
  • The W key to cycle between Selection Tools is already taken in RCS for the context menus. There are various ways to fix this, none of them perfect. The easiest would be to just not assign a shortcut like W to the Selection Tools and instead improve the Drag Selection Fallback with Alt + W for RCS.
    More on that proposal here:
  • Giving the Circle & Box Select Tools a shortcut is easy but unfortunately the L key for Lasso Select is already taken. I want to make a separate proposal on adding an island selection mode to the vertex, edge & face selection modes. With that you could access linked selection with the shortcut 4 instead of L, and that key is then free for the Lasso Select Tool.
  • The T key for the Transform Tool is also already taken by the Toolbar. Shift + T could be an alternative.
  • Shortcuts for Scale and Annotate could also cycle to not assign to many keys.

That’s all I want… But it should kill all the modal stuff, even from the menus… :wink:

I don’t know what you mean with “kill” … all entries in the menus still need to stay even if the shortcuts are switched to Tools …