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Blender: Background Image – Simply Explained

Picture of Tian Ooi
by Tian Ooi
Jan 3, 2019

Ever wondered how to set a background image in Blender? If you're tired of switching between your software and your reference image, this tutorial is for you.

Blender: Background Image How Is a Background Image Useful?

Use 'Z' to toggle wireframe mode if you need to see through your model.
Use 'Z' to toggle wireframe mode if you need to see through your model. Source: Tian Ooi / All3DP

In Blender, reference images can be vital, especially for new artists. Figuring out how to create and manipulate faces can be hard enough, without worrying about the anatomy of the model itself.

Thankfully, Blender has a nifty feature called “Background Images”. By directly importing an image into your workspace, you can easily make it your reference. The image only appears when your view is aligned with the axes and doesn’t appear in your final render.

For example, if you want to make an exact replica of a part to 3D print, you can simply take a picture of it. Using that as your reference, you don’t need to worry about getting exact measurements for each part.

Blender: Background Image Pre-Blender 2.8: Adding Images

Here's how to add your images.
Here's how to add your images. Source: Tian Ooi / All3DP

Though a whole new version of Blender is due soon, most still use Blender 2.79 or older. In these versions, the background image tool is in the “Properties” panel (hotkey ‘N’). 

If you scroll down, you’ll see a panel called “Background Images”, like in the above picture. Click “Add Image” and then “Open” to select your image. Alternatively, you can drag and drop an image from your files onto the workspace.

A tip for choosing good reference images: Try to find pictures that have little perspective. Images that depict your model straight on are the best, since they’re the most accurate when placed along the axes. 

Blender: Background Image Pre-Blender 2.8: Image Properties

There are a lot of different settings, but don't feel overwhelmed.
There are a lot of different settings, but don't feel overwhelmed. Source: Tian Ooi / All3DP

Once you open your image, the panel should look something like the picture above. Let’s walk through the most notable settings:

  • Axis determines where the image is placed perpendicular along the main axes. 
  • Opacity controls the visibility of the image. 1 is full opacity while 0 is not visible.
  • Back/Front toggles whether the image appears behind the model or in front of it.
  • X and Y coordinates can be used to align the image to the model by moving it around.
  • Rotation and Size can be used to either rotate or scale the image.

Can’t see your background image? Make sure you’re in orthographic mode (top left, toggle with numpad 5). Also, check that you’re viewing one of the preset angles (1 for front, 3 for right, and 7 for top). Your image will only show up when your view is snapped to the correct axes.

Blender: Background Image Blender 2.8: Adding Images

Just drag and drop an image in the shiny new interface.
Just drag and drop an image in the shiny new interface. Source: Tian Ooi / All3DP

If you’re using Blender 2.8, the way to add background images has changed a little.

You might have noticed the background images panel is gone. Instead, a background image can be added by adding an “empty” to the scene. 

The easiest way to do this is to simply drag and drop your image into the 3D view. It’s best to do this at one of the preset views such as front, right, etc.

You’ll see your image appear in your outliner in the top right and in your view. Use Alt + ‘G’ to snap it to the center.

Blender: Background Image Blender 2.8: Image Properties

The
The "Empty" panel. Note the refresh button on the right. Source: Tian Ooi / All3DP

To view the properties for your image, click on the little image button on the properties editor, right beneath the outliner. Much like before, you can change the transparency (opacity), X and Y offset, and size of your image.

To rotate, simply select your image and press ‘R’ to rotate it like any other object. You can force it to a certain axis by constraining the rotation and then specifying the angle, eg. ‘R’ + ‘X’ + 90 to rotate 90 degrees around the X axis.

As 2.8 is currently still in beta, you might run into some bugs when resizing images. Usually, these are fixed by hitting the refresh button on the image’s properties.

And that’s it! Now you’ll have no problem setting up a background image for your model.

License: The text of "Blender: Background Image – Simply Explained" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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