Brush Assets Workflow

The previous article on Brushes & Drafting went into the basics of how brush assets will work and where they’ll be stored. Now we’ll delve into how brushes will be accessed, tweaked and authored.

Asset Shelf

This will be the new region to immediately access any available asset. The slim horizontal space at the bottom is ideal for visualizing enough brushes and catalogs for any given task.

Mockup of the asset shelf next to other UI elements in Sculpt Mode
A mockup of the asset shelf next to other UI elements in Sculpt Mode

And just like any other region:

  • Its size will be dictated by the user and the amount of content within
  • Its visibility can be toggled if not needed
Dynamic size example of the asset shelf.
The size of the assets can be dynamic to only take up necessary space

As the name implies, this region would potentially be used for any assets in any editor. Poses, Nodes, Objects, Materials, Textures and more can eventually be used from here.

This will also respect valuable space in the toolbar and sidebar for tools, properties and add-ons. Meanwhile, the Asset Browser will remain the editor to organize and browse any & all assets.

Tools vs Brushes

A key improvement is to make the relationship between tools and brushes in the UI clear and more accessible. This is accomplished by directly displaying and assigning shortcuts to brushes, instead of doing this via tools in the toolbar.

For context, until now the user technically doesn’t pick brushes. Instead they pick “Tools”, either in the Toolbar or via shortcuts. “Brushes” are instead saved presets of the tool settings. This way you can have multiple variations of a single tool.

Graphic of tool and brush relationship
Brushes are presets of a Tool

Unfortunately this makes it very hard to access brushes. Also, categorizing and sorting them in this predefined way quickly becomes counter intuitive when creating & using a lot of them.

Graphic of uneven distribution of brushes among tools
Each Tool can have any number of Brushes. Which brush is where is hard to tell. Many Tools will only have a single brush.

Brushes will be put into the forefront again. All tools in a mode that contain brushes will be merged and the type of brush will instead become a brush setting, just like any other.

Brushes will then be accessed directly in a “global palette” via the Asset Shelf or via shortcuts.

Graphic of a global brush palette

Only What You Need

Proper scalability of the Asset Shelf will make it intuitive to access any brush among potentially hundreds of them. This can be achieved with 3 ways:

  1. Compact Display
  2. Custom Catalogs
  3. Explicit & Implicit Filtering

Compact Display

The goal is to comfortably show up to 30 brushes on screen at a time and intuitively navigate to see more. This way most screen space is still available and the brush thumbnails will remain readable.

Sculpt Mode for mesh objects alone will have up to 80 brush assets shipped with Blender. This will ensure that all commonly necessary brushes are available by default. On top of that it’s easy to see how the amount will skyrocket with user created assets and shared assets. But even with this huge library of brushes, it’s not needed to see all at once.

Quickly searching for a specific brush via typing is also important functionality and will be available from the Asset Shelf directly.

Custom Catalogs

Sorting & categorizing brushes will be done with Asset Catalogs. By cataloging brushes the user can define which set of brushes to display at a time.

Graphic of asset catalogs for brushes
Any type of brush asset can be sorted into a custom made catalog

To make this even more customization there will be “Dynamic Catalogs” as well. These catalogs essentially act as “smart filters”, so brushes can appear in multiple catalogs at once. For example any brush that is tagged as “Favorite” will appear in the dynamic catalog called “Favorites”, no matter what other catalog they belong to. 

Graphic of a dynamic catalog
Brushes can be tagged to show up in any dynamic catalog

To make sure all brushes are still at your fingertips, the Asset Shelf needs to be able to comfortably show up to 12 catalogs at a time.

Explicit & Implicit Filtering

You should only ever see what you need. This will be accomplished by:

  • Automatically hiding brushes that cannot be used in the current mode or settings
  • Automatically hiding catalogs that do not contain any visible brushes
  • Allowing users to manually hide specific catalogs from the workspace

Editing your Brushes

A Brush Asset has a certain life cycle. It is created from an existing brush asset, is used, tweaked and drafted along the way, and eventually saved as a new Asset that can be shared with others.

Each of these steps need to be at your finger tips, without getting in the way of others. Drafting will be the key to editing your assets for both daily use and asset authoring.

Venn diagram for the three stages of a brush asset life cycle
The three stages of a brush asset life cycle.

Using brushes must be straightforward with a clean user interface. In the long-term the tool settings will only show “cherry-picked” brush settings, to expose only what is actually needed.

Drafting, as in extensively editing a brush, is expected to happen regularly and deliberately. The full expanse of brush settings will be quickly available in the sidebar and any changes can be saved to the asset as a draft.

Authoring can be compared to publishing. It’s when you package your asset for further reuse and sharing. This is done in the asset browser, in the asset library .blend to finalize Assets for others to enjoy.

Next Steps

The first target is to apply this design on the Pose Library, to properly test its usability and user interface. The Asset Shelf design will evolve further from there. Brush Assets will come after, starting with the Curve Sculpt Mode brushes.

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  1. Blender sculpting is developing commendably fast, it is desirable to develop sculpt mode material assign with brush.

  2. Don’t know if it’s an unpopular opinion and it’s quite off-topic…

    Active tools have a lot of potential.
    However, in almost every mode and almost every editor, active tools feel like a VERY unfinished concept and are mostly pointless, and I recommend my students to never use them, and I don’t ever use them either.

    In contrast, In sculpt mode, active tools feel natural, and complete, and make the most sense.
    And… bam… with this mockup, that’s all gone. Reduced to a few tools, and mostly those that shouldn’t really be active tools (filters)…

    I think the “Active tools” concept needs a lot of rethinking.
    For example, here’s how I imagine it: Either learn from modeling delights such as Sketchup, on how active tools work and how they are separated from selection or focus on going the “Blender way”: choose which tools should be active tools and which shouldn’t and don’t make duplicates. By these rules, for example, “Knife” would only be an active tool, and “Extrude” would only be a quick tool. In this case, a tool wouldn’t have two independent versions of it (One Active, and One quick). Now, you can use knife, as an active tool, while in the bevel active tool… That just feels like a mess to me…
    It should really be thought through on what is a quick action on a selection, and what is a continuous “Brush like” tool (Only those should be active tools). For example: Object mode could really use an “Asset draw/scatter” tool… This is what makes sense as an active tool there and would be really useful. But not, for example, the transform tools… Those, now, are just gizmos, accessible elsewhere…

    • I agree. The active tools have a lot more potential than what is currently there.
      The inclusion of the asset shelf will for now at least remove clutter and give the toolbar more room to grow and improve.

      For example we’re considering the inclusion of “Shape” tools, like circle, square, line & polygon lines, like in grease pencil draw mode.
      Making these compatible with brushes would allow us to use brushes as a style preset but have the active tool define how the brush is applied.
      There are various possibilities for the future and with a cleaned up toolbar it should be easier to explore them.

      But for now this is outside of the scope of this particular project.

  3. Isolated for itself the new toolbar looks great. But for me it looks like yet another workaround for something that should be fixed in the first place. Artists works with brushes. These brushes should be top hierarchy, means in the tool shelf. And why always so much settings in the way? I mean , flexibility is great, no question. But who really permanently changes other settings than brush thickness, add or subtract? The whole brush engine has grown this complex with this much settings that you need to take into account that a normal artist cannot work with it anymore. It has imho grown unmanageable.

    This current design mockup then adds yet another layer of complexity and confusion as already mentioned. For the user, and for the developers. Much simpler is what needed, so that artists can use the brushes again without a diploma. Not even more complexity. That’s the whole purpose of UI UX design. To make complex tools manageable for humans.

    When you really need to make it more complex for what reason ever, what about if you at least simply reactivate the tabs in the tool shelf, and add the brushes there? Makes the whole new toolbar at the bottom obsolete, and is the much cleaner solution. But as told, imho the whole brush engine needs an overhaul to make it easier, not even harder. Remove complexity would be my wish, don’t make it even more complex.

    I suggest to have a look how other 2D and 3d software has solved the brushes problems. And let yourself inspire by this. There are much easier but still as powerful solutions out there.

    • I understand the impression that this new UI is a workaround. But the intent is to use this UI to make the brushes and assets in general way more accessible. So they can be a first class citizen within every workspace.

      The Toolbar was tested for assets in the early design phase but we realized that the space is not sufficient enough, and the tools would be pushed aside because of that.
      A horizontal region at the bottom leads to the best use of available space.
      The inclusion of a smaller focused asset region will also remove the need to have the entire asset browser visible in the UI.

      The brush settings in the UI will be heavily minimized to only what is needed. That is also a key aspect of this design.
      So in the end everything in the 3D Viewport (for example) will be only what you need:
      – A slim Toolbar for tools on the left
      – A wide range of brushes (and other assets) at the bottom
      – The header with key settings and menus at at the top
      – A sidebar for additional properties, settings and addons on the right (if needed)

  4. My feeling is that currently provides intuitive layer manipulation (although the node is flexible but running around is very troublesome) square tool circle tool seems more helpful to enhance the completion in blender

  5. Are there “Material Brush” possible? thx!

  6. I’ve looked into it carefully and wanted to share my second piece of advice. Workspace is not set in sculpt mode which is missing in Blender. In brush assets update, asset brushes are added directly below the workspace resulting in a very bad interface.The update is nice but the Workspace needs to be specified, so after the workspace is determined, the asset brushes need to be placed at the bottom. For example, the workspace is determined in Zbrush. There is no setting on the workspace. But I don’t know if this is a suggestion for blender.

    • I’m not sure what you mean. The workspaces are preset UI layouts. Do you mean something else with that term?

      Once released, the asset shelf will be visible in each workspace in the main editor at the bottom (Like the 3D Viewport in the Sculpting workspace), so that important assets like brushes are easily accessible.

  7. A very well thought out development update. No one can say no to such a development.

  8. In terms of UI, I’m not sure if the asset shelf being created at the bottom is reasonable. It seems like sidebar is a good place for it. Asset shelf looks like adding another level of complexity to the UI… just like ‘Active tool settings’.

    ‘Active tool settings’ are already making things messy being duplicated in the top bar, sidebar and properties editor. I am concerned about this kind of UI issue happening again.

    • Thanks for the feedback. Improving the current situation with duplication in the UI is something that we are focusing on.

      We are aware that the addition of the asset shelf is adding complexity to the UI. So it’s vital that it has to be an essential time saver and workflow addition for various editors, without getting in the way of working.
      In the end it will save more screen-space than showing the asset browser.

      The article also briefly mentioned “cherry-picked” tool settings, which would be displayed in the header tool settings. So instead of displaying all settings, the region will only show the most used settings of any particular brush/tool.
      Meanwhile the sidebar would still be able to expose all brush/tool settings. This way the regions will be more individual in their purposes.
      The duplication in the properties editor is still being discussed, but the current consensus is to remove it to avoid unnecessary duplication.

      Feel free to share your opinions as well!

    • Placing brushes in the Sidebar was considered of course. Problem is that this is a dumping place for all kinds of stuff already. Every add-on and their mother adds its UI there too. If we put brushes there, there will be a lot of scrolling, tab switching or popup opening involved.
      The new pose library assets are placed in the Sidebar and these issues are quite apparent there.

      If the brush assets work well, you should barely have to touch most brush settings. Only the cherry-picked ones that are available in the header. I really hope we are moving towards a UI where you can keep the Sidebar closed, and probably the toolbar too. Asset Shelf and cherry-picked tool settings are enough :)

  9. Looks like a good design ! sculpt mode really deserves this. Switching tools, then brushes, and having them saved in a single blender file… what a chore that was !

    1. Is the asset drawer meant to be the “local” version of the asset browser editor, in the same way that the pose library has its own little clone in the viewport sidebar ? If they’re different things, can we consider letting the user place it wherever they want on their workspace, instead of hardcoding it to the bottom region ? I work on an ultrawide monitor and having it to the side would be nice.

    2. Will it appear in other editors as well, for instance in the NLA to allow pasting animation clips to a rig, or in the shader editor to drop node groups, etc?


    • Thanks! Regarding your questions:

      1. The asset shelf is essentially an expanded version of the current pose library from the sidebar and will replace that part of the UI.
      We don’t currently plan for changing the area position to the sides, but we do still consider the option to flip it to the top of the editor (Just like currently possible with the header).
      Testing the region on various window sizes will definitely be taken into account, to make sure it works for both small and ultra wide monitors.

      2. Any editor (3D Viewport, Image Editor, Node Editors) could have one, each showing supported assets for that area. This kind of support will be incrementally added, just like the current asset types rolling out one at a time.

      • Thanks Julien! I suppose being able to freely resize the asset shelf, either make it half as tall as the viewport or into a thin strip of “favorites” at the very bottom should go a long way already. Letting the user flip it to the top is a good idea too.

        Cheers !

  10. I’ve been already working on a small plugin for myself to add support for sort of “palettes” of sculpting brushes where after I tweaked some settings of standard brush, I could add this custom brush to a palette. But I see that you’re going with this design in a good direction so probably won’t need it if I will wait a while. You can actually create multiple custom brushes with custom names and access them in current Blender. But one of the reasons I wanted to create plugin with single flat list is that accessing my custom brushes is cumbersome. For example if I don’t remember if brush I’m looking for was based on draw or clay brush, or I cannot make logical groups of them, like for example “base shape” and “detail” brushes. I see you’ll tackle this issues by allowing to create folders and dynamic filters. Also, flattening this 2-layer system for choosing brush is very good design choice solving first issue I mentioned. I like it.

    One thing I’m wondering how you plan to handle is external resources linked to a brush, like for example texture/mask files. I’m still struggling with this a bit, when creating model assets library. I’m still not sure what is the best approach – embedding all external files in asset blend file or keeping it as a link to file on hard drive. First is causing duplication of data when appending asset to project file, second is causing troubles with asset versioning if I want to update it but not brake it for older project where asset was already used. But I guess your approach to assets is not a limitation here. Actually you provide multiple options for it and I think I just need to figure out best approach on my own.

    • Thanks! The project should be ideal as a base for further addon developers to build on top of it. It would be great to see what the community creates to augment the UI in various directions.

      Handling dependencies like textures and other data for assets will stay the same for now. The user is still responsible for storing their asset libraries (brushes or otherwise) on their hard drive and making sure that linking is accounted for.
      But this is also where future addons could automate asset management or make it more straight forward.

  11. When will this come ?

  12. I think it will be very cool!)

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