The 3DS Max Interface

Overview of the Interface

01. Introduction – What you’re going to learn

In this section we will cover the default 3DS Max interface and how you can change it to suit your needs. This section will exist as a guide and a reference – we suggest briefly reading through it to familiarize yourself with the interface but afterwards it is useful to come back to if you ever get lost. Note that if you ever need to find a tool you can just hit “X” on your keyboard and begin to type in the tool’s name.

02. File Handling

Here we will break down how 3DS Max handles files and how you should use them in the software.

a. Opening Files

To Open a file in 3DS Max you can either go to 3DS Max Icon -> Open in the Menu Bar at the top left of the screen or you can just drag and drop it from your desktop onto the 3D Viewport. When you release the mouse you will be given the option to Open, Merge, or XRef the File – or Cancel. Selecting Open will replace whatever your current scene is with the new scene.

b. Importing Files

To Import a file you can go to the 3DS Max Icon -> Import or drag and drop it from your desktop onto the 3D Viewport.

3DS Max has three options for Importing: Import, Merge or Replace. Import will take in another file format (.FBX, .OBJ, etc.) and bring that object into your scene. Merge will take another .MAX file and merge its contents with your existing scene. Finally, Replace will import another .MAX scene and replace any objects or materials that share the same name in your current scene with the objects and materials from the imported scene.

c. Closing Files

To close a file, either go to the 3DS Max Icon -> New or close Max entirely.  3DS Max only supports opening one file per instance of the software.

03. Interface and Navigation Overview

Here we’re going to break down the overall interface and give you an idea of where everything is and what it does!

a. Menu Bar

The Menu Bar at the top of the screen and allows you not only to control standard file commands like Open, Save, etc. but also acts as a duplicate location for all the tools within 3DS Max. Note that if you ever need to find a tool you can just hit “X” on your keyboard and begin to type in the tool’s name.

b. Main Toolbar

Here’s where many of the most commonly accessed tools are located – tools like Move, Scale, Rotate, Undo/Redo, Snaps, Mirror Objects, etc. are all located up here. In the smaller green box is the V-Ray Toolbar, which you will have available if you have also installed the V-Ray plugin. This can be docked to somewhere in the interface.

c. The Ribbon

This context-sensitive modeling menu will give you access to many modeling tools and functions when you are in the geometry editing modes. It can be collapsed or expanded to free up space by pressing the white and black arrow icon. By default it is collapsed.

d. The 3D Viewport

The Viewport is your main working environment and where your models will be created, your materials assigned, and your camera positioned. It can be split into multiple smaller viewports so you can see the 3D environment from multiple perspectives at once. If 3DS Max were a word processor, this is your blank page.

e. Viewport Layout Tabs

Here is where you can split your 3D Viewport into different smaller viewports by clicking on the arrow and selecting a layout. That layout will then be added to this list so you can access it again later.

f. Command Panel

This is what we use to create primitives, cameras, etc. and modify those items. We’ll go into more detail on this panel later, but it is the second most important panel after the 3D Viewport.

04. The Main Toolbar

The Main Toolbar contains many of the most used commands in 3DS Max. Over time you will get used to using many of these tools by their shortcuts. From left to right, the major tools are:

a. Undo/Redo

Used to undo or redo past actions.

b. Region Select Shape

Allows you to change the shape of the Left-Click-Drag Select window.

c. Move/Scale/Rotate

Shortcuts for these tools are W, E, and R, respectively. They allow you to modify selected objects in the 3D space. For the Scale tool, selecting the icon or pressing the shortcut repeatedly will toggle between different Scale tool modes.

d. Select & Place

Clicking and dragging on an object while this tool is active will place it directly on top of any object you drag it onto while this tool is active.

e. Reference Coordinate System Dropdown

This allows you to change the coordinate system that your tools are operating on and thus change their pivot location. For example, “Pick” will allow you to click on a face and change your pivot to align with that face and thus move objects relative to that face’s orientation.

f. Pivot Center Selection

Use this to adjust the Action Center of your tools. For example, “Use Selection Center” will place your tool in the averaged center of all the selected items.

g. Snapping Tools

These will enable snapping. For more information on Snapping click here (Autodesk)

h. Mirror Tool

This allows you to mirror objects and will automatically create a mirror modifier in the object’s modifier stack.

i. Toggle Scene Explorer/Layer Explorer

These will open a separate window that will list the contents of your scene.

j. Material Editor

Selecting this will open 3DS Max’s Material Editor, which allows you to give color and texture to your models. Clicking and holding on it will give you two options: either Slate or Classic Material Editors. We recommend using the more capable Slate Editor.

05. The 3D Viewport

In this section we’ll go over a basic “how to” for navigating the 3D environment in 3DS Max.


a. Basic View Controls:

 i. Orbiting: To orbit your view hold Left Alt and Middle Click. Then drag your mouse.
Orbiting the view means to rotate it around its point of focus. In 3DS Max the point of focus is always going to be the averaged center of gravity for all objects in the scene – so if you have two cubes, the point of focus will be equally between the two cubes.

ii. Pan: To pan the view, hold middle mouse button and drag the mouse. Panning will move you around the scene as if it were a 2D plane.

iii. Zoom: To zoom, either roll the scroll wheel forward and back or hold Left Alt and Control. Then middle click and hold on where you want to zoom in on and move the mouse forward and back. This option will provide a smoother zoom than the mouse wheel.

iv. To center a selected object, press Z when an object is selected or to center the  view to all objects in the scene press Z while nothing is selected.


b. Elements of the 3D Viewport:

i. The Grid:

The grid is visible as a reference and can be turned on and off by using the G key or clicking the [+] symbol on the top left of the viewport.

ii. The Axis Guide:

On the bottom left of the viewport is the Axis Guide which displays all three axis and their respective color coding – blue for Z (up), green for Y (forward and back) and red for X (left and right).

iii. The ViewCube:

On the upper right corner of the Viewport is the “ViewCube” which allows you to select between several orthographic (flat) views such as front, top, back, etc. To change views just click on a face of the cube. Left clicking and dragging on the ViewCube will orbit your current view.
The ViewCube can be enabled or disabled by clicking on the Viewport Options menu (the [+] symbol) in the upper left corner of the Viewport.

c. Viewport Options

You can access many options for the viewport, like maximizing it to take up the entire Viewport area or turning off different elements within the Viewport by clicking the [+] symbol at the top left of the Viewport area.


d. Changing Views

i. [View Name] Menu

You don’t always have to be in perspective mode! In addition to using the ViewCube, additional views can also be accessed by left-clicking the [View Name] option on the upper left of the Viewport (in this case it says [Perspective]). Note the shortcut keys for each view are listed in this menu.

ii. Changing the Viewport Layout:

You can split your single viewport into any number of smaller viewports by using the Viewport Layout Tabs. By clicking on the arrow at the top of this list you can select from different standard options. You can also create your own custom layouts by clicking on the [+] symbol -> Viewport Configuration -> Layout.

iii. Maximizing the Viewport

You can maximize any viewport by clicking on it and pressing Alt-W. Pressing Alt-W on an already maximized viewport will restore it to a smaller size in a larger grid of viewports (default is 4 viewports – top, front, side, perspective). If you have multiple viewports laid out you can click and drag on any one of their borders to resize them


e. Changing Shading Modes

Shading Modes relate to how the models are displayed in the Viewport. You can change between Wireframe, Shaded, Realistic and more by clicking the [Shading Mode] button (in this case [Wireframe]) to the right of the [View Name] text on the upper left of the Viewport. You can also click here to change the Viewport background and enable/disable material visibility in the viewport.

Below are three examples of different Shading Modes.

06. The Command Panel

The Command Panel is where most of your work will be started in 3DS Max. At the top of the Panel you have six tabs, each with a different function.

a. The Create Tab

Under this Tab is everything you will need to create objects in 3DS Max. Generally your project will start here.

The top row allows you to select from what type of objects you want to create (Primitives, Complex Primitives, Lights, Cameras, etc.).

Underneath the top row is a drop down that gives you an extended list of that particular object type you can choose from, sorted into categories.

Below that are Object Types that you can create. When an object or tool is selected on the Command Panel, the options for that tool is displayed below “Name and Color” (which allow you to assign both those properties to your newly created object.

b. The Modify Tab

Once you’ve created an object you will need to go to the Modify Tab to edit it. Here is where the Modifier list lives. Modifiers are different actions that can be applied to an object change its shape or properties.

At the top of this Tab is the object’s name and its color in the viewport.

Below that is the Modifier List dropdown menu where all available modifiers are listed.

Clicking on a modifier will add it to the Modifier Stack which is immediately below the Modifier List dropdown. Modifiers in 3DS Max work from the bottom-up: that is, modifiers at the bottom of the stack will take effect before the modifier at the top of the stack. In this example, the “Box” is created first, and then the “Bend” is applied to it.

Below the Modifier stack is a set of tools. From left to right: The pushpin icon will keep the modifier stack of the currently selected object visible in the Modifier List no matter what object is selected in the 3D Viewport. The test tube icon will preview the end results of the modifier stack in the 3D viewport, no matter which modifier is individually selected. The necklace-looking (Make Unique) icon will break the link between a cloned object and its source. The trashcan icon will delete a selected modifier. The window icon will allow you to create a “Modifier Set”, which is a selection of shortcut buttons to commonly used modifiers.

Finally at the bottom of this tab you will find the Parameters section, which will show the adjustable parameters of any currently selected modifier in the stack.

c. Hierarchy Tab

This tab allows you to modify an object’s behavior in a hierarchy. Objects in a hierarchy are influenced by the objects above them (the parent will move the child and itself but the child will only move itself).

The only feature in this tab you will generally use is the “Working Pivot” box (shown). This will allow you to move the action center of the tools you are using – so instead of scaling from the center of an object you can position the scale tool to one side of the object and scale it asymmetrically from there.

d. Motion Tab

The Motion Tab allows you to create animations for your objects. We don’t typically use this tab at Wayfair since all of our shots are static images.

e. Display Tab

The Display Tab lets you change object display options, hide and show different geometry, and freeze (prevent from editing) or unfreeze different objects. These options can also be accessed by right clicking on an object in the 3D Viewport and going to “Object Properties….”.

f. Utilities Tab

Here are a variety of tools that you can use to modify your model, inspect it, change your camera, and more. Of special note are “Reset XForm”, “Measure”, and “Perspective Match” (Autodesk).

07. The Scene Explorer

The Scene Explorer lists everything in your scene and is very important for successfully
navigating your 3D scenes. It has two modes – either displaying by Hierarchy or by Layer.

Sorting by Hierarchy shows objects as distinct list items unless they are a child to another object, in which case they are indented below their parent.

Sorting by Layer groups all objects that are in a Layer under that Layer’s name – regardless of their Hiearchy.

To toggle between these two modes, select one of the two buttons on the bottom of the Scene Explorer.

Immediately to the left of those two buttons is the Workspace selection drop down for the Scene Explorer. 3DS Max has a myriad of other list explorers, and you can select from them here. Typically it’s fine to just leave it on the Default setting.

On the left side of the Scene Explorer are the filters, which allow you to hide and show various object types (Geometry, Cameras, etc.).

08. The Ribbon

At the top of the 3D Viewport is the Ribbon, a context sensitive selection of modeling tools. When the Editable Poly or Edit Poly modifiers are active on your object, you will see a listing of various tools that you can use.

a. Modeling

Under Modeling you will see a variety of mesh editing tools. These will allow you to add loops of connected edges to add more detail, enable Constraints to make editing easier, and more. Note that these tools are context sensitive and will change depending on which sub-object mode you have activated (Vertex, Edge, Border, Face, or Element).

b. Freeform

The Freeform tools are Max’s sculpting tools and can be activated by using Push/Pull, Smudge, etc. under this tab. Freeform modeling is a bit like working with clay, and allows you to modify large areas of the object at once. It’s great for making organic tweaks to your model, like tufting, folds, etc.

c. Selection

The Selection tools under this tab allow for more detailed selections of subobject items. They also allow you to create selection sets for later use. These are advanced features that are not generally required for day-to-day use of 3DS Max, but they can improve your workflow.

d. Object Paint

The Object Paint tools allow you to select one object and then place duplicates of it along the mouse’s path. These duplicates can also be painted onto the surface of another object.

e. Populate

The Populate tools allow you to add animated crowds to a scene. These are not used for the work Wayfair does.


09. Select/Translate/Rotate/Scale

Objects in 3DS Max are manipulated mainly through these four tools. It is very important to your speed in using the program to learn their shortcuts and uses.

a. Select Mode

Shortcut is Q. This mode allows you to select objects in the scene by left clicking on them, or by drag selecting a box to select any object that touches the box. This mode is generally the “default” state of your interaction with the software and you will generally return to it between actions.

b. Translate/Move

Shortcut is W. Also called “Move”. Activating this tool will display a movement gizmo in your 3D view. Clicking and dragging on each of the arrows will move whatever you have selected along that arrow’s axis. These arrows correspond to the Axis Guide on the bottom left of the 3D Viewport.

Note that below the viewport there are three text entry boxes labeled X, Y and Z. Entering numbers into these boxes will translate your selection by these amounts. Note that clicking on any of the squares between each arrow will allow you to move in two axis at once instead of just one.

c. Rotate

Shortcut is E. This gizmo will give you a ball with round loops that are also color-coded based on their axis. Clicking and dragging on these rings will rotate the selected object around that axis. Clicking and dragging on the larger grey ring will rotate the object around the axis of your view. Clicking anywhere between the rings will allow the object to tumble in all three axis at once.

Note that the same text entry boxes for Translate/Move also work for Rotate as well.


d. Scale

This tool will create a small inside-out pyramid. Clicking and dragging on any one of the labeled axis and dragging will scale the object on only that axis. Clicking and dragging on the inside the pyramid so that the entire center lights up will scale the object uniformly about all three axis at once. Clicking and dragging on one of the smaller chevron areas will scale the object on only two axis at once.

Note that the same text entry boxes for Translate/Move also work for Scale as well.


10. The Slate Material Editor

The Slate Material Editor is used to add color and texture to your models. To enable it, click and hold the Material Editor button on the Main Toolbar and select it from the list. Once you are in the Material Editor, you can use middle click and hold to pan and scroll wheel to zoom in and out. You can also press Z to center the workspace in a similar manner to working in the 3D Viewport. Materials in the Slate Material Editor are represented as nodes and you can create very complex materials by connecting these nodes together. Credit for the image below goes to Autodesk.

a. Menu Bar (1)

The Menu Bar duplicates many of the functions of tools elsewhere in the interface.

b. Toolbar (2)

The Toolbar contains many of the main functions of the Material Editor. It allows you to activate the selection mode, the Material Picker, the option to delete a material, and options to arrange material trees to make them more legible.

c. Material/Map Browser (3)

This section of the interface will list any materials you have in the scene, materials nodes you have available, and material libraries that you have open.

d. Status Bar (4)

When materials are updated the program has to quickly rendering them in the preview. Here is where you can see that status.

e. Active View (5)

Materials are displayed as floating nodes in an active view. Multiple views can be created by clicking on the bar at the top of this area and selecting “Create New View”.

f. View navigation (6)

View commands are shown here.

g. Parameter Editor (7)

Once a material is selected, its settings can be adjusted here.

h. Navigator(8)

An overall view of the Active View that allows for easier navigation. Clicking here will move your viewpoint to that location.

i. Preview Window (Not shown above)

Right clicking on a material selecting “Open Preview Window” will open a larger material preview that makes it easier to see the final results of your adjustments. This window can be docked in the Material Editor interface for a constantly updated view of your work.

11. Modifying the Interface

3DS Max’s interface is quite customizable. This guide will cover customizing toolbar contents, toolbar locations, and shortcut keys.

a. Toolbar Locations

To change a toolbar location, every toolbar has a bar at the top or left of it (depending on its orientation). Clicking and dragging on these will allow you to break out the panel and place it somewhere else.


b. Toolbar Contents

To change what’s in a toolbar, or even create your own, go to Customize -> Customize User Interface in the Menu bar.

Under the “Toolbars” tab you have several options. On the left side of this window you have all of your different commands that you can add to toolbars, and on the right you can create or edit existing toolbars.

To add a command to an existing Toolbar, simply find the Group and Category that it belongs in, and it will display under the “Action” column in the list below. Then click and drag that command onto the Toolbar you wish to add it to.

To add a new Toolbar, click “New” on the right side of the window. Enter a name for the Toolbar, and hit OK. The new Toolbar will be created and you can begin adding commands to it as above.

c. Shortcut Keys

Shortcut keys can be assigned by going to Customize -> Customize User Interface in the Menu bar. Then under Keyboard, select the proper Group and Category for the action you wish to assign a hotkey to. Once this is done, select the action from the list to the right. Click on the “Hotkey” text entry box and type in your desired key. To change Mouse commands, go to the “Mouse” tab and repeat the same procedure.

12. Saving your Interface Changes

After customizing your interface it’s a good idea to save it so that you can transfer it to a different computer or have a backup in case it gets corrupted. 3DS Max has methods of saving the interface from inside the program but they do not always save everything. The most sure-fire way of saving your entire interface is making a backup of your ENU folder. You can find this folder here:

C:\Users\<YOUR USERNAME>\AppData\Local\Autodesk\3dsMax\

Note that you may need to turn on show hidden files in order to access this folder. To do so, open File Explorer and go to View (at the top of the window) -> Options -> View -> Show hidden files, folders, and drives.

Once you have accessed this folder, copy the ENU folder to a safe place. Now if you ever need to restore your settings or transfer your configuration to another computer you can just copy this file back to its previous location and overwrite whatever is there.

Note that this folder is only updated when 3DS Max is closed – so if you want to make changes, make them and then close Max. This will update the folder and upon re-opening Max your changes will still be there.