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A Basic Introduction to Working with & Customizing ZBrush


In this tutorial I'll give you a basic introduction to ZBrush's interface and tell you how to customize it's User Interface to make your workflow more fluid and much faster, as per your requirements.

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So here is a screenshot of ZBrush 4R4, so first we'll start with some basic info regarding ZBrush. On left corner of the screen we have a whole panel and as there are lot of things to do for a basic intro, so I've split this screenshot into two parts.

In this one, I have outlined the first six sections. So No. (1) is the brush tool, from here we can select any brush to sculpt or paint with. (2) is the alpha we can use with our existing brush to get some details while sculpting/poly painting. (3) is the material palette, from here we can choose any type of material from ZBrush's default library. (4) are the "Edit" and "Draw" modes which we need to switch between "Editing" (Sculpting) or Scaling/Moving/Rotating any subtool. (5) are the settings used while polypainting a subtool. And finally (6) are the brush's overall properties for size and focal shift.

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Step 2

Now for the other parts of the default UI. (1) is the current stroke type of the brush, here we can choose of a variety of different strokes. (2) is the texture palette, from here we can apply any texture to our mesh. (3) is where we can simply pick the colors we want to use. (4) are the Move, Scale and Rotate tools, and (5) are the basic properties of the brush being used for sculpting.

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Step 3

And here is the Right side of the screen. In the very Right top corner (1), this panel contains all the sub menus of the "Tool" by default. (2) is from where we can scroll and zoom the document directly by clicking on these buttons. (3) is to choose the document size, i.e your active viewport at the center. (4) is from where we can switch between orthographic and perspective views and toggle the grid floor On or Off. (5) is for local symmetry only, and finally (6), is for "Move/Scale/Rotate" (Zooming, panning, etc...) the tool within the view port.

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Step 4

Now we'll move over to our customization, so for that first go to Preferences > Config > Enable Customize and that will enable the customization of the UI for us.

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Step 5

Now under Preferences > Custom UI > Create New Menu, a new window will appear stating "Please enter menu title". As we are going to use this menu for our most used Brushes, we'll name it "Brushes".

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Now just after creating this new menu, you'll notice it's been added to the top shelf alphabetically. Now we'll move on to add some brushes to our new menu, for that we need this menu open under the Left side panel. So simply click over the Left side vertical bar and it will open a panel for us.

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Now open the "Brushes" panel by simply clicking on it, and then move it to the left side by pressing and holding Shift+Ctrl and dragging and dropping it to the left panel. And you'll see the "Brushes" Menu appeared in that panel, but of course it's still empty right now.

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Now we need the default "Brush" menu on the Right side panel. For that, open the "Brush" menu and simply "Shift+Ctrl" click on the opened menu, and it will shift the menu to the Right panel window.

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Now as we can see the brush menu is still inactive, as we need some kind of poly mesh to work on to activate the "Brush" menu. For that scroll down in the Right panel and under the "Tool" menu, select "Cylinder 3D" first and then hit the "Make Polymesh 3D" button to convert it to Poly 3D. After that simply drag inside the viewport and it will appear.

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Now just after dragging it out in the viewport, enter "Edit" mode by clicking on the Edit button, and we'll have our "Brushes" menu active.

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Step 11

Now by simply clicking over the Highlighted brush, a whole window of brushes will appear. From this window, start selecting the brushes one by one that you'd like to have in your cutom menu and they'll start appearing under the Side panel window.

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Now as we have all the most used brushes inside the side panel "Brush" menu, we'll again go to Preferences > Custom UI > Custom Subpalette and drag it holding Shift+Ctrl to the Left side panel under the "Brushes" menu.

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Now to get our custom selection of brushes. Start dropping brushes from the default "Brush" menu on the Right side Panel, to our custom "Brushes" menu under the subpalette by holding Ctrl+Alt and dragging.

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Now simply Ctrl+Alt click over the "Untitled" subpalette and Rename it as "Regulars" or whatever name you like.

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Step 15

Now we'll move on to make another custom menu, so go to Preferences>Custom UI>Create New Menu and name it "Geometry", and then move that new "Geometry" menu to the Left side panel.

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Step 16

Now under this "Geometry" menu, create a new Subpalette and start adding options into it by dragging and dropping them using Ctrl+Alt as per your needs.

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Now add a few more options to the subpalette if you need to. Here mine includes "DynaMesh", "Smt" and "Crease" which are a few of my most frequent ones. Now we'll create a new subpallete for some new options in "Layers". It's always better to keep your custom menus as manageable as possible, so start adding some new options from the "Layers" Palette to your custom subpalette. A few I've added here are "New Layer", "Split Layer" and "Merge layers". (We'll rename these subpalettes later.)

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And here I've added three more subpalette to this menu. One for "Deformations", a second for "Polygroups" and a third for "Morph Target" as these are all my mainly used tools.

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Now we'll rename all these subpalettes to their respective names by clicking Ctrl+Alt over each "Untitled" name. The first will be named "Geometry", the second "Layers", the third "Deformations", the fourth "Poly Groups" and the fifth "Morph Targets".

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Now another thing we can do is customize the existing shelves of ZBrush, by simply dragging and dropping options from the Menu to the existing shelves. Like for example, here I've placed "Double" and "Export" from the "Document" Menu into the main upper shelf. And if you want to completely cutomize these Shelves, you can even knock off existing options by simply dragging and dropping them into the viewport using Ctrl+Alt. And then replace those options with new options, as per your needs.

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Step 21

We can also enable the lower shelf which is empty by default. You can pretty much add any tools you want to it by simply dragging and dropping them onto it. In my case I've added few brushes here to get easy access to them.

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Step 22

Now as we're pretty much done with the UI customization it's time to save it, for that simply go back to the "Preferences" menu and toggle the "Enable Customize" option Off, and after that just hit "Store Config". This will save this config as your default one, so every time you open ZBrush you can have the same UI loaded by default.

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Step 23

Now it's always better to make a backup of your custom UI so if you reinstall ZBrush or want to shift to a new machine, you can always have your UI in one single file which is easily replaceable. So go to Preferences>Save Ui and save it somewhere on your local drive.

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Step 24

Now just to check if all the Menus that we've created are working fine, just go over them "Brushes" and "Geometry".

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Step 25

Now we have our custom menu's in place, it's awesome. But what if we want to have them appear anywhere in the viewport on the fly while we're working in expert mode? For that purpose we have the "Hotkeys" feature in ZBrush that works in a very fun way. Although we can apply hotkeys to virtually every tool or option in ZBrush, we can also assign hotkeys to Menus.

So for that simply go over to your "Brushes" custom menu, press Ctrl+Alt and click over it while keeping your cursor in the exact same place (this is very important, if you move your cursor somewhere else, it will cancel the Hotkey assignment) and then press any key (i.e. I have "q" set for brushes.) In the same way, assign "a" for "Geometry".

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Now after making the Hotkey assignments you always have to go to Preferences>Hotkeys>Store and it will store this hotkeys config as default. If you close ZBrush without saving these you will loose the assignments after the next startup. You can also then save your hotkeys to your local drive.

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Step 27

Now to check your hotkeys while anywhere in your viewport, press "a" to open your "Geometry" menu and press "q" to get your "Brushes" menu on the fly.

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Now here is a little summary of the most used default hotkeys in ZBrush:

  • "B" is for the "Brush" palette,
  • Hold "Spacebar" for the "Brush" settings,
  • "S" if for "Brush Size", "U" is for "Z Intensity", "I" is for "RGB Intensity", "O" is for "Focal Shift"
  • "Tab" is for "Expert Mode",
  • "P" is to toggle between "Perspective" and "Orthographic" views.
  • "W,E,R" are simply for "Move", "Scale" and "Rotate",
  • "T" is to toggle between "Edit" and "Draw" mode.


I hope this will give you guys a very clear picture of how to customize ZBrush completely to work as per your requirements, and help you make your workflow faster at least.

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