Understanding 3ds max User Interface and Basic Terminology

A detailed tutorial to teach everything that you need to know about the user interface and the basic terminology of the 3ds max.

In this tutorial, you will be learning about the User Interface of Autodesk 3ds max. I notice that when people start learning the 3ds max, they don’t take time to understand the user interface which is highly recommended.

They just learn some very basic tools and jump into modeling, but before getting into any subject, you should have basic knowledge of the 3ds max user interface and terminology.
This tutorial will teach you about the user interface and the terminology regarding the elements of the 3ds max. So let’s get started.

The Caption Bar or The Title Bar

The Caption or the Title bar holds some tools for file handling and info search.

Quick Access Toolbar

The Quick Access toolbar is aligned at the right side of the Caption bar. It contains options through which you can save and open files or create a new scene or even set the project folder directly from there.

In the newest version of the 3ds max, Undo-Redo buttons and a Workspaces dropdown list is also there so that you can easily switch between different workspaces according to your requirements.


You can find more about 3ds max and other Autodesk products through InfoCenter.

The Main Toolbar


Main Toolbar is a long toolbar aligned horizontally at the top in 3ds max window. It contains the mostly used tools and options in the form of buttons and dropdowns.

The Command Panel

Command Panel is aligned at the right side of the 3ds max interface. The Command Panel has six more panels that let you access all the things you need.


Create Panel
As the name suggests, you can use Create panel to create things like Primitives, Lights, Cameras Helpers, Spacewarps and so on.

Modify Panel
All the parameters and settings regarding the objects that we create are displayed inside the Modify panel.
To modify an object, first, select it then go to Modify panel to access the it’s parameters.

Hierarchy Panel
You can manage the hierarchy of the objects with the tools provided inside the hierarchy panel.

What is Hierarchy in 3ds max?
Whenever we link two or more objects together, it creates the chain of the objects having Parent-Child relationship with each other. This chain is often called Hierarchy.

Note: Select and Link tool is used to create linking between the objects and Unlink Selection tool / button is used to break link between the selected objects.

Motion Panel

You can adjust the motion of an object with the help of the tools provided within the Motion panel. The Motion panel contains very handy options that help user to create rigs and animations.

Display Panel
Display Panel contains the options to control the display state of an object. You can directly freeze / unfreeze, hide / unhide and edit the other display properties of the selection from Display panel.

Utility panel
Utility panel contains all the different utilities each designed to perform a particular task. 3ds max allows you to write your own utility with the help of an in-built scripting language system. The language used for scripting in 3ds max is named as MAXScript.

The MAXScript Editor


You can access Maxscript Editor window through MAXScript > MAXScript Editor…. You can code your own scripts, utilities and plugins using MAXScript editor window.

The MAXScript Listener

Besides the MAXScript editor, we have MAXScript Listener window, in which we can execute short expressions. The MAXScript Listener window is divided into two panes. Top one is Macro Recorder, the pink one and bottom one is the Output pane which is white in color.

If you don’t have the Macro Recorder turned on, then go to MacroRecorder > Enable to turn it on. MacroRecorder records everything we do and displays it in the MAXScript form.

Output pane outputs / prints the results and the errors of the scripts and expressions that we evaluate.
You can execute the one liner expression and scripts directly from the MAXScript Mini Listener which is present at the bottom-left corner of the 3ds max’s Lower Interface bar.

Graphite Modeling Tools Ribbon


The ribbon contains some useful and advanced modeling tools that made the modelling process very easy. The Graphite modelling tools were introduced in 3ds max 2010 version. If you don’t have the ribbon visible, then, go to Customize > Show UI > Show Ribbon. Similarly, you can show other UI elements and toolbars that are not visible by default.

The Viewports

In 3ds max, we have four views by default that display the scene from four different angles: Top, Front, Left and Perspective. These view boxes are called Viewports and each viewport has a Grid (G). The selected viewport is highlighted in yellow. Here are some basic viewport shortcuts:


Alt + W: Maximize viewport.
Alt + Middle mouse button: Orbit viewport.
Alt + Ctrl + Middle mouse button: Zoom.
Alt + Ctrl + V: View Cube display toggle.
Drag with Middle mouse button: Pan viewport.
Grid Display toggle: G.

The Viewport Label Menus

You can see some text labels on the top- left corner of each viewport. These are called Viewport Label Menus.
[+] General Viewport Label Menu

In this Viewport label menu we have some options through which we can toggle Grid, View cube, Steering Wheel, xView, disable / enable the viewport, create previews and access more options to configure the viewports.

Point of View (POV) viewport Label Menu

You can access more POVs and Graph Editors as extended viewports available inside POV viewport label menu. You can also press V key to access available POVs and select the desired view from the pop up menu.

Shading Viewport Label Menu
You can control the shading of the objects with the help of the options provided within the Shading Viewport Label Menu.

Viewport Layouts


By default, the viewport layout is set to four viewports layout in 3ds max but you can switch to the different available viewport layouts according to your needs.
To choose another layout, just click on the General Viewport Label menu [+] then click on Configure Viewports… and choose the desired viewport layout from the Layout tab.

You can also switch between the different viewport layouts by running their respective MAXscript command.
Maxscript Commands for the available Viewport layouts.

Switch to the one viewport layout.

Two equally sized, vertically split Viewports.

Two equally sized, horizontally split Viewports.

Two horizontally split viewports with top one smaller in size.

Two horizontally split viewports with bottom one smaller in size.

Three viewports with vertical split, horizontal split on the left side.

Three viewports with vertical split, horizontal split on the right side.

Three viewports with horizontal split, vertical split on top.

Three viewports with horizontal split, vertical split on bottom.

Four viewports with vertical split, two horizontal splits on left side.

Four viewports with vertical split, two horizontal splits on right side.

Four viewports with horizontal split, two vertical splits on top side.

Four viewports with horizontal split, two vertical splits on bottom.

Four viewports with horizontal split, two vertical splits on bottom.

The Material Editor (M)

Material Editor is used to prepare materials and maps that can be applied to the objects we create in 3ds max. There are two modes of the Material Editor:

Compact Material Editor

We all are familiar with classic Compact Material Editor. It has the simple interface that holds 24 material slots and rollouts contain lots of options regarding the shader / material.

Slate Material Editor

Slate material is introduced in 3ds max 2011 version. It has node based system in which we can easily connect and manage the material nodes together. Material / Map browser is aligned at the left side and the Material Parameter Editor is aligned at the right side of the Slate Material window.

We also have a Navigator aligned at the top of the Material Parameter Editor through which you can easily navigate through the Active View.

Note: you can switch between Compact and Slate material editor through Modes menu.

The Rendered Frame Window (Shift + Q)


We can’t see some effects like caustics, reflection, refraction etc. directly in realtime so we have to make use of Rendered Frame window which renders the overall scene with final effects and lighting. We can easily save the output in available image file formats by simply clicking the Save button.

The Quad Menu


Whenever we right click on the viewport, a pop-up menu is displayed having some options depending upon the selection, this menu is called the Quad menu.

The Lower Interface Bar

The Lower Interface Bar holds some more UI elements of 3ds max.

The Status bar
Status bar displays the status of the scene objects and prompts the information about the action that is being taken by the user (see image).

The Status bar includes:

The Mini Listener
The Status Line
The Prompt Line
The Coordinate Display Area
Grid Setting Display
Add Time Tag

The Mini Listener
Mini Listener is aligned at the bottom – left corner of the 3ds max UI. We can evaluate one-liner expressions from here without opening up the Listener window.

The Status Line
Status line displays the number and the type of the selected objects. For example, if we select 3 helpers then it displays, 3 Helpers selected.
If we select the mix contents like 2 geometries, 2helpers, 2shapes etc. then it displays it as 6 Entities Selected.

The Prompt Line
The prompt line prompts the information based on the current action which is being taken by us.
For example, If we are in the creation mode, then it prompts, Click and drag to begin the creation process.

The Coordinate Display Area
We have Coordinate display area that displays the X, Y and Z coordinates of the selected object in the 3d space. We can also enter the values directly from there to transform the object / objects.

Grid Setting Display
It displays the grid spacing value that the grid is using.

Add Time Tag
You can add a tag or a text label to a particular frame with the help of this function.

Other than these, the Lower Interface bar also have some more options given below:


The Time Slider
The Time Slider is a small bar present at the top of the Track bar. You can go to any frame in the active timeline by scrubbing the Time slider.

The Mini Curve Editor
Mini Curve Editor can be accessed by clicking a button at the top of the mini listner

Animation and Time Controls
These tools let us create, modify the keyframes and their tangents while animating the objects.
We can play and see the animation in real time with the help of animation playback controls. These buttons are pretty much similar to the video player through which we can play / stop, go to next and previous frame or even jump at the start and at the end of the active timeline.

Viewport Navigation Controls
There are bunch of tools under this section that help us to navigate the scene within the viewports.

That’s all about the User Interface of 3ds max. I Hope you enjoyed this tutorial guide. For any question, suggestion or query you can contact me through email or comments section. Good Luck.