ZBrush Tutorial: Basics + Hotkeys

This is a condensed reference guide from the video tutorials available on the Pixologic website.


Ctrl + N– Clear Canvas (When not in ‘Edit’ mode)

Space Bar opens a small quick menu of most common features.

Lightbox: Where tools, brushes demo models etc can be found. press ‘comma’ key to open it.

Draw mode: 2.5d mode where you can drag out ‘tools’ or paint with brushes onto a flat canvas (like clay on a glass pane). Clicking and dragging will create a myriad of instances of the same ‘tool’. Could 2.5 d mode be useful for creating textures and normal maps?

Edit mode: (shortcut ‘T’). You can edit the last drawn tool. Or press ctrl + N to clear canvas and draw a new base tool.

When you first place a premade primitive on screen, you must click ‘Make Polymesh 3D’ to be able to edit it.

Ctrl + Z: undo last action

Click and drag through history bar underneath ‘zadd’ tools etc. to rewind your model to an earlier state

‘F’ key: focus on model.

Rotate model by dragging mouse accross a blank area of canvas in edit mode. Hold the shift key and drag to snap to specific views- front, top etc.

move model by holding alt, then dragging mouse on a blank area of the canvas.

zoom model by clicking alt, then dragging mouse on a blank area of the canvas.

Left and right shelves can house individual palettes from the toolbar at the top.

Click a palette and drag the circle icon onto the shelf to dock it.

Ctrl + Alt to drag any individual tool to dock it on the toolbar (for quick access).

‘Preferences > Init Zbrush’ resets all docs and palettes to default settings.

Tools contain all info such as subdivisions, poly paint etc and can be saved in the ‘tools’ palette as a .zbt file

Tools are 3d- if you revert to 2.5d mode, you will be saving a zbrush document, with file type .zbr

 ——————— Canvas Size

A handy tip to remember is that the canvas itself, or the ‘viewing window’ through which you see your model, can be resized.

You should resize your canvas so that there is a little bit of blank space either side. The reason for this is that because of Zbrush’s (frankly terrible) UI design, you need to click on an empty space to rotate, zoom etc. Therefore if you zoom in close to your model, you may not be able to adjust the camera.

By making the canvas smaller, you leave a gap between it and the toolbars, which can also be clicked on to ove the camera.

To do this, simply click on the ‘Document’ tab at the topof the screen, and adjust the Width slider.


‘Alt’ key: alternates strokes between zadd and zsub modes. Ie- adding or subracting clay from your model.

X key: activates and deactivates symettry mode when scultpting.  This can also be found under the transform tab  along the top of the window.

Shift Key: Smooth model by holding shift and clicking. Affectied by the z intensity slider

Ctrl + Shift: Use the current Selection brush

B key: Bring up brushes menu. (When open, click a letter to isolate those named brushes.

MRgb– Paint with material and colour

Rgb – paint with just colour

M – Paint with just material



Using an alpha is like painting with a stencil. Certain brushes use certain strokes and alphas by default. They alter the shape of your brush.

Alphas are a good way to simulate skin and textures, and you can make your own.

Strokes: ‘freehand’- like drawing with a pencil; ‘dragrect’ – create a stamp of your brush the size of the rectangle you pull.  ‘colour spray’- lots of random brush stamps where you click.


—————–MASKING ——————-

Used to isolate certain pieces of a model, by painting a mask over it. this will appear as a dark area on the model, which cannot be sculpted on.

Hold Ctrl and make a brush stroke to mask an area of your model.

Invert a mask by holding Ctrl and clicking on a blank area of the canvas, or by clicking invert in the mask palette.

Ctrl + Alt + Click to ‘unpaint’ parts of a mask.

Ctrl, Click and Drag on a blank area of canvas to completely erase an active mask.

Alphas and strokes can be applied , again like stencils.  Hold Ctrl when picking a new alpha from the toolbar to assign it to the masking function. In the masking palette, masks can be blurred, sharpened etc.

In the mask palette, use the ShrinkMask, GrowMask and SharpenMask buttons to adjust your mask edges.

Convert a masked area to a polygroup by pressing the button in the polygroups section of the Tool palette.

Shift + F View polyframe

Ctrl + D Subdivide the model.

The divide tools in the geometry palette contain more options- including a slider to go between subdivision levels. Subdivision smoothing is automatically checked in the geometry > divide palette, which softens hard edges when you subdivide. this can be unchecked to maintain those hard edges.

You can delete lower and higher subdivision levels. You can also click ‘Reconstruct Subdiv‘ to lower your polycount and generate a lower resolution subdivision level.



Open the polypaint palette to the right. Click the colorise button. Uncheck zadd at the top of the screen, and select RGB. Now you are ready to paint your model.

Uncheck colourise to revert the model to its uncoloured state. toggle between these with the colourise button.

Select MRGB to add colour and clay, or M to merely sculp on top of your model

Hold the ‘C’ Key to activate a colour picker.

Paint will look smoother with higher subdiv levels.

RGB Intensity basically equals opacity of paint.



Polygroups are used to visually break up models and allow them to be worked on piece at a time.You can hide/unhide polygroups, mask by polygroups, sculpt on them and assign individual materials to them, making thema  very useful organisational tool.

When you import a model from another package, it will be brought in as one polygroup.

To view Polygroups, you must activate the Polyframes button.

Ctrl + W will convert any visible area to a single polygroup. If the model is masked, only the masked area will be polygrouped.

Click the polygroups tab in the right hand Tool palette. Click Auto Group.  This will split up the model into pieces.

Ctrl + Shift and click on a polygroup to hide everything except that polygroup

Ctrl + Shift and click on blank canvas to bring everything back.

‘Merge Similar Groups’ can be clicked to add similar objects into a similar polygroup- eg if tyres on a car are 4 repeated elements, they will be merged into one polygroup.

Click ‘Groups Split’ to break the single tool into subtools, based on polygroups. Again there are options to split or group together similar subtools in the subtool palette box.


5 thoughts on “ZBrush Tutorial: Basics + Hotkeys

  1. Hello!
    I wondering if there is any Palette where the Clear Canvas is located? I have made many own Hotkeys and Shortcut and I just must have done something with the Ctrl + N by misstake. I hade it mapped to a button on my mouse, but when I hit the button Nothing is happening, the same with Ctrl + N.. And I cant find the Clear Canvas anywhere in the Program.. Do I have to restore the default ZBrush Shortcut and Hotkeys and start all over again? I have put down many hours on this and I hope there is another way to get control over the Clear Canvas function. Is there any file whitch all the Hotkeys is stored so I can print it out or read it? I have my own document with all the canges and the default keys writed down, but I must have done something out of my control whit this one 😦
    Thanks for this greate page you made!
    I have add it to my favorite in the browser 🙂

  2. Hi there! Thanks for commenting. Glad you liked the article! Unfortunately I’m still very much a beginner with Zbrush, so I’m not sure if i can help with your question! The only thing I can think of is to use the ‘Preferences > Init ZBrush’ function in the toolbar. Or you can look on the pixologic website and they should have documentation which should be able to help you out.

  3. Pingback: ZBrushWorkflow in 2016 | Michael Arbuthnot

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