10 Blender addons that make Blender awesome
There’s more reason than ever to check out Blender, and with Danny Mac’s list of essential addons, this free software could become your go-to choice!
This year I made the jump from Maya to Blender and have been completely blown away by how powerful this free software actually is. My initial impression was that in areas where Blender falls shorts against other 3D apps, which in some cases it does, I can forgive it since it excels in others. That was before I discovered the world of Blender Addons. The abundance of addons not only fill the gaps found within vanilla Blender, they put the software above and beyond any I’ve used to date.
1. Node Wrangler (free - ships with Blender)
The second I discovered Node Wrangler I knew jumping over to Blender was a good idea… It’s incredible! Managing nodes with this addon is such a nimble experience. My favorite feature is that with a single click you can see how each node is affecting the model, which is incredibly useful for debugging the network. It would be difficult to explain all the different features here so I would encourage anybody reading this to check out the link where they are illustrated and explained. You won’t need to download it though, since it ships with Blender by default. You just need to turn it on in the user preferences.
2. TexTools (free)
One of my initial gripes about Blender was that the UV tools were lacking compared to other 3D apps. It hadn’t previously occurred to me that there’s probably an addon to improve that. TexTools is a very powerful UV solution adding over 40 functions to the existing UV toolset, some of which I’ve never seen before. On top of this it is also a powerful baking tool and Color ID generator. Oh, and it’s free! Again, I couldn’t explain all the features here so I would urge you to check out the link for more information.
3. Gaffer (free / $19.95)
Gaffer fills a hole in Blender’s default toolset in the form of a Light Manager and is a very nice compliment to the Pro Lighting Studio addon mentioned later in this article (though it’s great by itself!). Gaffer groups all your lights into one manageable UI along with all the important settings, speeding up your lighting workflow enormously. It also has a HDRI manager that allows you to quickly cycle through your HDRI’s and filter them based on tags. As with most things Blender the developer has kindly made it available for free but requests you buy it if you find it useful (which you will). Watch the demo to truly see what this addon is capable of!
4. Pie Menus (free - ships with Blender) + Pie Menu Editor ($16)
Pie menus are essentially radial menus you find in Maya, making it easier to learn Blender if you’re coming from a Maya background. The nice thing about the pie menus is that it brings menu items to your cursor as opposed to the other way around. As with Maya, once you learn where each of these items sit you can access them very quickly with a simple hand gesture. Alternatively, you might prefer to build your own custom pie menu to reach the tools you use the most.
If you wanted to create a custom pie menu it’s not too difficult to do with Python – Blender offers a template script to get you started. However, this does of course require some Python knowledge so I’ve included a link to a neat addon called Pie Menu Editor which presents a much more user-friendly way
to do it.
5. Retopoflow 2.0 (free / $86)
Retopoflow is designed specifically for retopology and is such a feature rich and polished addon it feels more like a separate app altogether. Having been in development for several years it has some incredibly powerful functions, such as adjusting the topology with Bezier curves after it has been laid down, or automatically filling in big gaps with polygons. If you’ve seen my retopology tutorials you’ll know for the past 5 years I’ve favored 3D-Coat for retopology, but Retopoflow has completely blown it out of the water. Again, I don’t have enough space to do it justice here so watch the demonstration and you’ll see what I mean. It’s free, but you can also buy it here to support the creator.
The awesome thing about this auto-rigger is that it isn’t just restricted to humanoid models; you can rig all sorts of complex creatures with it
6. Auto Rig Pro ($19.50 - $40)
As someone that likes to take as many shortcuts as I can when it comes to rigging, Auto Rig Pro is a godsend. It behaves in a similar way to the Mixamo auto-rigger in that you place markers on a few regions of the body and the addon will place the skeleton inside the body automatically – and it’s usually very accurate. Of course, the benefit of using Blender over Mixamo is that it utilizes Blender’s existing toolset, giving you a lot more control over the rig. The awesome thing about this auto-rigger is that it isn’t just restricted to humanoid models; you can rig all sorts of complex creatures with it!
7. GoB (free)
If you saw my previous article 10 ZBrush plugins I love, and why you’ll know GoB is a must for anybody that uses ZBrush alongside Blender. GoB is an unofficial version of GoZ for Blender which will allow you to transfer all of your models and textures between ZBrush and Blender with just a button click. Unfortunately, it is not yet backed by Pixologic and consequently can be a little fickle. That said, it’s a major improvement over manually exporting and importing.
8. Hair Net (free)
An area I feel Blender falls short compared to other 3D apps is its hair system. A key feature of a hair system such as XGen in Maya is the ability to create guide hairs from other modes such as geometry or curves, which Blender can’t do by default. The Hair Net addon allows you to convert geometry, curves or fibers from ZBrush into guide hairs that Blender understands, making it a must for anyone that wants realistic style hair in Blender.
9. Pro Lighting Studio ($127)
This one is a little expensive but well worth the price in my opinion. Setting up lighting can take time and this addon dramatically reduces that by providing over 150 preset light rigs and 49 HDRs for you to cycle through. The rigs will automatically scale and orient to suit your model but this can be adjusted to your heart’s content. Pair this up with the Gaffer addon and you have yourself an extremely powerful lighting setup. On top of all the lighting options you also get a choice of floors and backgrounds which are easily editable for presenting your models. Highly recommended.
10. Danny Mac Eye Designer ($29)
Okay, I’m clearly biased with this one but a tool I developed specifically for my needs is bound to make my top 10. The Eye Designer is a versatile add-on that allows for quick and easy creation of great looking eyes. The addon is designed to be as simple as possible, putting the modeling, iris shading and cornea shading onto an array of simple sliders. There’s also a handful of fake specular highlights for times when you just need that extra pop. Check out the demo where I go through all the different properties available.