How to add background images or reference pictures in Blender 2.8x


Assalamu’alaikum. Hi guys.

My name is Widhi Muttaqien from Expose Academy.

In this tutorial video, I want to show you how to place background images or reference pictures on the 3D viewport and also on a camera view inside Blender 2.8 or above. Essentially we’ll be using a new type of empty object in Blender called the “image object”. We will cover different ways to create “image object”. Then discuss each of the features more in-depth. And finally how to add background images in camera view which is a bit different than using the “image object”.

I hope this short tutorial can be helpful. Happy Blending!

Regards, Widhi Muttaqien

Video transcript:

Assalamualaikum. My name is Widhi Muttaqien from Expose Academy. Often when doing modeling or any other tasks in Blender you need to bring in an image or a picture to the viewport, to be used as a reference. Since Blender 2.8 it is much easier to do this, because we can use a new type of empty object, called the “image object”. This object that can provide almost everything that we need in terms of having image reference in the 3D viewport.

This video will be divided into 3 sections. First, we will discuss several methods of creating image objects. Second, we will dive in to discuss each of the features provided by the image objects. And finally, in the third section, we will discuss how to add image backgrounds to the camera view. We need to discuss this separately because, for camera objects, the method is different as we don’t use the image object.

Creating image objects

To create an image object in Blender, you can do this in 2 different ways. First is by dragging an image onto the 3D viewport. For example, I can open the file browser like this. Pick an image and then just drag it like so to the Blender 3d viewport. When you release the mouse. Blender automatically creates this image object from the image file. The image object will be positioned and oriented based on our viewing angle. So if you want the image be to aligned to the right view for example. Make sure that you’re viewing the right viewport first, before dragging in the image.

The second method of creating an image object is by using the add object command. You can go to the add menu up here. Or simply by pressing Shift + A. There are actually 3 locations in the add object menu where you can create an image object. You can see the “image” category here. In its sub-menu, we can find 2 options, “reference” and “background”. Both of these options will actually create the same image object type. The only difference is the settings that they will have when created. But don’t worry, these settings are not set in stone. You can always change the settings later. So you can convert “reference” type to “background” type, or vice versa background to reference, later without any problem. If you click “reference” here for example. Blender will ask you to select the image file you want to use. Just select any image you have on your computer. And then press “load reference image” button here. Just like before, we have an image object aligned to the current view. Let me hide these for now.

The third-place where you can create an image object is inside the “empty” category here and then choose “image” down here. Let’s click this. As you can see, the last method is a bit different, because Blender didn’t ask for any image. It only creates this rectangle which is actually an empty image object. Again, all of these different methods we discussed here will basically create the same image object type.

Image object basic settings

If we select this empty image object and then open the properties editor. You can see now, the data properties panel shows this empty object icon. So yes, the image object is actually just a subset of the empty objects. In the “display as” menu, you can actually convert it to other types of empty objects such as “plain axes” or “arrows”, etc. But if you set this to “image”, you will be able to access these parameters and also pick the image you want to use using this section. Just click open here and then browse for the image.

Now, we can see the image in the viewport. Also, notice how the data panel icon has changed to this image icon. Besides a single image, you can also bring in a sequence of images, or movie files, etc. This can be quite useful for doing rotoscoping for example. Now, because the image object is just an object. You can do transformation on it, such as moving it around, or rotate it, or scale it. But I wouldn’t recommend you to scale it, as that can distort the image ratio and also will break the measurement or the size value of the object. What you should do instead is using this size parameter here. If you change the size to 5 meters for example. The 5 meters value is actually used to define the longest part of the image source, either be the width or the height. So whichever is the longest will have 5 meters value. What’s so great about image objects is the handles. Without typing the size value manually, you can change the size visually by dragging any of the four corners. Or, you can also drag the borderlines, like this. As you may already notice, it always respects the original image size ratio. You never have to worry about accidentally stretch or squash the image. Which is another great feature of the image object. But there is a small caveat here. After you drag the corners or the borders, sometimes you need to click on the image object to force the size value here to be updated. I don’t think this is a bug, it just needs time to update the value.

Now, one thing you need to be aware of when dragging these corners is that you may offset the image far from its origin location. You see this orange dot here. This is the origin of the image object. To move the whole image relative to its origin, you can use these offset values. X to move it horizontally. And Y to move it vertically. If you want the origin to be at the center, you can just hover your mouse on top of these input fields and then press Backspace. In Blender, pressing backspace will reset any input fields to their default values. In the case of our image offset values, the defaults are minus 0.5. Not zero. If you input zero, this will actually put the origin at the bottom left corner. Not at the center.

Next, we can control the transparency of the image object by first activating this “use alpha” option here. And then just change this “transparency” value here. I find this transparency feature very helpful to make the image less distracting when doing modeling.

Image object display settings

Now we’re going to discuss the core parameters of the image object. The “depth” value is for controlling the depth sorting. To see these options in action, let’s create a cube. Put it below or behind the image. And then duplicate it and put the new one in front of the image object. Okay. Now if we are looking at the image from this angle. The default option here will make the image looks like any ordinary 3D object in Blender. It will block what is behind it. And be blocked by what is in front of it. But, if you set this to “front”. The image object now always rendered after the other 3D objects, so it is always in front of the other objects. If we set this to “back”, the opposite will happen. It always rendered before the other 3D objects. So it looks like it is behind the other objects. Again, this option will not change the image object position. It only affects the “depth sorting”, or the order of how it is rendered in the viewport.

The next setting is the “side” setting. “Both” here means you will be able to see the image from the front-side of it and also from the back-side of it. If we set this to “front”, we can only see the image from the front-side. If we try to view the object from the back-side, it will look invisible. The last one is “back” which basically the opposite of the “front” option. It is now invisible from the front side, but visible from the back-side.

Next is the “display orthographic” here. If this is off and you have the viewport in the orthographic mode, the image object will become invisible. So this way you can only see it when in the perspective mode. Next is the “display perspective”. This is the reverse of the previous option. If you have this off, then you can only see the image when in orthographic mode. In perspective mode, the image will be invisible. The last option here is the “display only axis aligned”. If you have this option turned on. You can only see the image if you are in the axis viewpoints. What axis viewpoints mean are the straight viewpoints such as front, top, left, right, etc. If you are in the user view mode, the image will become invisible. This is useful if you have multiple image references. For example, one image for the front view, one for the side view, and another one for the top view.

Usage example

Placing image objects to be used in axis views is relatively easy. Because they are just objects, you can just rotate them per 90 degrees to be perpendicular to any axis that you want. For example, if I want this image object to be only viewable in the front view. Just press R to rotate and then X and then type 90, then enter. And just turn on this “display only axis aligned” option. Now the image only visible when we are in the front viewport. If we rotate to other view angle it becomes invisible. Okay. But, what if you want to place the image in the camera view. How can we do that?

Background images on camera

Well, for this scenario, camera objects actually have their own background image. So it doesn’t use the image object we have just discussed. To access it, first, you need to select a camera object. And then in the camera data tab, down here you can find the “background images” section. To add an image background you need to click this ”add image” button here. Click “open”, and just choose the image you want to use. For now, I will pick an image that has a portrait ratio on purpose. This is so we can discuss how to adjust the image ratio later.

We can see the settings are a bit different from the image object. To see the background image and how the settings affect it, you need to be in the camera view mode. So press zero on the Numpad. This alpha value here is used for controlling the transparency of the image. The depth setting is for controlling the depth sorting. Which basically has the same concept with the image object depth setting. Now, this “frame method” here does not exist in the image object. In the camera object, you can have the image stretch to the camera view ratio. Of course, if your image doesn’t have the same image ratio with the render output, some stretching will occurs. If you set this to “fit”, the image will always be displayed fully in the camera view without any cropping. So you may see some of the areas become blank. Not covered by the image. The last one is “crop”. Basically, this will cover the entire camera view by allowing Blender to crop the image if needed. The offset options is basically the same with the image object. The only difference is that it uses zero as the default numbers for centering the image. And the 4 settings down here should be self-explanatory. This if for rotating the image. This one is for scaling the image. This is for flipping the image horizontally. And this one for flipping vertically.

If we rotate the view to go back to the user perspective view. We can see the background image is not visible anymore, because it will only visible when we have the camera view active.

Okay guys. If you want to learn more about computer graphics. Perhaps you want to jump into the video game industry. Or perhaps you want to create digital assets that can generate passive income. Or you want to have a career doing something you really love. Or become an entrepreneur in the creative industry and build your own design firm. Or maybe you just want to learn CG as a hobby. Then you should check out my courses at Udemy or at Skillshare. The links are in the description below. Currently, I have courses in Blender, 3ds max, Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, and Krita. And more to come -in sha Allah-. All of these courses will guide you from the very basic, step by step, until you can master the skills that you need. As always, subscribe to my channel. Share the video. Give a thumbs up if you like the video, and give a thumbs down if you hate the video. Check out my other tutorials. Wassalamualaikum.