One of the most exciting features of Blender 3.0 is the new Asset Browser. Other 3D programs have had asset browsers and it’s been glaringly absent from Blender for too long. Although third-party plug-ins have been available, the official Blender Asset Browser will be included with Blender 3.0’s release scheduled for December 2021. This is big!
Without an asset browser (or 3rd party plug-in), users have had to manually dig through .Blend files looking for the objects, textures or other “assets” they want to bring into their scene. Then it’s a clunky process to copy/paste or append assets. The asset browser makes this process so much simpler. Kitbashers and anyone with assets they use regularly in their scenes will benefit.
The asset browser went through a lot of changes as it was being developed. Early tutorials on the asset browser are practically obsolete because the functionality and look of the browser has changed so much. Although it still could change, the Beta version of the asset browser is probably pretty close to what the final product will be. So, I’ve decided it’s time to talk about it and create a thorough tutorial on it. See the video tutorial or keep reading.
What is the Asset Browser?
First of all, what is the asset browser? Some may refer to it as an “asset library” but this isn’t entirely accurate. The browser doesn’t store assets. It provides “catalogs” of what assets you have available on your computer and points Blender to where to find them. You can scroll through preview images of your assets and simply drag them into your scene. When you do, Blender will append or link the assets from wherever they are stored. It gives you a lot of flexibility on how to organize assets inside the browser without affecting how or where they are stored on your computer.
What are assets? Assets can be a number of data types which you may want to use in a scene. The most common that come to mind are objects and materials. But “assets” also include HDR images, poses, sounds and potentially a lot more in the future.
The asset browser is a part of Blender 3.0. It’s not an add-on. At the time of this article, Blender 3.0 is in its beta version and the full release is scheduled for about a month out. Anyone can use the beta version though so it’s available to experiment with right now. You just have to go to blender.org/download. Click on the “builds” tab and find alpha and beta versions. If you’re reading this after the full release, just download the current stable version of Blender.
To use the asset browser, you’ll have to set up an asset library folder on your computer. You can set up multiple libraries and libraries can have sub-folders, but any asset you want to use must be located within the over-arching folder(s) identified as a library. Go to Edit -> Preferences and click on the “File Paths” tab. Scroll down to the “Asset Library” section and add a folder containing your assets. You can also name any library which you add.
If you already have a well-organized library, or even just a folder of all your .Blend files, you can use that or create a new one. Make sure you save your preferences.
Then, place any .Blend files have which contain assets you want available in the browser into the identified library folder. You’ll have to open each of these files in Blender 3.0 (or later) and mark your assets. This is because you may have a .Blend file with several assets but only want some included in the browser.
To do this with an object, select the object(s) and then right click the object in the Outliner. An option to “mark as asset” will appear. Select that and it adds the asset to the browser (assuming the .Blend file is in the proper folder). If you have multiple objects selected, it will mark all of them. A new icon will appear next to the marked assets in the outliner to tell you they have been marked. Save the file after you mark the assets.
To add materials, right click the material name in the material properties panel. “Mark as asset” will be available there.
I’ve mostly been using the asset browser for objects and materials, but other assets can be marked as well. The “mark as asset” option should be in a logical place for those.
Organizing the Asset Browser
The asset browser itself is accessed through a new editor screen in Blender. Either find an editor screen to change or add one to your workspace. In the drop-down box where you change the editor (shader editor, UV editor, etc) you’ll see a new option called “Asset Browser.” This will open the browser itself. If you’re in a file with marked assets, you should see them appear in the middle.
If you’re in a brand new scene or scene with no marked assets, you’ll have to look to the left side of the asset browser. At the top is a drop-down box that defaults to “Current File.” The “Current File” refers to the file you currently have open in Blender. Only marked assets from that file will appear when “Current File” is selected. In the drop-down box you should see whatever libraries you’ve identified in the preference section (listed by whatever name you gave them). Selecting a library will display any assets in that library.
Below the drop-down box, is an area that displays your catalogs. Catalogs are how you can organize your assets inside the browser – regardless of how and where they are organized on your computer. Catalogs give you a lot of flexibility to sort through and filter your assets.
By default, there are two catalogs: “All” and “Unassigned.” These should be easy enough to understand. “All” includes all assets assigned to that library. “Unassigned” shows any asset in the library which has not been assigned to a specific catalog.
You can create a new catalog by pressing the + icon next to the “All” catalog. Double-click the new catalog to rename it. Start with high-level categories for catalogs. Maybe one for “objects” and one for “materials” to start (but it’s up to you). Then select the “All” or “Unassigned” catalog and start dragging assets into the new catalog. It’s very easy.
To create a sub-catalog, you can press the + icon next to a catalog. It’s important to note that sub-catalogs work a little differently than sub-folders. They are actually more like filters than folders. Selecting a catalog will show all assets in that catalog, regardless of whether they’re assigned to a sub-catalog or not. Selecting a sub-catalog will filter down to only assets inside that sub-catalog. As far as I know, you can create as many catalogs and sub-catalogs as you want. The possibilities are endless.
Pressing “T” on your keyboard toggles the left side menu where the catalogs are found. Toggling “N” will open a details pane on the right side. Here you can view and change meta-data for your assets. VERY IMPORTANT TO UNDERSTAND is you can only change metadata and assign assets to categories if you are in the “Current File” of the asset. That means you have to be working in the file where the assets were originally stored to make any changes to them (or to even move them between categories).
You may have noticed Blender creates a convenient preview image of the assets. Default images of objects display the objects as they appear in solid view. These are good but can also be changed in the details pane. Just click the file folder icon next to the preview image and navigate to a stored preview image you want to use. Again, you will have to be in the .Blend file where the asset originally exists to do this.
Other things you can change in the details pane include the asset’s name, description and author. You can also add tags to assets. These can all be searched later through the search bar on top of the asset browser editor.
Bringing Assets Into Your Scene
Setting up and organizing your libraries can be time-consuming but it’s all worth it when you want to use the asset browser. Now, the fun part…
With the asset browser open in one part of your workspace and a 3D viewport in another, simply drag objects into your scene to add them. A helpful grid appears to show where the object will snap to. Drop the object (there may be a momentary pause depending on the object and your hardware) and the object is placed into your scene.
For materials, simply drag the materials onto an object and they will be applied to the object. It’s all very fast and easy.
At the top and center of the asset browser editor there is another drop-down box that tells Blender how to import assets. It defaults to “Append (reuse data).” When this is selected, assets will be appended to the scene but if you append multiple instances of the same asset, they will have linked data. For example, editing one of the imported objects will edit all of the identical objects.
Another option is to select “Append.” This will append the asset to your scene but each instance of the object will have its own set of data. For example, if you dragged the same object into your scene two times but then wanted to edit only one of them, the “Append” option will allow you to do this.
Don’t worry, editing any objects in your scene will not affect the original objects in their “current file” (assuming you’re not in the current file for that object).
The third way to bring an asset into your scene is “link.” But linking objects means you can not change (or even move) them in your scene. You’ll have to do that from their “Current File.” There are reasons why you would want to use this but for most cases, it’s useless.
I’m personally very excited about the asset browser. Like everything new in Blender, it is bound to change over time. Having played around with it, I can already see how useful it will be for me. It lags a tiny bit when I have a large catalog but overall it’s not bad. This will be a game changer for many. Check out the video tutorial which provides a better visual of the asset browser.
Some complaints about the current (November 2021) version of the asset browser? It doesn’t allow for importing collections at the moment. This feature was included and then disappeared for some reason. It also doesn’t recognize parenting relationships…..or at least not properly. This is feedback I’ve heard is very frustrating to some users but I anticipate those will be corrected shortly.
Thank you for reading. Have fun with the asset browser and stay creative!