3ds Max tips and tricks!

Here is a list of some of my favorite tips and tricks when using 3D studio Max. Most of the tips should be valid for newer versions of 3d studio Max.

Feel free to add your own tips and tricks in the comment area. Thanks.


Tip 1: Create a basic scene you always load before you start a new project. 3ds Max have a lot of setting that are scene based. I like to have a base scene with Mental ray set as default render, gamma/LUT enabled and metric unit. This can save you a lot of trouble down the road when and if you need to merge scenes together or multiple people work on the same project.

Tip 2: Know your shortcuts! sometimes you accidentally press a button and 3ds Max does something weird. Here are some of the buttons you want to know to avoid head aches.

“o” toggles Adaptive Degradation, so if your objects turns to boxes when you navigate your scene, press “o” again. Use this option if you scene is very heavy and hard to navigate.

“x” toggles Transform gizmo, did your XYZ gizmo on your selection disappear? pressing x will switch it back on. (use + – to increase or decrease the size of the gizmo)

“Ctrl-x” Your command panel disappeared and your viewport take up most of the screen, you probably activated Expert Mode. Press Ctrl-X again to exit.

“Space” You can’t select anything in your scene except form your current selection ?… if a small padlock icon below your timeline is yellow, press space again to unlock your selection.

Tip 3: Right click on the snap button to access a whole range of options. I like to have Vertex snap as my default snap option. If you have trouble with a vertex that don’t want to snap to another, try and see if “Use Axis Constraints” is on in the options tab, and toggle off.


Tip 1: Use Editable Poly when polygon modeling, Editable Mesh is leftovers from earlier versions of 3ds Max and is no longer developed with new features etc. So if you do come across an editable mesh, just right click Editable Mesh in the modifier panel and choose Editable Poly, and you will now have access to a much larger range of modeling tools.

Tip 2: You want to export a mesh as OBJ, but get a warning saying “rats nest in mesh” then you probably have an isolated vertex in there somewhere. This typically happens when you use the Symmetry modifier. Simply check you mesh again in wireframe mode with vertex sub-object selected, find and delete the lone vertex, or click “Remove Isolated Vertices” which might also fix the problem for you.

Tip 3: When adding more loops to a mesh, use the Swift Loop tool to create a loop that flows with the surface curve. Simply select the Swift Loop tool, hold down Shift key and click where you want the loop. Note: that the UV coordinates will have to be adjusted afterwards.

Lighting (Mental Ray):

Tip 1: When setting up lights always use Photometric lights. Photometric lights are physically based lights, and important to create a real world natural look in your scene. Note: To achieve best result it’s also important that your scene is modeled to real world scale.

Tip 2: When using Photometric lights with Mental Ray, always choose Ray Traced Shadows in your shadows options.

Tip 3: Remember your Exposure Control settings when you use Photometric lights. Always choose to use “mr Photographic Exposure Control” when rendering with Mental Ray, and choose exposure settings that fit your scene.

Rendering (Mental Ray):

Tip 1: Unless you are making animatics or simple visualizations I’d never use the default Scanline renderer, I always choose Mental Ray or use another 3rd party renderer like V-Ray. I find that a much better choice when you want to use advanced lights and shaders.

Tip 2: If you want to output Z Depth with your render, you can add “Z Depth” Render Element in the Render Elements tab in your Render Setup menu (F10) Remember to adjust Z Min and Z Max to get the best range on the Z Depth image.

Tip 3: Use Material Override in the Render Options to quickly assign the same material to your entire scene without changing actual materials on the individual objects. Read my tutorial on Fast Ambient Occlusion to see an example on this feature.

Thanks for reading!

  1. PanPan11-17-2010

    “Never use the default Scanline renderer” ?…

    • Tom IsaksenTom Isaksen11-17-2010

      I suppose it depends on what you are doing, simple animatics where you don’t use advanced lighting and shaders the Scanline might be faster… I’ll edit the tutorial with that comment. Thanks.

  2. warkarmawarkarma06-16-2011


    If I turn on the Snap Toggle, the objects in the wireframe start disappearing unless I move my mouse over. How to fix this? It is very annoying.


    • Tom IsaksenTom Isaksen06-16-2011

      It sounds like a driver issue with your graphics card… I suggest you update those first and see. You can also play around with display driver settings in Max here: .. (I recommend you use DirectX 9) Customize>Preferences>Viewports>Display Drivers

      Hope that helps.

      • warkarmawarkarma06-16-2011

        The driver update didn’t help, however I fixed it in the Viewports>Configure Driver..>Window Updates by checking the “Redraw Scene On Window Expose” 🙂

        Thanks for the tip

  3. krembo99krembo9907-20-2012

    About Modelling tip No. : The edit poly is indeed newer and more powerful , but takes a lot more memory in render time . Testing shows that Editable mesh is more memory friendly, so after finishing the modelling, turn back to editable mesh for render (or even put an editable mesh modifier on top of stack will improve memory performance) . Test to verify !

    • Tom IsaksenTom Isaksen08-10-2012

      Thanks for the suggestion… I did a small test with 1,3 million polygons.. and the editable poly did in fact use about 200 MB more Ram…. and take a tiny bit longer to render.. so If you deal with many millions of polygons, this can have a great impact… but with smaller numbers I’m not sure it’s worth it.

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