Learn HOW and WHY to customise the Express Keys in your Wacom Tablet (Intuos 3D)
So you got your brand new Wacom Intuos 3D tablet. You have ZBrushCore all set up, and have gone through the Getting Started video series, what’s next?
I’d argue that next goal should probably be to optimise the way you work with the tools you have. One way to achieve a faster and more efficient workflow is by customising your tools. If you were on a deserted island and you had a nothing but rocks and branches at your disposal, how would you catch a fish or hunt for a bigger meal? Maybe you’ll take one of those branches and use the rocks to sharpen one end and make a spear… I don’t know, spearfishing looks easy on TV. Anyway… my point here is that you probably want to sharpen that branch before going into the ocean.
A weird analogy, I know. I’m not comparing ZBrushCore with a rock and your brand new tablet with a Stick! But if we ‘Sharpen’ the tablet we might be able to ‘catch that fish’ faster. (we are not rubbing the tablet against a rock either, I’ll stop the survivor analogies now… sorry).
The Express Keys are the 4 buttons (2 on each side) that sit at the top of your Intuos 3D. These buttons are great because you can assign to them, any of your favorite tools or shortcuts for a quick access.
Not only you can assign hotkeys to them, but you can assign hotkeys that are specific to the software you are using (active window). You can have a set of Express Keys defined for ZBrushCore for instance, and a completely different set of shortcuts when using Photoshop.
You can also customise the buttons from your Wacom pen.
The thing with customisation is that what works for me might not be ideal for the way you work. I work with ZBrush 4R7 most of the time, so if I open ZBrushCore for a quick sketch, I want to sit back and relax and don’t even worry about having a keyboard next to me.
This is my Intuos 3D setup for ZBrushCore:
I’m right handed so I have the buttons #1 and #2 mapped to the ’Shift’ and ‘Alt’’ keys. For the other buttons, I assigned the ‘[‘ and ‘]’ keys which are used to increase and decrease the brush size in ZBrushCore.
To complete the setup, I have the ‘Ctrl’ key mapped to button #1 on the pen (most people use it as a right click) and then I have the ‘undo’ command in the button #2 of the pen.
With this setup, I have the 3 essential keys ‘Alt’, ‘Ctrl’ and ‘Shift’ at comfortable reach, so I can navigate very easily (watch episode 2 from the getting started with ZBrushCore series) and use any combination of these key modifiers to access things like:
Hold button #1 on the pen (‘Ctrl) while painting a mask.
Hold button #1 on the pen and the tablet (‘Ctrl + ‘Shift’)
Invert brush effect: Hold button #2 on the tablet (‘Alt’)
Smooth brush: Hold button #1 on the tablet (‘Shift’)
And if I make a stroke that doesn’t work, or accidentally clear a mask, etc. I can click on the button #2 of the pen and access my undo history.
Regarding buttons #3 and #4 on the tablet, I know it might be easier to use the sliders for ‘Draw size’ in the UI but I feel a bit more in control when using these two buttons to gradually increase / decrease my brush size.
Although this process is very simple and is very well documented with plenty of tutorials online, I thought I should give you a quick step by step tutorial anyway.
The first thing you need to do is to make sure you know the keys you want to assign to your Express Keys. Open up ZBrushCore and simply hover over a button you like to know the shortcut for – You’ll see a little pop-up showing you the shortcut.
Now we need to find the Wacom Preference. You can do a quick Windows search for ‘Wacom’ and it should come up. Otherwise, in Windows 10 is probably under C:\Program Files\Tablet\Wacom
At the top of the Wacom Tablet Properties, you have all the applications you can use the tablet with. Here is where you can assign different shortcuts per application.
If you cannot see the application listed, click on the ‘+’ to add it. For this quick tutorial, I’ll leave the default option which is ‘All Other’. This means my tablet Express Keys, will behave in the same for all my programs.
Below the application icons, you should have 6 tabs. We are going to focus on the ‘Tablet’, ‘Pen’ and ‘On-Screen Control’ tabs, but let’s run quickly through the other tabs to see what they do:
Mapping: Very important if you use more than one monitor. You can map the area of your Intuos to your main display only.
Touch Options: Here you can change settings related to the touch gestures like scrolling or pointer speed.
Standard Gestures: In this section, you can customise your gestures, like tapping with two fingers to ‘right click’ or three fingers for dragging.
Ok, now let’s go to the Tablet tab. In this section, you’ll see a little graphic of the top part of the tablet with 4 drop-down menus that correspond to each button of the Express Keys. To set up our first Express Key, click on the drop down from the top left and choose ‘Modifier’. A new window will pop-up where you can define a modifier. Tick the box next to ‘Shift’ only and click OK – A modifier could be the Shift, Ctrl and Alt keys or the left, right and middle clicks. You can even tick two boxes to store a combination of keys (like ‘Shift’ + ‘Ctrl’ for selection tools).
Done! Your first custom Express Key has been set. We can repeat the same process to assign ‘Alt’ key to the bottom left button.
For the right-hand side buttons, we want a specific shortcut or hotkey (like ‘Shift’+’F’ for wireframe or just ‘F’ for frame). So, from the drop-down menu, select Keystroke. A new window will pop up. Type ‘[‘ (without quotation marks) under the Keys section and give it a name like ‘Smaller Brush’. Click ‘OK’ and do the same for the other button but use the ‘]’ (without quotation marks) symbol.
Under the Pen tab, you can tweak the ‘Tip feel’ to change the amount of pressure you put on the tablet. We are more interested in the drop-downs for the pen buttons, where we can assign even more hotkeys to work with ZBrushCore.
Select the bottom 1 drop-down menu, and choose ‘Modifier’ to assign the ‘Ctrl’ Key. Do the same for the top drop-down menu, but choose ‘Keystroke’ and assign the shortcut for the ‘undo’ operation: ‘Ctrl+z’
Once you finish mapping your Express Keys, go back to ZBrushCore and test them out! Give it some time and you’ll get used to your custom setup. If something is not working for your, just go back and change it.
The last Tab from the Wacom Tablet Properties is the ‘On-Screen Controls’ that lets you create virtual buttons, where you can map even more hotkeys. Let’s set one up very quickly so you know how to customise one of these.
Select the ‘On-Screen Controls’ tab. On the left-hand side, you can some default panel like ‘Photoshop colorist’, etc.
Click on the ‘+’ button to create a new panel. A new window will popup, give your panel a name and choose the layout type. In this case, I chose the radial layout, and named it ‘My Tools’. Also, you can tick the checkbox for ‘Display at Cursor’, so the panel will appear under your cursor.
Click ‘Ok’ and you’ll now see a radial menu on the left called (in my case) ‘My Tools’
On the right, you have 8 drop-down menus and you can follow the previously discussed process to assign more shortcuts and hotkeys. Let’s do the first one and you can spend time on the rest later.
From the first dropdown, choose ‘Keystroke’. Asign the shortcut ‘Shift + F’ and name it: Polyframe. Click OK to finish.
Once you finish assigning all your additional virtual buttons, we need to set up a way to call them when we are working with ZBrushCore.
Go back to the Pen tab, and click on the dropdown for the second button. We have already set this button up with the ‘Undo’ command, but for the sake of this tutorial, I’m going to replace it with our brand new radial menu.
Instead of using ‘Keystroke’, hover over the ‘On-Screen Controls’ and you’ll see the radial menu we just created: My tools. Select it and no you can use the second button in your pen at any point to call the extra set of hotkeys.
Now you can go to ZBrushCore and click the second button on your pen and you’ll see the virtual radial menu pop up under your cursor. From there, just select the action you want and that’s it!
Setting up your Express keys and shortcuts should not take you very long once you assign the first one. It is actually a very intuitive process but sometimes is good to see the steps broken up into smaller pieces.
ZBrushCore is a more streamlined version of ZBrush. It is a great introductory software designed for anyone new to the world of 3D sculpting. I have put together a series of very short videos on how to get started with ZBrushCore, that will help you understand some important concepts to get you sculpting within minutes.
ZBrushCore is a separate software from ZBrush, but what you learn with it, will translate seamlessly to the full version of ZBrush when you decide to upgrade.