Blender 4.0 - What's new?

Learn about some of the key new features and updates available in Blender 4.0.

Yesterday saw the release of Blender 4.0 which, as usual, comes packed with new features and updates.

One of the benefits of Blender’s open source nature is that it’s possible to get access to upcoming versions of Blender whilst they are still in development.

As a result, I’ve already spent some time using the beta version of Blender 4 and this article highlights the key new features and updates.

Splash screen for Blender 4 3D software featuring a 3D rendering of a bicycle in a watercolour style.

Bone Collections

As an animator, when a new version of Blender is released, one of the first things I’m interested in learning about are any changes or improvements to the animation toolset.

The biggest change for animation in Blender 4 is the introduction of Bone Collections.

Bone Collections are used for organising the various elements of a character rig and they replace the Bone Layers and Bone Groups of previous versions.

Unlike Bone Layers, Bone Collections can now be named and are not limited to a set number. This makes organising the elements of a character rig far easier.

The major downside of this change is that it’s likely to have an impact on rigs created in older versions of Blender.

Whilst Bone Layers are automatically replaced with matching Bone Collections when an old rig is opened in Blender 4, many rigs feature an animator friendly interface for toggling the visibility of Bone Layers. Since the layers these buttons linked to no longer exist, the buttons will no longer display.

This is something which is relatively easy to fix but you simply need to be aware that rigs generated in older versions of Blender will need to be modified to work properly in Blender 4 or higher.

I’ve already made these modifications to the Pogo character rig which comes with my Into Animation: Character Animation Fundamentals course and existing students can simply download the updated version from the course resources section.

Blender 4 software interface illustrating Bone Collections feature.

Asset Shelf

Another nice addition for animators is the introduction of the Asset Shelf.

The Asset Shelf allows pose library assets to be displayed in the 3D viewport and offers a far more convenient way of accessing the poses than the older library system.

Blender 4 software interface showing the new Asset Shelf feature.

Light and Shadow Linking

The addition of light and shadow linking in Blender 4 is something that people have been getting excited about, since it has long been a standard feature in other software.

Put simply, light and shadow linking allows creative, non-physically accurate, control over which objects in a scene are affected by individual lights.

This is something which can be incredibly useful in a number of scenarios. For example, you may wish to use different lighting setups for your character and environment to ensure the optimal lighting for each. Light linking can also be used to add rim lights to a character or highlights to their eyes without effecting the surrounding objects or environment.

The one downside is that light and shadow linking is currently only supported when using the Cycles render engine and it doesn’t look as though it will be added to EEVEE in the next release either.

Node Tools

Another addition which could prove to be very powerful is Node Tools.

These enable Blender to be customised and expanded without needing to know how to code in Python.

Instead, tools are assembled using geometry nodes and can then be accessed within the regular menus when working in edit or sculpt mode.

The following video provides a fantastic introduction to how this all works.

Principled BSDF update

The Principled BSDF node has received a significant overhaul for Blender 4.

As the default shading node, this is something you are likely to be familiar with but the long list of attributes has now been reordered with only the most frequently used being exposed by default.

There are a number of other changes or additions to the shader such as it being possible to simulate dust using the sheen attribute or tint the edges of metallic materials.

One notable change is that the specular attribute has been removed. Instead, specular reflections are primarily controlled using the Index of Refraction (IOR) attribute and the new IOR Level attribute.

A comparison of the Principled BSDF node appearance in Blender 3.6 and Blender 4.

AgX View Transform

Colour management has seen a significant change in Blender 4 with the addition of the AgX View Transform. This now becomes the default View Transform, replacing the previous Filmic default.

AgX will deliver a similar look to Filmic but with improved handling of overexposed areas. Bright colours will now tend towards white when overexposed, which is more consistent with what would typically be captured by real cameras.

New Modifier Menu

The modifier menu has also received a new look in Blender 4.

Rather than the old menu which exposed all modifiers in a single view, the new system has a more conventional menu with modifiers grouped under sub-menus.

Whilst this might at first seem slower to use, Blender 4 also adds a search option to the menu. As soon as the menu is opened, it is possible to begin typing and then select options from the list which appears. In practice, I‘ve found this to be a faster way of working.

This search function also works within all of the Add menus, and other menus can also be searched by first hitting space bar and then typing.

A comparison of the modifier menu appearance in Blender 3.6 and Blender 4.

Shortcut changes

Something to be aware of is that a significant number of shortcuts have been modified in Blender 4. This is most noticeable with the sculpting and texture painting tool sets.

Whist the updates are logical, if you use these tools regularly, it is worth checking out the changes in more detail.

The following video gives a good overview of the changes.

Save incremental

Something I will make considerable use of is the ability to make an incremental save.

Previously, it was straightforward to increment the file version number through the Save As dialog, but it is now possible to make an incremental save to a file using either the File menu or the “Ctrl Alt S” shortcut.

UI tweaks

There have been a number of small UI updates which may be hard to spot on a quick glance but are more noticeable when switching between versions.

These include larger colour pickers, lists highlighting the selected items, and the interface even uses a new font throughout.

Overall, these changes help to create a cleaner and more streamlined interface.

The Blender 4.0 software interface.

Everything else

This list really just includes headline changes and a number of smaller updates which I found the most interesting. There are many more changes listed in the full release notes which can be found on the Blender website.

Into Animation courses

Having access to the beta version of the software means that I‘ve already checked all of my courses for compatibility with Blender 4.

As mentioned earlier, I’ve created a new version of the Pogo character rig for Blender 4 and, where necessary, I’ve added additional lessons to cover updates which, however minor, may have introduced confusion when following the courses in Blender 4.

This means you can be confident that all Into Animation courses are fully compatible with Blender 4 and I will continue to review them with each new release of the software.

Blender 4 reel

Finally, if you are looking for inspiration, you may like to check out the following video which shows off some of the work which has been created by the Blender community.

The latest version of Blender is free to download from the Blender Website.


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