A 3D mouse for Photoshop? Last month, we wrote an article about 6 accessories you can buy to improve the way you use Photoshop. One of the least used is the 3D mouse; many people never used or heard of it. Because of this, we asked the company if they could send us one to review and they were very happy to do so. Read our thoughts on it and learn how it can benefit your Photoshop workflow!
Why Use a 3D Mouse?
Have you ever tried moving/rotating 3D objects? It’s a lot more complicated than it could be. With a regular mouse, you’re constantly switching between the 6 different 3D move modes. But with the SpaceMouse Pro, you can use the controller cap to move in 6 axis without having to change between any of the 3D move modes. It makes rotating 3D objects much easier and faster and easier than using a mouse.
Moving 3D objects with a mouse involves using 6 different 3D move modes.
The 3dconnexion SpaceMouse Pro lets you move 3D objects in 6-axis without having to switch between any of the 3D move tools.
Using the controller cap on 3D mouse is like reaching out to move the object with your hands. Screenshot from 3Dconnexion’s website.
The Controller Cap and Buttons
The SpaceMouse Pro has a controller cap (the main part) along with several sets of buttons. The controller cap lets you rotate and move your 3D objects as if you were directly holding the object in your hands.
Starting from the top of the device, the four buttons on the top are programmable keys that you can customize with one of the many preset commands. You can also record a chain of keystrokes for it to playback; just like the macro keys in gaming keyboards. I have mine set to undo/redo and increase/decrease speed.
To the left of the controller cap are four modifier keys and a menu button. Your left hand sits over these keys and it’s easy to press the buttons with your pinky or ring finger. These keys are handy to have because they let you hold down the modifier keys without taking your right hand off your mouse. Unfortunately in Photoshop, modifier keys aren’t used much for 3D work. Holding the shift key while moving usually contrains the movement to one axis; this doesn’t happen with the controller cap. One way to get around this is to enable the “Dominant” option in the 3Dconnexion properties which will limit the movements to one axis at a time.
To the right of the controller cap are the QuickView keys. They’re supposed to let you change between the different viewing angles quickly, but only the Fit button worked with Photoshop. This is very unfortunate because it’s extremely useful and works very well in other 3D software. I even tried recording Photoshop actions to change the camera angle, hoping to map the keys to those Photoshop actions, but it didn’t work because Photoshop recorded the X, Y, and Z position which meant that it wouldn’t work for other documents with different width/height dimensions. All is not lost because these keys can be programmed for other functions/hotkeys.
The 3Dconnexion Properties has a large list of settings that you can adjust. It covers everything from turning on/off the blue light to setting programmable buttons for the keys.
You can also customize the buttons with the macro key recorder. It records a chain of keystrokes just like the macro keys in gaming keyboards.
Using the Macro Editor to create a hotkey to the Gaussian Blur filter
The SpaceMouse Pro and Photoshop
So how good is the SpaceMouse Pro with Photoshop? It’s excellent, but with some caveats.
Before you can use the SpaceMouse Pro with Photoshop, you’ll need to install its software which will install a plug-in for Photoshop. This plug-in needs to be activated every time you start Photoshop (File > Automate > 3DxPhotoshop). You can get around this by creating Photoshop action and use the Script Events Manager to play that action every time Photoshop starts. Here’s how to do it:
- In the Actions panel (Window > Actions), click on the “Create new set” button. Name this set “3Dconnexion”. Click on the “Create new action” button and name it “Start 3Dconnexion”. Photoshop will begin recording your actions.
- Go to File > Automate > 3DxPhotoshop.
- Click the “Stop” button in your Actions panel.
- Go to File > Scripts > Script Events Manager. Select the Action radio then pick the action you just created from the dropdown menus. Click the Add button and checkmark the “Enable Events to Run Scripts/Actions” checkbox. Click Done. Now the 3Dconnexion plugin will automatically start every time Photoshop starts.
Once you have it set up in the Script Events Manager, you no longer have to start the 3DxPhotoshop plugin manually.
Using the SpaceMouse Pro on 3D objects is easy and intuitive and responsive. On a slower computer, there was some slight lag but still usable. Rotating 3D objects is a lot easier with the controller cap. With a mouse, you have to tediously switch between the six 3D move tools. With the controller cap on the 3D mouse, you can do all of this without switching between any of the 3D move modes. It’s amazing how much easier and faster 3D work is with a 3D mouse.
I highly recommend enabling the dominant option in the settings which limits the controller cap to rotate/move at one axis at a time. This is similar to holding the shift key in Photoshop and gives you precise movements by locking it to one-axis at a time. I really wished the QuickView keys worked with Photoshop. If they did, they would let you switch between the different views quickly (default, rotate 90 degrees, top, front, and right). Unfortunately, it’s not supported in Photoshop.
The 3D mouse is useful even if you’re not doing any 3D work. When you’re not on a 3D layer, the controller cap serves as a panning/zooming tool. Move the controller sideways to pan your document around or press/pull to zoom in/out. You can even twist the controller cap to change your brush size. Even though I’m used to the hotkeys in Photoshop, I always find myself using the controller cap to pan/zoom. It’s a nice touch and I’m glad they added it.
When Photoshop Extended came out, I was excited about the new 3D features but I didn’t like how difficult it was to manipulate 3D objects. Rotating 3D objects would require some sort of planning-ahead because I always had to pay attention to which 3D move tool was activated (rotate, roll, drag, slide, and scale). I also had to keep pressing Shift+V keys to switch between the 3D modes.
After using a 3D mouse, it’s hard to go back to a regular mouse. It’s simply easier, faster, and more convenient to use the 3D mouse. You’ll need to use a 3D mouse for at least a couple days before you get good at it but I found that if you enable the “Dominant” option in the settings, it would lock the cap to move one axis at a time and make it easier to use. Also, I was surprised to see that it worked on non-3D layers for panning around, zooming in/out, and even adjusting your brush size. And even though I am extremely used to Photoshop’s hotkeys, I find myself using the controller cap instead of Photoshop’s hotkeys to pan and zoom.
Although the SpaceMouse Pro is a priceless tool to have, it’s an overkill for most Photoshop users. It cost several times more than the $100 SpaceNavigator (sufficient for most Photoshop users) and the QuickView keys don’t work in Photoshop. You’re essentially paying more for a nice wrist rest and some modifier/programmable buttons which doesn’t justify the $200 price difference between the two models if you only use Photoshop. However, if you use any other 3D software or see yourself getting more into 3D in the future, definitely invest in the SpaceMouse Pro because the modifier and QuickView keys are very useful – they just aren’t with Photoshop. Whether you decide to go for the SpaceMouse Pro or the more basic SpaceNavigator, the 3D mouse is definitely a tool you want to try.
- Priceless tool to have for anyone who does 3D work – Makes working with 3D objects easier and faster.
- When you’re not on a 3D layer, it lets you pan, zoom in/out, and adjust your brush size
- Excellent build quality – It’s made with soft-touch material and is weighted to prevent it from sliding
- Has modifier keys conveniently placed on the left side
- 4 additional keys that are customizable with your own set of commands
- Works with most popular 3D software including Photoshop CS3-CS6. Check their website for supported software before buying
- The QuickView keys don’t work with Photoshop
- Takes a bit of practice to get used to. Works great after that.
- Overkill for most Photoshop users compared to the lower-priced 3DConnexion SpaceNavigator