Using A Four or Five Button Mouse
For 3D Modeling & Animation

October 2002


There is a problem for those relying upon the classic style three button mouse.

The bottom line: get a newer 4-5 button mouse with a driver supporting button remapping, reprogramming, etc.

Configuration procedures are given below for one particular model, but the idea should apply to other vendors' products as well.

The Microsoft IntelliMouse product line– still available for 2018– permits remapping on a per application basis as well as globally on Windows.

The 5 button IntelliMouse Optical model works great with Softimage XSI and Blender 3D, both of which rely heavily on use of all three classic mouse buttons. Best of all, this model maintains full functionality even with remapping.

(Although I’m a long-time Unix advocate, I only have access to the Windows versions of the commercial 3D tools and unable to test on other platforms such as Linux, Irix, etc.)


Logitech, the largest supplier of traditional 3 button mice, intends to discontinue such models in favor of new-fangled wheel mice. This is based upon a conversation with a Logitech representative at a recent trade show.

Logitech also has been the OEM for many workstation vendors such as Sun, HP, DEC, SGI, etc, so expect changes there also.

By 2002, the classic 3 button mouse was increasingly more difficult to purchase.

But those classic mice were cumbersome for 3D people anyway… three finger moving up and down while moving the hand simultaneously can lead to write injury.

Instead, opt for the 4-5 button mouse variety (the fifth counts the wheel when used as a button).

When reprogrammed to use one of the side buttons (and usually disabling the other) in conjunction with 3D software, these mice make for more ergonomic replacements from the classic mice.

Strictly speaking, the wheel may be used as the middle mouse button– classic button 2– although, this can be problematic. Over prolonged and extensive use for a modeler or animator, this may potentially lead to repetitive stress injuries. After all, you must use additional dexterity to keep the wheel from rolling which could trigger undesired side-effects in your software.


Make sure that all mouse button functionality may be reprogrammed in your mouse device driver. This is a marketable feature, so it’s easy to find. (On your favorite marketplace, search for “intellimouse optical”)

To reprogram the mouse buttons, first understand the manufacturer’s lingo:

Side buttons in Microsoft IntelliMouse mice are appropriately named: “Left Side” button and “Right Side” button as opposed to assigning them arbitrary numbers or letters.

Also note that newer device drivers permit button reassignment on an per application basis. So you can configure just Softimage and Maya to be different from default settings.

Some drivers may prohibit duplicated button behavior. Only if this is the case for your driver, turn off scrolling function for the wheel– set to “None” or “Disabled”. (The above named mouse permits only AutoScroll function to be duplicated. You may have to disable it, apply other changes, then reconfigure to restore the wheel function if it complains.)

Even if you’re right-handed, I recommend the left-handed configuration when using a 3D package.


Using the Microsoft IntelliMouse:

(This preserves the mouse button order as presented by the helper messages at the bottom, right of XSI’s standard screen layout.)


Option 1: give your brain a stretch by switching hands and follow the above instructions.

Option 2: remain stuck in your ways but make the following configuration adjustments.

Using the Microsoft IntelliMouse:

Miscellaneous Comments

Try to preserve the wheel functionality even when mapping AutoScroll to another button.

Some unfortunate side-effects of disabling the wheel functionality are that you lose certain capabilities and must revert to previous combinations of keystroke plus mouse button sequences.

Scroll Wheel Use In XSI:

Note: if focus becomes an issue, just click on the title bar of any 3D view. This should re-enable it.


This document was a result of experimenting and a postings on the Softimage and Blender discussion lists.

Since initial version of the document in 2002, newer mice have thresholds before mouse wheel registers a scroll event, making conventional mice with only 2 buttons plus scroll-wheel easier to use for 3D applications.

Copyright © 2002 Daniel Joseph Pezely
May be licensed via Creative Commons Attribution.