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I'm coming from (a long time ago) 3dsMax. It had this really handy ability to provide transform helpers and you could select parts of them. For example the translate helper was an XYZ "cross" with colors, and you could click and drag the XY plane for example to constrain movement there.

I've noticed that blender doesn't have these, so moving edges about when preparing to extrude can be quite difficult, is there a better way?

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you have many options for transformation manupilatoion :

Keyboard :

  • press G or S or R for translation, scale and rotation
  • chose the axis constraint X or Y or Z to limit the transformation on that axis
  • to limit the transformation to a plane you simply exclude the remaining axis, ex: to move on the XY plane press G than Shift+Z

Mouse :

  • select the appropriate manipulator in the 3D view
  • click and drag along any axis

enter image description here

  • while holding the object you can trigger the axis constraint by midle mouse click and rotating to that axis :

enter image description here

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  • $\begingroup$ There are a lot of closed questions on this, so I ask as a comment, is there a shortcut for middle-mouse-button, I don't think I've ever used mine and it isn't easy to press, a keyboard shortcut would be much preferred! $\endgroup$ – Alec Teal Mar 19 '15 at 13:59
  • $\begingroup$ @AlecTeal yes there is an option in User_preferences->Input->Emulate 3D mouse check it and than you can use Alt+Left_click instead; BTY there is a Keyboard configuration for 3D_max users there $\endgroup$ – Chebhou Mar 19 '15 at 14:03
  • $\begingroup$ Alt+left-click is move window! But can I set it to anything I like? Also I wont be doing that. I like the "G shift+Z" to mean not z, it'd be faster. I shall learn Blender's way! $\endgroup$ – Alec Teal Mar 19 '15 at 14:07
  • $\begingroup$ I meant mouse left button is that it ? also you can assign any shortcut you want; go to : User_preferences->Input->3D_view->3D_view_global->Rotate_view $\endgroup$ – Chebhou Mar 19 '15 at 14:18
  • $\begingroup$ @Chebhou nice answer, simple and clear. I'm sure I will be linking to this in the future. $\endgroup$ – David Mar 19 '15 at 18:26

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