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[Tutorial] Flow – Instance Tools | Working with Collection instances in Blender

Collection instances is very underrated, but very useful feature provided with Blender. They help multiplying sets of objects in your scene with saving a lot of memory and decrease filesize. And they are the basic asset type, when using our Flow addon.

What is the collection instance? Simply it’s the empty type object with some data – in this case the collection – linked to it. What we achieve by using collection instances is saving tons of memory, as we are just duplicating one set of object multiple times. It works similar to linking object data, like mesh, but in this case we are allowed to link the whole set of objects. We can compare this system to sketchup’s blocks.

Regular editable objects
Collection instance

Unfortunately, in vanilla Blender, working with collection instances may not be very enjoyable, especially when it comes to edit the contents of the instance, or creating the new instance out of the selected set of objects, as you need to follow dozens of steps to get the result you want. This is why we created Instance Tools, the set of operators, that make using collection instances very easy, and user-friendly. In this tutorial I’m going to show you how to use Flow Instance Tools to make your workflow easier.

Editing the instance collection

Flow allows to edit the objects contained by the collection instance very easily. Simply select the desired instanced collection and click Edit Local Instance button in the Flow panel. You will be moved to the instance editor scene, where only the objects from the selected collection exists. You can now make any changes in your objects, like changing materials, modelling, adding new objects (in this case mind, that they must be located under the edited collection!). From this level you can also edit any other nested collection instance.

Edited collection

When you are ready, click Close Instance Edit button in the Flow panel to go back to your initial scene. Remember that your changes will be visible in all linked instances, as they are using exactly the same source collection.

Converting selected objects into the Instance

With Flow, you can also easily convert the set of selected objects into the collection instance and start duplicating them, without increasing your file’s data. This may be useful for you for example if you are creating the restaurant scene, and you’ve just created the repeatable set of table with chairs. When you convert them into the instance, both your filesize will not increase, and also you will be able to put any changes on all of those instances simultaneously.

To create the collection instance, simply select the set of objects. The origin of your active object will become the origin of your Collection Instance, so be sure that the active object is exactly the one you want, and that it’s origin is properly set.

The active object with origin on it’s bottom

When you are ready, simply click Selection to Instance button in the Flow panel, and your objects will be transformed into the Collection Instance.

Instanced collection

Exploding Instances

It may happen, that you may need to retrieve the objects from the collection instance and make them editable, but without joining them. Then, you simply need to click Explode Instance button, and the currently selected collection instance will be converted back into the editable set of object. Just beware, that those objects will not be linked to the objects used by the exploded collection – they will be copied in order to avoid any unexpected changes in the other remaining instances. Also – this operator converts only the selected instance into the editable set. The other will remain instances as before.

Exploded collection instance – objects are separated

Convert to editable object

This one works quite similar to the one above, with the one difference. All the editable objects in the selected collection instance will have applied modifiers and will be joined to the one mesh. Also the curves will be converted into the meshes and joined with this single object.

Instance converted to single mesh

Single-user instance

There are some situations, that you may need the same set of objects, but with different internal settings, like objects position, materials or any other data. In this case, you should make your instance a single user, to separate it from the source collection, and be able to provide any changes only to the new instance. Simply press the Make Single-User button in the panel to create the copy of the selected instance. Now, when you will edit it, the changes will show only on this one.

Linked instances are always duplicating the changes
While single-user instance can get it’s own changes

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I'm the founder of digital.ARCH and all our products. I work with Blender since about 2008, and this time help me to gather a lot of experience with this software