Design interfaces with the Control nodes¶
Computer displays, mobile phones, and TV screen come in all shapes and sizes. To ship a game, you’ll need to support different screen ratios and resolutions. It can be hard to build responsive interfaces that adapt to all platforms. Thankfully, Godot comes with robust tools to design and manage responsive User Interface. To design your UI, you’ll use the Control nodes. These are the nodes with green icons in the editor. There are dozens of them, to create anything from life bars to complex applications. Godot’s entire editor and plugins use these nodes.
This guide will get you started with UI design. You will learn:
- The five most useful control nodes to build your games’ interface
- How to work with the anchor of UI elements
- How to efficiently place and arrange your user interface using containers
- The five most common containers
To learn how to control the interface and connect it to other scripts, read Build your first game UI in Godot.
Only use Control nodes when you design your interfaces. They have unique properties that allow them to work with one another. Other nodes like Node2D, Sprite, etc. will not work. You can still use some nodes that work with others like the AnimationPlayer, Tween or the StreamPlayer. Control nodes are CanvasItems like Node2D, so you can apply shaders to them.
All control nodes share the same main properties:
- Bounding rectangle
- Focus and focus neighbour
- Size flags
- The optional UI theme
Once you understand the basics of the Control node, it will take you less time to learn all the nodes that derive from it.
The 5 most common UI elements¶
Godot ships with dozens of Control nodes. A lot of them are here to help you build editor plugins and applications. To learn more about them, check the guide about Advanced UI nodes and Themes.
For most games, you’ll only need five types of UI elements, and a few Containers. These five Control nodes are:
- Label: for displaying text
- TextureRect: used mostly for backgrounds, or everything that should be a static image
- TextureProgress: for lifebars, loading bars, horizontal, vertical or radial
- NinePatchRect: for scalable panels
- TextureButton: to create buttons
TextureRect displays a texture or image inside a UI. It seems similar to the Sprite node but it offers multiple scaling modes. Set the Stretch Mode property to change its behaviour:
Tilemakes the texture repeat, but it won’t scale
- The default,
Scale and Expand (compat), lets you scale the texture up, but it forces a minimal size
Keep Centeredforce the texture to remain at its original size, in the top left corner or the center of the frame respectively
As with Sprite nodes, you can modulate the TextureRect’s colour. Click
Modulate property and use the color picker.
TextureProgress layers up to 3 sprites to create a progress bar. The Under and Over textures sandwich the Progress one, which displays the bar’s value.
Mode property controls the direction in which the bar grows:
horizontally, vertically, or radially. If you set it to radial, the
Initial Angle and
Fill Degrees properties let you limit the range of the
To animate the bar, you’ll want to look at the Range section. Set the
Max properties to define the range of the gauge. For instance,
to represent a character’s life, you’ll want to set
the character’s maximum life. Change the
Value property to update the
bar. If you leave the
Max values to the default of
and set the
Value property to
40, 40% of the
Progress texture will show
up, and 60% of it will stay hidden.
Label prints text to the screen. You’ll find all its properties in
the Label section, in the Inspector. Write the text in the
property, and check Autowrap if you want it to respect the textbox’s
size. If Autowrap is off, you won’t be able to scale the node. You can
align the text horizontally and vertically with Align and Valign
NinePatchRect takes a texture split in 3 rows and 3 columns. The center and the sides tile when you scale the texture, but it never scales the corners. It is very useful to build panels, dialogue boxes and scalable backgrounds for your UI.
There are two workflows to build responsive UIs¶
There are two workflows to build scalable and flexible interfaces in Godot:
- You have many container nodes at your disposal that scale and place UI elements for you. They take control over their children.
- On the other side, you have the layout menu. It helps you to anchor, place and resize a UI element within its parent.
The two approaches are not always compatible. Because a container controls its children, you cannot use the layout menu on them. Each container has a specific effect so you may need to nest several of them to get a working interface. With the layout approach you work from the bottom up, on the children. As you don’t insert extra containers in the scene it can make for cleaner hierarchies, but it’s harder to arrange items in a row, column, grid, etc.
As you create UIs for your games and tools, you’ll develop a sense for what fits best in each situation.
Place UI elements precisely with anchors¶
Control nodes have a position and size, but they also have anchors and margins. Anchors define the origin, or the reference point, for the Left, Top, Right and Bottom edges of the node. Change any of the 4 anchors to change the reference point of the margins.
How to change the anchor¶
Like any properties, you can edit the 4 anchor points in the Inspector, but this is not the most convenient way. When you select a control node, the layout menu appears above the viewport, in the toolbar. It gives you a list of icons to set all 4 anchors with a single click, instead of using the inspector’s 4 properties. The layout menu will only show up when you select a control node.
Anchors are relative to the parent container¶
Each anchor is a value between 0 and 1. For the left and top anchors, a value of 0 means that without any margin, the node’s edges will align with the left and top edges of its parent. For the right and bottom edges, a value of 1 means they’ll align with the parent container’s right and bottom edges. On the other hand, margins represent a distance to the anchor position in pixels, while anchors are relative to the parent container’s size.
Margins change with the anchor¶
Margins update automatically when you move or resize a control node. They represent the distance from the control node’s edges to its anchor, which is relative to the parent control node or container. That’s why your control nodes should always be inside a container, as we’ll see in a moment. If there’s no parent, the margins will be relative to the node’s own bounding Rectangle, set in the Rect section, in the inspector.
Try to change the anchors or nest your Control nodes inside Containers: the margins will update. You’ll rarely need to edit the margins manually. Always try to find a container to help you first; Godot comes with nodes to solve all the common cases for you. Need to add space between a lifebar and the border of the screen? Use the MarginContainer. Want to build a vertical menu? Use the VBoxContainer. More on these below.
Arrange control nodes automatically with containers¶
Containers automatically arrange all children Control nodes including other containers in rows, columns, and more. Use them to add padding around your interface or center nodes in their bounding rectangles. All built-in containers update in the editor so you can see the effect instantly.
Containers have a few special properties to control how they arrange UI elements. To change them, navigate down to the Custom Constants section in the Inspector.
The 5 most useful containers¶
If you build tools, you might need all of the containers. But for most games, a handful will be enough:
- MarginContainer, to add margins around part of the UI
- CenterContainer, to center its children in its bounding box
- VboxContainer and HboxContainer, to arrange UI elements in rows or columns
- GridContainer, to arrange Controls nodes in a grid-like pattern
CenterContainer centers all its children inside of its bounding rectangle. It’s one you typically use for title screens, if you want the options to stay in the center of the viewport. As it centers everything, you’ll often want a single container nested inside it. If you use textures and buttons instead, they’ll stack up.
The MarginContainer adds a margin on any side of the child nodes. Add a MarginContainer that encompasses the entire viewport to add a separation between the edge of the window and the UI. You can set a margin on the top, left, right, or bottom side of the container. No need to tick the checkbox: click the corresponding value box and type any number. It will activate automatically.
There are two BoxContainers: VBoxContainer and HBoxContainer. You cannot add the BoxContainer node itself, as it is a helper class, but you can use vertical and horizontal box containers. They arrange nodes either in rows or columns. Use them to line up items in a shop, or to build complex grids with rows and columns of different sizes, as you can nest them to your heart’s content.
VBoxContainer automatically arranges its children into a column. It puts
them one after the other. If you use the separation parameter, it will
leave a gap between its children. HBoxContainer arranges UI elements in
a row. It’s similar to the VBoxContainer, with an extra
method to add a spacer control node before its first child or after its
last child, from a script.
The GridContainer lets you arrange UI elements in a grid-like pattern. You can only control the number of columns it has, and it will set the number of rows by itself, based on its children’s count. If you have nine children and three columns, you will have 9÷3 = 3 rows. Add three more children and you’ll have four rows. In other words, it will create new rows as you add more textures and buttons. Like the box containers, it has two properties to set the vertical and horizontal separation between the rows and columns respectively.
Godot’s UI system is complex, and has a lot more to offer. To learn how to design more advanced interface, read Design advanced UI with other Control nodes.