Mastering Photoshop: Unknown Tricks and Time-Savers

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We all have shortcuts that are essential to our daily workflow. A majority of them are staples such as Copy (Command + C) and Paste (Command + V), but occasionally we stumble upon a shortcut we wish we’d learned years ago. Suddenly, this simple shortcut has streamlined our process and shaved quite a bit of time off our day. Collected here are some lesser known but extremely useful shortcuts. Many of these are not documented in the “Keyboard Shortcuts” menu, and some of them don’t even have equivalent menu options.

Please note that all of the shortcuts listed below assume that you are using Photoshop CS4 on OS X. They will work on the Windows platform by converting as follows: Command → Control and Option → Alt.

Obscure Photoshop Time-Savers

Layers

Selection

Sifting through nests of layer sets to find the layer you need quickly becomes tiresome. Luckily, there are a number of ways to select layers more intuitively. Using the Move tool (V), you can Command + click on the canvas to select the uppermost layer with pixel data located directly below the mouse. If your layers are grouped within layer sets, this action may have selected the entire folder. You can change this behavior to select the actual layer by using the Auto-select drop-down in the Move tool’s property bar.

Layer Auto-Select
Changing auto-select behavior.

There will be times when you want to select a layer that is located below a number of other layers. By right-clicking with the Move tool, you’ll bring up a contextual menu containing a list of all layers located below the cursor. If your layers are properly named, you should be able to quickly select the layer you need. By holding Shift while using either of the selection methods above, you can select multiple layers. After selecting multiple layers, you can link the layers together by right-clicking and selecting Link Layers.

Layer List
Right-clicking to display all layers beneath the cursor.

The keyboard can also be used to select layers. Pressing Option + [ or Option + ] selects the layer below or above the current layer, respectively. Pressing Option + < selects the bottommost layer, and Option + > selects the uppermost. Option + Shift + < selects all layers between the current layer and the bottommost layer, and Option + Shift + > selects all layers between the current and uppermost.

Layer Selection

Sorting

Sorting layers with the mouse can be clumsy and slow. A few shortcuts speeds up the organizing. Command + [ and Command + ] moves the selected layer up or down one position in the stack. If multiple layers are selected, they’ll move relative to the uppermost or bottommost layer. Pressing Command + Shift + [ or Command + Shift + ] brings the selected layer to the top or bottom of its current layer group. If the layer is already at the top or bottom of the layer group, it jumps to the top or bottom of the parent layer group.

Layer Sorting

Viewing

Option + clicking the eye icon of a layer is a commonly known way to hide or show all other layers. There is also a way to expand and collapse layer groups: by Command + clicking the arrow next to the layer group, you can close or expand all other layer groups; this does not work on nested layer groups. Alternatively, right-clicking the arrow gives you a menu to perform the same actions; but this will work on nested layer groups.

Duplicating

There are a number of ways to duplicate data from one layer to another. Duplicating an entire layer is as simple as pressing Command + J. If a selection is active, you can use the same shortcut (Command + J) to create a new layer based on the selected area of the original layer. Pressing Command + Shift + J with a selection creates a new layer while cutting the data from the original layer. Holding Option while pressing one of the arrow keys allows you to duplicate the current layer and nudge it by 1 pixel. Holding Shift and Option nudges the new layer by 10 pixels.

Layer Duplication

Duplicating data from multiple layers can also be done more quickly using some keyboard commands. Using Command + Shift + C with an active selection copies the data contained within it to the clipboard. You can then paste it to a new layer (Command + Option + Shift + N, Command + V). If you’d like to create a flattened copy of the entire document, use the shortcut Command + Option + Shift + E: a composite of all visible layers will be added as a new layer to the top of your layer stack.

Layer Duplication

Brushes

Shape and Size

Being able to quickly adjust the brush tool is crucial to getting a swift workflow. Many know about using [ and ] to decrease and increase the brush’s diameter, as well as Shift + [ and Shift + ] to decrease and increase the brush’s hardness. However, CS4 introduced an even more intuitive way to do this. By holding Control + Option and dragging on the canvas, you can change the brush’s diameter with a visual aid. Control + Command + Option and dragging gives you control of the brush’s hardness.

The On-Canvas Drag makes brush adjustments more intuitive.
The on-canvas drag makes brush adjustments more intuitive.

If you would like to completely change the brush shape to a different preset, press < or > to cycle through them and Shift + < or Shift + > to select the first or last brush. Right-clicking inside the canvas also displays a condensed menu of brushes.

Brush Shape

Opacity, Flow and Mode

The opacity of the brush tool can be quickly tweaked using the number keys: 3 = 30%; 3 + 5 = 35%; 0 + 3 = 3%; 0 = 100%. Holding Shift when inputting the numbers sets the flow of the tool. Note that if Airbrush mode is on, these two shortcuts swap (i.e. holding Shift controls opacity instead of flow). You can toggle Airbrush mode on and off using Option + Shift + P. The same numeric input method can be used to determine the opacity of a layer when the Move tool (V) is active; pressing Shift allows you to alter the Fill of the layer.

Brush Opacity

Quick Fill

Instead of selecting the Fill tool (G), you can quickly bring up the Fill menu using Shift + F5. Even better, bypass the menu entirely using Option + Backspace to fill with the foreground color or Command + Backspace to fill with the background color. These keyboard commands can also be used to quickly set the color of a type or shape layer. To preserve transparency when filling, you could first lock the transparency of the layer by pressing / and then fill, but there’s an easier way. Pressing Option + Shift + Backspace or Command + Shift + Backspace fills with the foreground or background color while preserving transparency.

Quick Fill

Pressing Command + Shift + Backspace to preserve transparency while filling.
Pressing Command + Shift + Backspace to preserve transparency while filling.

Blending Modes

You can cycle through blending modes or jump to a specific one by using just the keyboard. By pressing Option + Shift + (+) or Option + Shift + (-), you can cycle forward or backward through available modes. Alternatively, you can set a specific mode using the shortcuts below.

Blending Modes

Typesetting

Setting type is a delicate and time-consuming process, but shortcuts speed it up. First off, hiding the inversed block that is created by selecting text is extremely beneficial. Command + H allows you to toggle the visibility of both the highlight and baseline stroke, making it easier to see the final result. When finished editing your text, you can commit changes by pressing Enter on the numeric keypad or Command + Return. Pressing Esc discards changes.

Type Setting

Variants

There are six shortcuts for changing the font variant, but they should be used with caution. If the appropriate variant or character does not exist within the currently selected font family, Photoshop creates a faux variant. These fake variants are frowned upon within the typosphere and are extremely easy to spot. So, if you use these shortcuts, make sure that Photoshop has selected an actual variant and not faked it. Now, onto the shortcuts:

Type Variants

Justification

To set the justification, use one of the commands below. Note that a selection must be made within the target paragraph for these to work.

Type Justification

Spacing and Sizing

Properly sizing and spacing type is a tedious task, but Photoshop does provide some handy—albeit broad—shortcuts. Unfortunately, there is no way to fine-tune the increments by which they adjust. Note that these shortcuts will work only if a text selection is made; selecting a type layer is not enough. To change the type size by increments of 2, press either Command + Shift + < or >. To bump the increment up to 10 points, use Command + Option + Shift + < or >. Leading can also be modified by 2 or 10 point increments using Option + Up or Down arrow or by Command + Option + Up or Down arrow.

Type Sizing

The arrow keys can also be used to adjust kerning and tracking. Pressing Option + Left or Right either kerns or tracks 20 units depending on whether or not a type selection is active (i.e. if the cursor is between two characters, kerning is applied; if multiple characters are selected, then tracking is adjusted). The increment can also be changed to 100 units using Command + Option + Left or Right arrow. Finally, the baseline can be shifted by 2 or 10 points using Option + Shift + Up or Down arrow or Command + Option + Shift + Up or Down arrow, respectively.

Type Spacing

Resets

Sometimes, we have to return to the defaults. Below are some shortcuts to get you back on track.

Type Resets

Menus

Hidden within many of Photoshop’s menus are a number of shortcuts that make adjustments faster and easier. Just about every menu—whether for Adjustment, Filter or anything else—allows you to revert to the original settings; by simply holding Option, the Cancel button will turn into a Reset button. Depending on the menu, holding Option might even change some of the other buttons (e.g. the Done button in the “Save for Web and Devices” menu will change to Remember). Certain menus, such as the Filter Gallery, also allow you to hold Command to turn the Cancel button into a Default button.

Using modifier keys to uncover in-menu options.
Using modifier keys to uncover in-menu options.

Spring-loaded Commands

By default, most menus transform the cursor into the Hand tool or Move tool. These tools can be used on the canvas while the menu is open to pan the document or to adjust settings, such as the Angle and Distance settings for a Drop Shadow. More tools, however, are available via spring-loaded shortcuts. The zoom tools can be accessed using either Command (to zoom in) and Option (to zoom out) or Command + Space (to zoom in) and Command + Option + Space (to zoom out). The hand tool can also be accessed by holding the space bar.

Holding Command + Spacebar to access the zoom tool within Blending Options.
Holding Command + Spacebar to access the zoom tool within the Blending options.

Adjustment Menus and Layers

The Curves adjustment, like most other adjustments, contains some handy shortcuts. Similar to how you can cycle through the Channels in a document, you can cycle through the adjustment’s channels using Option + 2, 3, 4, 5, etc. You can also cycle through the points on the actual curves using and =. With a point selected, you can nudge the points in increments of 2 in any direction using the arrow keys. Holding Shift in conjunction with the arrow keys moves the point by 16 units. When working with an adjustment menu, you can toggle the Preview option on and off by pressing P. Adjustment layers don’t have a Preview option, but you can temporarily disable it by pressing and holding .

Adjustment Menus and Layers

Summary

Hopefully, reading this has taught you a few new tricks and uncovered for you some of the more obscure options within Photoshop. While memorizing shortcuts can be a chore, integrating them into your daily workflow saves you an incredible amount of time. Do you have other obscure time-savers? Share your favorites in the comments!

Related Articles

(al)

Footnotes

  1. 1 http://www.webdesignerwall.com/tutorials/photoshop-secret-shortcuts/
  2. 2 http://blogs.adobe.com/jnack/2008/10/shortcut_changes_in_cs4.html
  3. 3 http://morris-photographics.com/photoshop/shortcuts
  4. 4 http://www.photoshopsupport.com/tutorials/jennifer/keyboard-shortcuts.html
  5. 5 http://www.keyxl.com/aaac987/148/Adobe-Photoshop-CS3-keyboard-shortcuts.htm

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Tom Giannattasio happily makes things at nclud. He works as an Editor for Smashing Magazine and teaches at Boston University Center for Digital Imaging Arts. He loves to experiment and share his work on his personal site: attasi.

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  1. 1

    CTRL + ‘

    Shows grid.

    CTRL+H removes and reapplies all helpers liek rulers and such..

    0
  2. 52

    Holy crap! That’s an awesome list of shortcuts.

    0
  3. 103

    What’s the Windows equivalent of the Command key? I tried using the Windows key to no avail.

    Any ideas?

    0
    • 154

      Thomas Giannattasio

      January 20, 2010 2:19 pm

      Hey Paul,
      The conversion from Mac to Windows is: Command → Control and Option → Alt

      0
  4. 205

    It’s sickening how many of these I know. Outside of a computer, my brain is filled with so much useless knowledge.

    0
  5. 256

    It is so much about practicing for me than just reading an article, but this has a few great tools I will have to try. Thanks.

    0
  6. 358

    Not bad at all, Thomas! Like some, I knew many of these, but there are some real winners in there I had no knowledge of that will speed up my work for certain. Thanks much!

    0
  7. 409

    NICE.. thanks, this will save time like hell for me!

    0
  8. 460

    Ufff, my head hurts! :)

    0
  9. 511

    Probably the most useful one and another that people often seem not to know is to press the Spacebar after you’ve started a selection with a marquee tool to freely reposition the start point. Saved hours over the years.

    0
  10. 562

    Didn’t know about the hidden Reset and Default buttons in the dialogs. Thanks!

    0
  11. 613

    THANK UUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU :):):):)

    0
  12. 664

    Great list of shortcuts… I have a comment specifically for the very fist shortcut listed here about selecting layers. I feel it is necessary and beneficial to add another tip to what was already said here.

    I like to use this method to select my layers, groups of layers, and individual layers within groups; however, I don’t want to have to change my Auto-select option each time I want to use this feature; that in itself is a waste of time. So here is a simple tip I have found most people don’t even know about that will allow you to keep your setting to group but still be able to select an individual layer within a group.

    From this article you were told to hold down Command(mac)/Control(pc) + click on the canvas to select the layer or group of layers with that specific art. If you want to get to the exact layer within that group, instead of changing your auto-select option just hold down Option(mac)/Alt(pc) + right click on the canvas and it will select the exact layer within the group.

    Hope this helps some of you.

    1
  13. 715

    I’m pretty sure most designers use a PC, so using control instead of ctrl and option instead of alt is pretty “hey I’m a mac” behaviour. Not cool.

    0
    • 766

      Where’d you pull that statistic from, Piry? This isn’t “hey I’m a mac” behaviour, it’s just less confusing to write an article favouring one keyboard layout over another. Expand your mind, man.

      0
    • 817

      Erm… how difficult is it to mentally swap Command/Option with Ctrl/Alt, seriously.

      P.S. the vast majority of Macs exist in the design/creative industries – it’s not “hey, I’m using a Mac behaviour” at all. They just made the mistake of believing PC users were smart enough to transpose two keys. An unfortunate over-estimation in your instance.

      2
  14. 868

    Big fan of this post. Thanks!

    0
  15. 919

    Shift + Option + Cmd + Ctrl + M = Downloads all keyboard shortcuts into my brain, directly, without having to learn them one by one. I wish.

    0
  16. 970

    Does anyone know of a key shortcut to scroll through your font menu when type is selected? I would love to know that even for Illustrator or InDesign. (Mac OS)

    0
    • 1021

      If you select your type, click on your font list pulldown so the current font name is highlighted, you can then use the up and down arrows to move through the list one at a time. It only shows the default weight but it’s better than nothing and much quicker than selecting one at a time.

      Works the same in Flash, Illustrator etc. That’s PC btw, but presume it’s the same on a mac.

      0
      • 1072

        Yeah, its not :( I use both, that is one advantage of a PC, and I cannot for the life of me figure out why mac users haven’t flipped out about it yet to Adobe. Perhaps ignorance really is bliss.

        0
  17. 1123

    Good post except creating a new layer without dialog is Shift, Option, Command+N, not C

    0
    • 1174

      Thomas Giannattasio

      January 21, 2010 5:14 am

      Tony, you’re right. The image has been updated to show the proper shortcut. Thanks for spotting that!

      0
  18. 1225

    Excellet post wow…….. amazing…

    I like It…

    0
  19. 1276

    Nice trick! very useful and save my time.
    Thanks

    0
  20. 1327

    Wonderful post … Thnx alot

    0
  21. 1378

    Nice tutorial ….

    0
  22. 1429

    Very useful, I know some of these keyboard shortcuts, and learn new ones, thanks!!!!

    0
  23. 1480

    And now a list for azerty keyboards :-D

    0
  24. 1531

    Wow, a post about shortcuts! Maybe next time you could tell me what’s inside the illustrator manual, or explain the word menu! And the presentation you came up with is just so smart, you know, the way reuse this because it’s all in just one page so I only have to scroll up and down to see them all!

    Please try harder next time…

    -2
    • 1582

      Menu: >n. 1. a list of dishes to be served or available for a meal. 2. a list or display of options, esp. as displayed on a computer screen.

      I hope this helps to explain the word menu for you; as for what’s inside the illustrator manual you can find everything you need at Knock-that-chip-off-your-shoulder.com.

      Instead of wasting everyone’s time here maybe you should look up the difference between constructive criticism and rude behavior. Good day to you.

      1
  25. 1633

    These are important and useful…..Thanks

    0
  26. 1684

    Best post in a while! There even are a few that I don’t know, so thanks Smashing!

    0
  27. 1735

    If you don’t know by now that command on a Mac equals Control on a PC, just give up on life as a designer. You are retarded.

    No really, you are f’ing retarded. Go seek medical help.

    The stupidity of some people just baffles me.

    Especially when THEY EXPLAINED THIS AT THE BEGINNING OF THE ARTICLE.

    Heaven forbid we read those things called “words” to figure out what’s going on instead of just looking at the pretty pictures….

    -2
  28. 1786

    Really useful, just shows you there’s always something to learn when it comes to workflow.

    0
  29. 1837

    This is the best list I’ve yet seen. Thanks, as most posters have noted, your effort is greatly appreciated!

    Photoshop also allows you to define your own custom shortcuts. Bring up the dialog box with:

    Option + Shift + Cmd + K
    or this ‘shortcut’
    ⌥⇧⌘K

    1
  30. 1888

    [quote]…Command + Space (to zoom in) and Command + Option + Space (to zoom out)[/quote]

    Actually for zoom out, Option + Space is enough.

    Very useful article, I knew some of the shortcuts but I was totally unaware of others. Thanks Smashmag!

    0
  31. 1939

    Redundant post if you ask me. There are hunderds of Photoshop cheat sheets on the web already. Making a big list of sometimes impossible (cmon who uses all those command+option+shift) shortcuts and calling it ‘TimeSavers’ is a bit silly.

    0
  32. 1990

    This article is written halfway. Is it so hard to explore shortcuts for PC?
    @Alex
    Sorry Alex, but you are not right, there is alot differences between Mac and PC keyboard layout for Photoshop.
    Much more than just Command → Control and Option → Alt…

    0
    • 2041

      Thanks… i was wondering what the hell was “command” and “option”… xD. PC should be the default system in tutorials, because you know… Mac… bleh!

      -2
  33. 2092

    Thanks for the post. It’s not always about the information itself, but about the time the information is released. I looked through several Ps Shortcut lists already but you won’t learn them all at once. So you just keep on using the 5 new you learnt and forget about the rest. Now this article actually tought me some new shortcuts I wasn’t aware of and I will use definitely. Especially the simple autoselect “layers” instead of “group” is a timesaver for me. Also the direct shortcuts to change the layer modes are great.

    I really think its good to release a post like this every 2 months to update your own workflow with hotkeys and ofcourse introduce new designers to timesaving hotkeys. Thanks for sharing!

    0
  34. 2143

    Thanx it is really helpful

    0
  35. 2194

    Being a shortcut addict I loved this post. Got some new ones to add to my arsenal – reckon the text formatting ones will be the most useful. Thanks.

    0
  36. 2245

    I implore everyone to stop using Photoshop to set type. Unless you want to design everything in 1,000,000 dpi. Thanks.

    0
  37. 2296

    Great article! I use shortcuts religiously, and there are some here that will help even more. Thanks!!!

    0
  38. 2347

    Wow! Great article, one of the most useful and comprehensive Photoshop shortcut roundups I’ve ever read :) Thanks!

    0
  39. 2398

    Very instructive ! thank you

    0
  40. 2449

    Great tips! Are these shortcut for certain version of Photoshop only? I cannot seem to get the change brush setting with visual aide shortcut to work.

    0
    • 2500

      Thomas Giannattasio

      January 21, 2010 10:09 am

      san,
      Yes, the brush’s visual aid was introduced in Photoshop CS4.

      0
    • 2551

      The “adjust brush size with visual aid” doesn’t work like that for Windows users. Still, I figured out how it does:

      Alt + rmb drag = Brush Size
      Alt + Shift + rmb drag = Brush Hardness

      Thanks anyway for many useful Tips :)

      0
  41. 2602

    Great post! Thanks!

    0
  42. 2653

    Klaus Shmidheiser

    January 21, 2010 10:45 am

    I thought I was a power user, always have LOVED quick keys, but I just got owned.

    0
  43. 2704

    Wow those adjust brush size with visuals is great!!!

    Thanks a lot Smashing!

    0
  44. 2755

    I think every designer should have their own set of shortcuts for each program aside from the original shortcuts and have them saved somewhere so you can use it for both home and work.
    I do that and it does save quite a bit of time. And for people who don’t use shortcuts and use the mouse instead to navigate through all the menus, you REALLY NEED TO start using shortcuts. Thanks me later.
    This is a useful post for me because sometimes I forget what shortcut I need for changing transfer modes and a few others. Thanks!

    0
  45. 2806

    EEEEEEEEEWWWWW… mac

    -1
  46. 2857

    Wow! I’ve been using Photoshop since version 2 (ahem showing my age) and this article is tremendous. Great work + more superlatives.

    0
  47. 2908

    Fantastic post great start to the new year so far.

    0
  48. 2959

    Great shortcuts! A few good ones that are new to me.

    0
  49. 3010

    Good presentation

    0
  50. 3061

    Most of the shortcut keys i am using from last 3 years
    but over all nice post…

    0

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