Two-Fisted Photoshop

Making The Most Of Keyboard Shortcuts

One of the things that drove me crazy when I was first learning Photoshop was the constant need to glance down from the screen to see the keyboard shortcuts or hotkeys. The default locations for the tools I used were all over the place. Fortunately Photoshop lets you customize their positions and the hotkey setup I have designed for myself will probably be useful to others.

Although the tools will vary from user to user I found it possible to concentrate about twenty of them into one location that I can operate without looking. I placed additional tools and commands close by so these require a minimum of attention. To some the time saved and the interruption to workflow may seem inconsequential but when I am working “in the zone” being able to keep my eyes focused on the artwork is invaluable.

Every User Is Unique

You will have to make a list of which tools you use the most. As an illustrator my primary ones are the eraser, brush, brush size down and brush size up. I assigned these tools in that order to the four keys (n m ,  . ) which are in a row above and to the right of the spacebar. This is my left hand home position. The (alt) and (ctrl) keys are just below these on most keyboards so the possibilities for various combinations are extensive.

Here are the custom hotkey assignments that I have worked out that seem to work best for me. The ones marked (DEFAULT) are not changed from the original Photoshop defaults and I have shown them here to demonstrate how well they all work together.

My Photoshop Keyboard Shortcuts or Hotkeys

eraser tool (n)

brush tool (m)

brush size down ( , )

brush size up ( . )

step backward (ctrl . )  to increase your backup allowance go to edit/preferences/performance/history states

step forward (ctrl , )

merge down (ctrl m) in layers panel

free transform (ctrl n) with mouse or stylus you can rotate, scale and skew

save as (ctrl / )

deselect (ctrl b )

default colours ( / ) black and white

toggle forground & background colours (b)

move canvas around (spacebar) with mouse or stylus (DEFAULT)

scrubby or animated zoom (spacebar alt) with mouse or stylus (DEFAULT)

sample colour – eyedropper (alt) with mouse or stylus (DEFAULT)

flip horizontal (alt ctrl . )

flip vertical (alt ctrl , )

warp (alt ctrl m)

variations (alt ctrl n)

hue saturation (ctrl u) (DEFAULT)

brightness contrast (ctrl i)

levels (ctrl l) (DEFAULT)

image size (alt ctrl i) (Default)

pen tool (p) (Default)

burn tool (o)

dodge tool (i)

How To Make The Hotkeys Your Own

With your list of tool favourites in hand you can go to Edit/keyboard shortcuts where the dropdown menu shows tools, application menus and panel menus. You will have to search through them until you locate the tools you want. Start with the four you use the most for your home row. In a lot of cases you will be substituting new keys for defaults so the program will warn you about this. From there it’s a juggling act to choose the tools you want and don’t want so be ruthless and brave.

To make it easy to find and keep my left hand on the home position I placed small beads of white epoxy resin on the (b) and (/) keys so I know if my fingers are straying beyond the home keys. I made the beads white so I can see them at a glance.

It takes practice to get used to a new set of hotkeys especially if you are used to the defaults. Within a few hours however you’ll probably be dancing around your four home keys like Mohammed Ali and the other keys will follow in time with repeated use.

You Can Save Your Settings For The Future

When it comes time to upgrade your hardware or software and you need to install Photoshop in a new system you don’t need to start from scratch modifying all those shortcuts again. In the keyboard shortcuts panel there are two small rectangles (with little black arrows pointing down on them) to the right of the first field near the top that says (set:). The left one is “save as” and will place a (.kys) file wherever you want it for later use. When the time comes you can drag that file onto your Photoshop icon on your desktop and Photoshop will ask you if you want to save the current key configuration and then apply the .kys settings.

The digital revolution has streamlined the workplace in countless ways. The functionality of Photoshop has advanced light years beyond its’ first inception and the convenience of personalizing the tools is yet another feature that takes it that much closer to perfection.

John Fraser has been illustrating stories as long as he can remember. Originally trained in fine arts and commercial design at The Ontario College of Art and Design in Toronto he discovered his realistic, digital style was ideal for portraying people and animals in funny as well as dramatic situations. John likes to create heartfelt images that inspire and amuse his audience. He lives in Toronto with his wife, three children, two faithful dogs and two ornery cats.