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Are you a designer on a deadline? If you are, then I’m sure you can recall the last time you thought to yourself, “if I had a little more time, I could…” what? Polish that button? Find a better hero image? Reevaluate that color palette? Take some time to do a little more QA?
The truth is, however, that we designers will always be looking for more time to polish the one pixel that got away. But rather than begging our project managers for more time on our projects, maybe it’s time we look at our own workflows and see if there are any ways for us to gain just a little more time.
Of course, since our go-to design tool in the office is Photoshop, we thought we’d share with you 50 simple Photoshop tricks and shortcuts we love using that can help trim excess spent time in your workflows.
Important Note: The following require Photoshop CS5 and a Mac OS X.
The Usual Keyboard Shortcut Suspects
Memorize these shortcuts. They hold the greatest influence and weight in slimming the time you usually spend in Photoshop.
1. Layer Blend Mode Shortcuts: Normal (Shift + Option + N), Multiply (Shift + Option + M), Screen (Shift + Option + S), Overlay (Shift + Option + O), Soft Light (Shift + Option + O), Saturation (Shift + Option + T), Color (Shift + Option + C), and Luminosity (Shift + Option + Y)
2. Cycle through Blend Modes Shortcut (Shift + – or +): If you like cycling through various blending modes for quick experimenting, this shortcut allows for you to move up and down your current layer’s blending mode. Note that if you’re in any of the retouching/painting tools, it will cycle through the blending properties of that retouching/painting tool
3. Opacity shortcuts: Tapping 1 through 0 will give you opacities between 10% to 100%. Tapping multiple numbers in quick succession, however, will give you that specific opacity percentage (i.e., tapping 5 and 6 quickly will get you a 56% opacity level).
4. Fill opacity shortcuts: Holding down shift and tapping 1 through 0 will give you fill levels between 10% to 100%. The same applies here where tapping multiple numbers in quick succession of one another will give you specific fill percentages.
6. Keyboard shortcut for setting default white foreground and black background (D): Quickly accessing black or white will be necessary for many occasions, including a quick layer masking, or brushing highlights and shadows onto objects. This shortcut defaults your current foreground to black and background to white.
7. Brush tool shortcuts for adjusting the size and hardness of brush tools: Hit the bracket keys, [ or ], to change the size of your brush. Hold down shift when using the bracket keys to adjust the hardness of your brush in 25% intervals.
9. Fast editing with Hue/Saturation (Option + Command + U), Levels (Option + Command + L), and Curves (Option + Command + M): Quick pixel editing is sometimes a necessary thing to do in a PSD. Even if you’re just trying to experiment or see how certain pixels can be manipulated, try utilizing these fast shortcuts to adjust hue, saturation, lightness, levels, and curves on the fly!
10. Shift + Anything for incremental nudging: While you may already know that Shift + any Arrow Key incrementally nudges an object by 10 pixels (multiplied by whatever zoom level you’re at), did you know that holding down Shift + Arrow Key in certain windows in Photoshop can also allow for 10% nudges? Try holding Shift + Up or Down Arrow on any number input field in Photoshop (like the font size input field or any number input field in a layer styles panel) and you’ll see that holding Shift in these instances will also jump your number values in increments as well!
Customized Must-Have Keyboard Shortcuts
These are a few useful customized keyboard shortcuts that for some reason didn’t make the cut when coming out in CS5. If you enjoy this sections tips, you can create your own keyboard shortcuts by going to Edit > Keyboard Shortcuts (or Shift + Option + Command + K)!
11. Flip Horizontally and Flip Vertically: How great would it be to have a keyboard shortcut that flips your pixels horizontally and vertically? Try custom binding Flip Horizontally to Shift + Command + H (for horizontal!) and Shift + Command + J (since V is so commonly used for pasting) for Flip Vertically.
12. Convert Point Tool: This is a powerful and useful tool when dealing with any sort of paths/shape layers in Photoshop. It also shares similar functionality to its sister tool in Illustrator so if you want to maintain a little more consistency between the two programs, consider binding this tool to C (which is currently the crop tool but we’ll get to that in our next point).
13. Edit > Crop: The crop/slice tool by default is a great tool to have, but think about how useful it would be to simply make a selection and crop with that selection instead in Photoshop. Even if you are a fan or frequent user of the crop/slice tool, utilizing the general crop function can be a valuable asset to have. So consider assigning a shortcut to this editing function such as Shift + Option + Command + C.
Photoshop, the Word Processor
Who knew Photoshop could be such a great typography program! Consider using these shortcuts below for faster and more impressive typography in your PSD.
15. Faux Bold (Command + Shift + B) & Faux Italic (command+shift+I): If your font has a bold or italic weight, this shortcut will toggle between the font family’s weight. Otherwise, it’ll simply add a faux weight style to your font selection.
16. Decreasing and Increasing Leading (Option + Up or Down Arrow), Tracking (Option + Left or Right Arrow), and Kerning (Option + Shift + Up or Down Arrow): If you’re a typography machine, these shortcuts will turn your bland paragraphs into beautiful print-quality works of art!
17. Add Space After (or Before) Paragraph: Under the paragraph window, you can designate how much spacing a paragraph has after the paragraph is completed. No more double indenting to get the pseudo content separation you’re looking for.
18. Command + Enter = Commit… Anything: Instead of hitting that annoying little check box on the top menu bar, if you use this shortcut, you’ll be able to exit out of Type Tool editing mode. As a bonus, this shortcut also works for committing Transform edits as well!
19. Fast Cycling through Fonts: Trying to see which font would work best for that header copy? Select the text layer you’d like to adjust, make sure the text tool is active, and simply click on the font name’s input field. Once this field is highlighted, you can simply hit the Up and Down Arrow to cycle through your various fonts. You can also hit certain letters to jump through to various parts of your font library. Oh, and need to just experiment with one or two words in your text field? You can highlight the words you want to play around with and cycle through the fonts using the same method.
Layers, Masks, and Styles
Ah yes, the heart of Photoshop. You thought these things only sat in your layer panel? Check out what fun and convenient things you can do with them.
20. Merge one or more layers (Command + E): For a quick merging of one or more selected layers (and the don’t have to be adjacent to one another), hit Command + E to merge them up. All of the merged items will merge upward and assume the layer name of the top-most selected layer.
21. Create a flattened image of your PSD and place that image on top of your existing layers (Shift + Option + Command + E): An absolute favorite go-to. Rather than simply merging all of your PSD’s layers with Shift + Command + E, you can create a flattened image of your entire PSD on top of your existing layers. Sure your fingers will be doing quite a curl, but it’s well worth it!
22. Group layers (Command + G): Groups are a must for layer organization and any sort of collaborative work with other people. Select multiple layers and use this shortcut to group like items together. It reduces the scrolling work you’ll have to do in your layers panel and might aid in moving around, applying masks to, and correctly utilizing multiple layers at one time.
23. Layer linking: And if you’re opposed to grouping layers, you can always link layers of similar relation. Just right click on the selected layers you’d like to link and choose Link Layers. Linked layers don’t have to be next to each other so you can take some text from the top of your layers and link it to images that may be residing at the bottom of your layers panel. Linked layers will always move together if one of the linked layers is being moved. Similarly, linked layers will maintain the move-centric lock attributes (Lock position and Lock all) that any of its other linked layers may have.
24. Select multiple layers via selection: If you’re trying to move multiple layers within a given selection on your canvas, activate the Move tool and then hold down Shift + Option + Command and drag your cursor (it will create a rectangular selection marquee) over the area you wish to select multiple layers of.
25. Easy hiding and showing of multiple layers: If you have a section of layers you wish to show or hide quickly, you can click and hold down on a visibility symbol (the eye), and drag your mouse across the layers you wish to quickly toggle on or off. With this trick, you can either drag straight up or down the visibility symbols OR you can even weave around some visibility symbols that you don’t want to toggle so long as you’re still holding down and dragging!
26. See all corresponding layers at given pixel: Although tip #24 is a great way of selecting multiple layers at once via a selection, you might need to only select a certain layer within any given area of your canvas. Right click on the canvas and you will be given a menu list of all of the layers that have a visible pixel in that exact pixel location.
27. Selects all visible pixels on any layer, path, or mask: To select all visible pixels in any given layer, path, or mask (layer or vector based), hold down Command and click on the thumbnail in the layers panel to create your selection. For example, selecting a vector mask will select all path shapes within the mask, and selecting a layer with some brushed elements will select all of the brushed pixels on that particular layer. If you wish to make multiple selections, simply hold down Shift and click on any additional thumbnails.
29. Shift + dragging with direct select tool: This enables you to create selection boxes which allows for easier selection of bezier points (rather than having to click on them individually!). Remember you can hold down shift to click + drag multiple points
30. Keyboard shortcut for moving between layers (Option + [ or ]): If you’re working in the same layers, why not utilize a keyboard shortcut to quickly maneuver to the layer you need to be on rather than moving over to the Layers Panel and individually clicking each layer?
31. Keyboard shortcut for moving layers (Command + [ or ]): You can also quickly move a selected layer up or down layers panel. And if you need to simply move a layer to the top or bottom of your layers panel, hold down Shift + Command + [ (move to bottom) or ] (move to top).
Seeing the Bigger Picture
Whether it’s zooming in and out, removing menu bar clutter, or seeing multiple windows of it at the same time, there are dozens of way you can view your working PSD. So let this influential and useful ability to view your PSD be easy and quick to use.
32. Toggle between Screen Modes Using F: Tap F once to toggle to Full Screen Mode with a Menu Bar. Tap F again to toggle to Full Screen Mode (automatically turns your gray artboard area black). And Tap F one last time to bring you back to your working Standard Screen Mode.
33. Spacebar + click to pan: An easy way of panning up, down, left, or right. Don’t forget to take advantage of the auto-easing effect Photoshop has upon mouse click release!
34. Zoom in and out using option + mouse wheel/scroll: This is an easy and great way of zooming in and out of areas without having to deal with forced zoom size intervals.
35. View Actual Pixels (command+1) and Fit on Screen (command+0): One of the most used go-to shortcuts. Sometimes you have to see
36. View PSD in two windows simultaneously: Seeing two views of the same PSD simultaneously comes in very handy. For example, you could be working on a homepage at 100% zoom on your main screen but have a full-window and zoomed out view of the entire homepage on another screen. It helps let you see the forest through the trees, especially when your head’s staring down at individual pixels of a design. So try utilizing a two window view by going to Window > Arrange > New Window for “Your PSD”
Options with the Option Key
The Option key, one of the greatest keys a Mac has to offer. But how does this key extend its great functionality into Photoshop? See what fun Option + dragging has to offer.
38. Copying Layer Styles and Effects: Hold down Option and drag the fx symbol with the effects you want to copy over to the layer you wish to copy the layer effects to. It will duplicate all of the layer styles of the first layer over to the different layer. Additionally, if you only want to copy one particular style (such as a Drop Shadow) from one layer to another, simply click the actual name of the effect itself (in this case Drop Shadow) and Option + drag that effect over to the layer of your choice.
39. Copy Layer Masks and Vector Masks to other layers and groups: Did you know that you can also Option + drag Layer Masks and Vector Masks onto other layers and groups? Simply select the actual thumbnail of the Layer or Vector Mask and Option + Drag it over to the desired layer or group.
40. Option + double clicking on a background lock unlocks the background property: If you’re working with recently opened images or Background layers in Photoshop, you can simply hold down Option and double click on the lock itself to remove the locked Background layer property. As another note, dragging the lock symbol over to the trashcan will do the same trick (as well as for any of the other layer lock functions).
41. Fast Eyedropper: In addition to its normal useful shortcut (I), if you’re in any of the retouching/painting tools (such as the brush tool) you can easily switch your cursor’s tool function into a quick eyedropper by simply holding Option. The minute you let go of Option, your cursor will return to its original tool.
Things You Know You Should be Doing More
Even when no one’s looking, you should still be implementing these tips below into your everyday workflow. They’re great tricks to get into the habit of doing and they’ll make the usability of your PSD skyrocket!
42. Save for Web & Devices (Shift + Option + Command + S): As cramped as your hand might get from reaching to hit all of the keys for this shortcut, the price is worth the time saved since you’ll often be utilizing this when saving out your PSD.
43. Close an Individual PSD Window (Command + W): If you’ve got multiple PSD windows open that you’re jumping between and you need to quickly close one the PSDs, instead of aiming for that ridiculously small close button, try using Command + W to close that individual PSD instead. And if you get that annoying little fail-safe window for when you’re closing an unsaved PSD, why not save a click by hitting S (for Save), C (for Cancel) or D (for Don’t Save)?
45. HUD Color Picker via Mouse instead of Color Picker via toolbar: A nice new feature of CS5 has been the convenient implementation of being able to access the color picker without breaking a workflow (via the normal Color Picker window that you have to click to open). Simply hold down Shift + Option + Command and click while using a tool from the retouching/painting section of the toolbar to activate the new Color Picker. You can also customize the view of this Color Picker in the General tab of the Photoshop Preferences Panel.
46. Use Smart Objects: Smart objects are great in that they preserve the original state of an object before being converted to a smart object. They’re also useful in that you can create duplicates of a single smart object (like a button), make a change within the original smart object’s PSB file, and then have that change affect all of the duplicate instances of the smart object. To create a smart object, simple select the layer(s) you wish to combine into a single object, right click in the layers panel, and select Convert to Smart Object.
47. Use Smart Filters: If you love using filters, you will love using smart filters. Not only are smart filters non-destructive, but the smart filter gallery view allows you to see what a layer would look like with multiple filters stacked together, and once you’re done saving the filters, you can turn them off easily by accessing their visibility in the layers panel. Lastly, one of the greatest things about smart filters is that they come with Filter Masks which act just like Layer Masks, so you can mask away parts of the filter if you so choose!
48. Save Layer Styles and Patterns: You’ve probably made that same button style over a dozen times now, so why not simply save that layer style setting and apply it whenever you need to? The “New Styles…” button is placed right below the OK and Cancel buttons in the Layer Styles panel but it’s often overlooked. Simply craft your layer styles, hit the New Styles button and save your layer style into your presets. If you want to apply that layer style again in the future, simply go back to the layer styles panel, click Styles on the top of the left navigation bar, click on the style you created, and hit OK! You can also manage your styles as well as other presets through the Preset Manager via Edit > Preset Manager…
49. Snapshots and Layer Comps: Stop turning groups and layers on and off to see what your design would look like with different changes and compositions. Utilize Snapshots to take a temporarily saved history instances of your PSD’s state; or, consider using layer comps to save specific states of visibility, position, and layer styles that you can go back to at any time in the PSD.
50. Snap to Pixels: Last but one of the most important, whenever using paths or shape layers, be sure to enable this option to ensure pixel-perfect designs. And when you do decide to move around those shapes, avoid Transform + moving these elements as different zoom levels make them susceptible to being placed in between pixels (rather than being locked in line with the next available pixel)!