Keystrokes: Work Faster, Work Smarter

Keystrokes work faster work smarter

A few years back I read  (I cannot recall where)  that one of the most effective ways to get more speed out of your computer was to learn to type.  Sound advice which in spite of my best intentions I have yet to follow with any real resolve and my typing speed remains fairly unimpressive (I still need to look at the keyboard and I rarely employ more than two fingers). Even so, I have come to realise that using the keyboard, rather than the mouse to perform tasks is an excellent way to improve workflow and thus spend less time on the computer (and consequently more time actually shooting). Using keystrokes (keyboard shortcuts) is therefore something that I have systematically adopted as I have found it to make a considerable difference to how quickly I can work, not to mention the additional benefit of limiting mouse activity, a known factor in the development of conditions such as RSI and carpal tunnel syndrome.

There are many keystrokes that are  ‘universal’ in that they work in most applications. I suspect that you are aware of commonly used shortcuts such as  ‘ctrl/cmd/ C’ (copy) , ‘ctrl/cmd/ V’ (paste) and ‘ctrl/cmd/ P’ (print). Others are specific within a particular application. For the purposes of this article I will be focusing on Photoshop keyboard shortcuts, although many are common across the Adobe Creative Cloud suite.

Keystrokes in Photoshop

It is possible to switch between individual tools in Photoshop (and indeed any CC application) simple by pressing the designated keys. Many are quite logical, ‘C’ for the crop tool, ‘B’ for the brush, ‘Z’ for zoom, etc., others seem less intuitive such as ’U’ for the shape tool, ‘J’ for the ‘spot heeling brush’ or ‘V’ to select the ‘move’ tool. The advantage here is in negating the necessity to scroll the mouse over to the toolbar to select the desired tool. Now this might seem somewhat pedantic, but I promise you that with a few keystrokes up your sleeve the cumulative effect on shortening the task is significant. This is certainly my experience and I am sure that if you factor in my relatively inept typing skills, I suspect that you will fair even better. To identify the designated key, simple hover with the mouse over the tool in the toolbar and all will be revealed. (Committing these keystrokes to memory is simply a matter of learning through repeated use.)


There are many operations that you can perform with keystrokes and sometimes with the advantage of not actually needing to select a given tool at all. For example, pressing and holding the ‘space’ bar brings up the ‘hand’ tool and zooming operations (‘zoom in/out’, ‘100%’, ‘fit on screen’ ) can be performed by keystrokes even at points when it is not possible to select the zoom tool using the mouse, such as when an adjustment dialogue box is open – you cannot change tools  but you can zoom with the keys . You can use keyboard shortcuts to open and close files, create layers, fill layers, make edits, open adjustment dialogue boxes… the list goes on.

Finding the Keystrokes

To reveal the designated key/key combination for a given operation, navigate to that operation in the menu and note the keystroke as shown alongside*.

keystrokes menu

Custom Keystrokes

This is true for many adjustments, but not all. There are some notable exceptions, the one most obvious omission would seem to be ‘image rotation’. All is not lost however and in versions at at least as far back as CS3, you can in fact program your own custom Photoshop key strokes.

Go to…

Edit > Keyboard Shortcuts

…or use the keystroke…

⌥ Shift ⌘ K (OS X)

Opt Shift Ctrl K ( Windows)

Keystrokes work faster work smarter customise menu

Then it is simply a matter of selecting the operation you wish to assign a shortcut to and typing in your desired key stoke. possibly the trickiest part of this process is finding a keystroke combination that is valid and not already assigned, Photoshop will warn/prevent if you attempt to enter an invalid shortcut.

Set custom keystrokes

Keystrokes Cheatsheet

Many years ago, when I first started teaching Photoshop classes, I was asked to provide a list of all the Photoshop keystrokes as a printed handout. No problem I thought, but soon realised that even back then the number of available keystroke operations was so extensive that it was neither practical nor  necessary to reproduce them all. I have therefore restricted the range of shortcuts listed in the  PDF crib sheet that I have created to accompany this article, to those that I most commonly use. Feel free to download and print out, by  following this link.

So If you are not (yet) in the habit of using key strokes I urge you to give them a try. I am in no doubt that you will see a definite improvement in the efficiency of your editing workflow.

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Duncan Shepherd