Photoshop One-on-one – Essential keyboard shortcuts that every artist working with Photoshop in the studio should know about

Apr 16, 2019

Basic Photoshop keyboard shortcuts (Source: Photoshop Training Channel) 

Where to find and how to modify Photoshop shortcuts

To be able to effectively use Photoshop in the studio, one needs to create a perfect personal workflow. While the same results can often be achieved by using different methods, the amount of time and effort it takes to accomplish your goals highly matters. When you use Photoshop every day, shortcuts become an essential part of your workflow and your preferences will set you apart regarding the use of Adobe’s tools. These commands, executed by holding down a button (or the combination of two or more) while clicking and dragging, are not just important time savers, but allow us to focus on what really matters: the drawing process. In the following tutorial, digitalEPIGRAPHY collected some of our most used shortcuts and will explain how to use them efficiently in complex, more demanding digital inking projects. Obviously, some knowledge of Photoshop and its interface is needed for taking full advantage of the information shared in the following paragraphs. If you’d like to familiarize yourself with Photoshop in advance, we’d like to recommend starting here.

Application Menus contain the most common directives, but many has no preset shortcut assigned

Naturally, novice Photoshop users are often intimidated by the immense number of options available, therefore their first cautious steps usually involve pointing and clicking on individual icons even when selecting common tools such as Move, Pen or Brush. In case you think that the time difference between clicking on an icon and using a shortcut is minimal, we’d like to point out that all those seconds tend to add up when a command is executed a hundred times a day. So first, let’s see where to find and how to modify shortcuts (we use a Mac OS keyboard layout in this tutorial, Windows users need to use Ctrl instead of Cmd and Alt instead of Opt accordingly). The slightly overwhelming Keyboard Shortcuts panel can be found under Edit/Keyboard Shortcuts (Opt+Shift+Cmd+K) where you’ll find four main categories to interact with: Application Menus, Panel Menus, Tools and Taskspaces. The most important shortcuts are in the Application Menus category referring to the items listed under File, Edit, Image, Layer etc., positioned at the top of the Photoshop user interface. Not all commands are set up with a shortcut by default; once you navigate to the command you use often (transform tools can be a good example), you can simply assign a key combination and it will be executed instantly as you press the appointed keys. 

Setting up Stroke and Delete Path shortcuts in Photoshop’s Panel Menus

The second section, Panel Menus, can be particularly interesting for us, as this is the area where one can set essential brush shortcuts and automate the most common interactions associated with paths. The third section belongs to Tools where you can see the shortcuts assigned to all the tool icons in the vertical panel displayed on the left edge of Photoshop’s main workspace. It is worth mentioning that Photoshop allows you to save your modified shortcuts as a separate set, therefore you don’t need to change the Photoshop Defaults, you can simply create a new personalized profile. Notably, when you create a new Set, it is always populated with the default Photoshop shortcuts until you start modifying them. So, what are the shortcuts we could benefit the most from when working in the studio? Let’s find out!

If Tooltips are checked in the Preferences/Tools settings, hovering over a certain tool calls up its Tooltips panel with the relevant shortcut included

The most important shortcuts to be used for digital inking

Positioning the canvas

Photoshop in its default workspace settings can appear really crammed, especially when tethered to smaller screens such as the Wacom Cintiq Pro 13 or the iPad Pro. Therefore, first and foremost you want to maximize the canvas area while drawing. Hitting Tab hides all dialogs and windows in Photoshop, leaving an empty work-space where you can work with a big canvas without being distracted. Shift+Tab also hides all dialogs and windows except the toolbox and the tool setting window. This setting can be used for quickly hiding the layer, history, info, brush settings etc. windows while still allowing you to edit and ink your drawing. You can toggle between different screen modes by clicking the F key. If it doesn’t work, go to Preferences/Customize Toolbar and make sure Screen Toggle is shown among your tools and its shortcut is enabled. Click F once to switch to full screen with menus, it will hide all open files and canvases, centering the current canvas - and the workspace around it will be shown in grey. Click "F" again to cycle from full screen mode with menus to a complete full screen mode without menus (panels can be reached by driving the cursor against the side of the screen). The workspace will switch to black. This mode combined with Tab will let you ink on a specific layer without any distraction, only showing the canvas. If you work with lots of guidelines, etc. Cmd+H will toggle between hiding and showing them.

Moving around the drawing is an equally important part of working digitally, especially considering large canvases, where you have to constantly switch between working on a little detail and seeing the entire drawing. Zooming in and out by certain increments can be achieved by hitting Cmd++ (Zoom in) and Cmd+- (Zoom out). If much quicker zoom change is needed, all you need to do is hold the Opt key while moving up/down with two fingers on the touchpad. You can also move around the image while zoomed in by holding the spacebar. Rotating the image happens by hitting R and clicking and dragging around the canvas. Rotation can also happen in a more controlled way by holding down shift after you hit R. When you click and drag now while holding shift, the drawing rotates in 15-degree increments. Don’t forget to hit Esc to jump back to original position. Finally, if you zoomed in too much and would like to zoom out to see your entire drawing again, just hit Cmd+0 (zero) to make it fit on screen.

Modifying drawings

Reselect (Cmd+Shift+D) is a great command to bring back your last selection, even when you accidentally click away from a section and start using a different tool. Invert selection (Cmd+Shift+I) selects the area around a pre-selected portion of your drawing. This way, you can work around your main object without losing it or you can delete everything else but the pre-selected area on the canvas. Select all layers (Cmd+Opt+A) is the perfect command when you need to get everything moved or transformed in sync. Deselect the entire drawing (Cmd+D) if you need to get away from any selected portion of the drawing. Use this Photoshop shortcut to deselect anything that you've clicked on. Would like to move a selection? Simply hover your cursor outside the selected area, hold down Cmd and click and drag it to its proper place (Cmd+click-and-drag). 

Free Transform (Cmd+T) lets you scale and rotate the selected area. If you need to further specify how you’d like to interact with the selection, you’ll have to determine a few new shortcuts for yourself. To reach the most used transformation tools easily, it is advised to set up separate shortcuts for Scale, Rotate, Distort and Warp as these tools are tucked a couple of clicks away within the Edit drop-down menu. While we are discussing modifications, we’d like to mention that you can use keyboard shortcuts to accept (Enter) or ignore (Esc) these changes. Deleting the content of a selection is also a breeze and can be done by hitting Del.

Drawing process

The most used drawing tools when inking digitally are the Brush (B), Eraser (E – push and hold for quick erase!) and Pattern (S) tools. Brushes have a few additional shortcuts to help you speed up your workflow:

Getting your brush size just perfect is one of the most important aspects of Photoshop. Increase or decrease your brush (]/[) in increments using this command. Save time and avoid distractions by using the simple commands (,/.) to instantly move through the various brushes you have in your brush library. For example, if you switch between sun and shadow brushes often, place them next to each other in your library to be able to toggle them. If you don't want to go through your entire brush library, hit the keys (</>) to toggle between your first and last brushes.

Naturally, when drawing, we make mistakes. Older Photoshop versions used to distinguish between Undo (Cmd+Z), which allowed us to ignore our last step and Step back (Cmd+Alt+Z) which let us go back as many steps as was set up in our History States preferences. If you’ve undone something and you want to redo your action, you must use the Redo (Shift+Cmd+Z) shortcut command. Beginning with the October 2018 release of Photoshop CC (20.0), you can undo multiple steps in your Photoshop document using Cmd+Z. This new multiple undo mode is enabled by default. Press the Undo/Redo shortcut keys rapidly to toggle an effect on and off if you want to compare its before and after state quickly. 

And finally, we’d like to give you a more specific shortcut that has relevance in the way we ink our drawings in Photoshop. One of the many new features brought to the Photoshop CC 2018 update was the introduction of a new brush smoothing algorithm. These new tools grant a more polished look with cleaner lines when using a brush and are a welcome addition for digital studio work. It would be nice to just toggle smoothing on and off as it is possible for the genius Hej Stylus app. However, Photoshop only allows it to be changed in increments (10% at a time), therefore the closest we can get to toggle this effect is by switching between 10% Smoothing (Alt+1) and 70% Smoothing (Alt+7). Obviously, these numbers may be set differently depending on your preference. 

Photoshop shortcut keyboard cover for the Mac by EditorsKeys (Photo by Amazon)

We didn’t include all the shortcuts in this tutorial that Photoshop has to offer, we only selected a few that help speeding up our daily tasks while inking in the studio. Additionally, we use the Ruler tool (Cmd+R) when measuring distances, we hold down Shift when drawing straight lines and often start marking a selection freehand with the Lasso tool (L). The list goes on… There is one more area of our work where shortcuts excel and become indispensable for us, namely when working with paths. In the follow up to this article, we’ll thoroughly explore this topic and give you a little guidance on how to use shortcuts effectively when laying down and modifying paths. 

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