Photoshop Efficiency: Don't Fear the Keyboard Shortcuts
My dear dekeRastinators. It's February: the shortest month of the year. So say goodbye to the luxuriously lofty goals of January, and let's get practical. I'm here to talk about Photoshop shortcuts. For some of you, that means: "Ugh, maybe there's a Quora thread full of other people talking about why they hate learning shortcuts that would be a better use of my time."
But before you run off, let me tell you a little story: the first time I read a Deke McClelland Photoshop One-on-One book, I was the newly assigned editor for the CS2 update to the original. I was also newly exposed to Photoshop. Now, never let it be said I didn't love Deke from the outset, but I was not as initially fond of his insistance on trying to teach me shortcuts for commands I had only just been introduced to seconds before. My brain wanted to assimilate the how and why of doing something before it allocated neurons to memorizing how to do said thing more efficiently.
But sometime around the, oh, 37th time I repeated the same set of tedious mouse movements to move a selection to an appropriately named new layer, I started understanding I could use a little more Ctrl+Alt+J in my life. Make that Command-Option-J, because I was trying to switch to a Mac as well. (That's a lotta new stuff, no wonder my patience was thin.)
Point is, when you encounter Photoshop tutorial sites with well-meaning articles on "The Best 27 Photoshop Keyboard Shortcuts You'll Definitely Want To Stop and Learn Right This Minute," it's hard to make the connection between shortcut-learning and true efficiency. So, Deke and I, based on our own personal and totally biased experience, have come up with five of our favorite time-saving shortcuts that we think are worth the time consider memorizing, saving your creative concentration and exposure to Repetitive Mouse Injury for things that you may do less often.
Read on for how and (of course) why these Photoshop keyboard shortcuts made our list:
Ctrl+Alt+J / Command-Option-J: Jump a copy of my selection into a new layer and let me name said layer before I forget.
Adobe calls Ctrl+J (Command-J) the shortcut for "New Layer via Copy." But years ago, Deke named this command "Jump to a New Layer" because, frankly, otherwise how are you going to remember the letter J?
The idea here is you have a selection and you want to make a copy of it on a new layer and yet conveniently preserve the original pixels for whatever reason (maybe you're making a mask?). Ctrl+J (Command-J) would do the trick.
The inclusion of the Alt or Option key means that along the way, you'll get a new layer dialog box where you can give your new layer a name.
(And yes, while we're talking about efficient practices, you should name your new layers.)
Ctrl+Shift+Alt+E (Command-Shift-Option-E): Copy everything I can see, flatten it, and paste the results into a new layer.
Basically, this will make a flattened copy of your entire image and paste it to the top of your layers panel, but still leave the original individual layers available. If you can't conceive of how this could be useful, feel free to make room in your shortcut brain for something else.
But, learning this one was a revelation to me, and this is one where you actually have to learn the shortcut because there's no other one-step way to make it happen (so that settles that).
Use the [ key to make my brush size larger, the ] key to make it smaller.
Anytime you have a brush-based tool, the right- and left-bracket keys allow you to increase or decrease the size of your brush as you work. So, you can paint with your mouse/stylus hand, and adjust the brush for nooks and crannies or wide open areas with your other hand.
Generally, you probably know how hard or soft you want a brush when you start painting, so setting the hardness at the outset by right-clicking your mouse for the brush options isn't particularly distracting. But the size of the brush should vary depending on how close you are to the detail of what you are trying to paint, and with these keystrokes at hand, you won't have to stop painting to adjust on-the-fly.
Ctrl+Shift+Alt+T (Command-Shift-Option-T): Repeat that last transformation and make a copy out of the results.
This is another one of those "mash your fist" scenarios, i.e. you hold down every modifier key you can and press T. This applies your most recent Transform operation to a new copy. Breaking it down: Ctrl+T (Command-T) evokes the Free Transform, Ctrl+Shift+T (Command-Shift-T) repeats the last Transform operation, and adding the Alt (Option) key makes a copy along the way.
Here it is visualized in Martini glasses, since that always helps. In this case, the second martini was created by moving and scaling the first (the same shortcut without the Alt (Option) key, then the third was created with the shortcut in its full glory. Note Photoshop knows to scale and move relative to the previous step.
Ctrl-Alt-Z (Command-Option-Z): Go back more than one step, please.
Ctrl-Z (Command-Z) is ubiquitous enough across the software communication world that you know it's the international plea for "Oops, go back." In Photoshop, Ctrl-Z (Command-Z) is still the shortcut for Undo, but it only allows you to toggle between what you just did and the previous state. To get "multiple undos" in Photoshop, you actually have to navigate back through History states. And while that may sound daunting, it really just means that when you feel like reflexively pounding Ctrl-Z (Command-Z) multiple times, just make sure you drop your ring finger on to the Alt (Option) key along the way.
Well, those our our nominees based on general usefulness and avoiding menus. Try one that sounds useful and see if it doesn't make you feel a little more Photoshop-wizard-ish.
And for those of you who don't need convincing, if you were going to recommend a thoroughly useful keyboard shortcut to the shortcutophobic, what would you suggest?