Editing photos with Adobe Photoshop can be very time consuming. But if you focus on your workflow, you can quickly realize that most of the time spent during editing process goes to switching between different tools, navigating and zooming. To optimize and speed up this process Photoshop incorporates numerous keyboard shortcuts for majority of its functions. There are tons of these shortcuts and some of them may seem too complicated to remember. However, if you start practicing with simple shortcuts for the functions you use most often you’ll quickly get used to them and realize how much faster you can process your work. If you don’t yet own Photoshop, you can purchase Adobe Photoshop CS6 here.
I am going to start with the most common keyboard shortcuts and move towards more advanced functions. Do not get discouraged if some of these combinations seem overwhelming, learn them one step at time and after a while they will feel like second nature to you. Soon enough you will using them subconsciously.
As I am writing this, I am using Adobe Photoshop CS6 on PC, but most of these combination are available on all the previous version of Photoshop and on Mac platform (just substitute [Ctrl] for [Cmd] and [Alt] for [Option] on Mac). After all, it doesn’t make sense for Adobe to change these shortcuts in different software versions, since it will just make users accustomed to them confused and angry.
Basic Photoshop Shortcuts
Some of these shortcut keyboard commands are also used by many other programs so training yourself to use them can streamline your other cyber activity.
[Ctrl]+[Z] (Undo) – Goes one step back. This is probably the most common shortcut I use in any application. When you perform a function and realize it’s not successful, just undo.
[Ctrl]+[C] (Copy) – Makes a copy of a selection. This copy will not show on the screen but will remain in computer’s clipboard until the next copy is performed. To include the copy in your document, use Paste function. Additionally, this command will only copy a selection from an active layer. To copy a selection from all visible layers use [Shift]+[Ctrl]+[C] (Copy Merged Layers).
[Ctrl]+[V] (Paste) – Puts a copied selection into a new layer. This command will work only if a Copy command was previously initiated.
[Ctrl]+X (Cut) – Cuts selection. The selection will be removed from the active layer but will also be placed into computer’s clipboard which can then be pasted into the new layer using [Ctrl]+[V] command.
[Ctrl]+[S] (Save) – Save early, save often. The last thing you want is to loose your hard work due to system crash or power failure. Long time Photoshop users will be pleased to know that version CS6 now has a handy document recovery feature in case the program crashed without save. You can also use [Ctrl]+[Alt]+[Shift]+[S] to start Save for Web option.
[SPACEBAR] (Temporary Hand tool) – Holding down Spacebar will activate Hand tool with which you can move your document in a zoomed in state. Letting go of a spacebar will revert to whatever tool you had active previously. Since I typically edit images at 100% zoom, moving around the photo is a breeze using this shortcut. Additionally, while making a selection, you can hold Spacebar to move that selection.
[Ctrl] (Temporary Move tool) – Holding down Ctrl button will activate Move tool with which you can reposition active layer. Move tool will be active for as long as you keep holding [Ctrl], as soon as you let go it will switch to a previous tool. If you want to switch to actual Move tool press [V]
[Z] (Zoom tool) – This command activates Zoom tool. Using Zoom tool you can hold Left mouse button and move the cursor to the left to zoom out, move the cursor to the right to zoom in. Read Basic use of tools in a toolbox article to get familiar with tools in Photoshop most used by photographers and their designated keyboard shortcuts.
[Ctrl]+ (Actual pixels) – this command will show the document at its actual size. Use [Ctrl]+ (zero) to fit image on screen. Additionally, you can use [Ctrl]+[+/-] combination to quickly zoom in or out.
[B] (Brush tool) – Brush if one of the most common tools I use. You can also use shortcuts to change Brush’s size and softness (described below in advanced section).
[Shift]+[Letter] (Tool Selector) – Use this command to scroll through tools which have the same letter assigned to them. For example: pressing [B] activates Brush tool, but if you want to access Color Replacement tool, hold [Shift] and press [B] twice (or until Color Replacement tool activates).
[Alt] (Sample) – This command acts differently, depending on which tool you have selected. In tools which can apply colors, such as Brush and Paint Bucket, pressing [Alt] will temporarily activate Eyedropper Tool with which you can select a specific color to be applied. When a tool such as Stamp or a Healing Brush is selected, pressing [Alt] will activate a sampler with which you can select and area from which these tools will be sampling.
[Ctrl]+[Alt] (Duplicate layer) – Holding these two buttons together while pressing left mouse button and moving the cursor will duplicate currently active layer.
[F] (Toggle screen modes) – Pressing [F] will cycle through several screen views: Normal view, Full Screen with boxes and windows, Complete Full Screen without any boxes or windows.
[Tab] (Remove windows) – In addition to Full Screen option you can hit [Tab] to remove all windows, boxes and panels. Although, top Navigation bar will stay on. Hitting [Tab] again will bring everything back.
[Caps Lock] (Show/hide brush size) – Using this command will turn the visible Brush or Eraser size into a crosshair cursor. Conversely, if you see a crosshair cursor instead of the actual size outline of your Brush, hit [Caps Lock] to switch it back.
[X] (Swap colors) – switch current background and foreground colors.
[D] (Default colors) – Set background and foreground to back and white.
Advanced Photoshop Shortcuts
The basic shortcut list was quite lengthy and if you learn and master all of those commands you can pat yourself on the back and enjoy faster, more streamlined Photoshop workflow. But if you feel like you are ready for more advanced shortcut commands are some that will bring you to the next level and make you a Photoshop navigation master.
[Ctrl]+[Alt]+[Z] (Step back) – This is Undo’s older, mature brother. Using this command you will be able to continuously go back up the history panel. When using Undo you can only go back one step but with this command you can keep going back and correct a mistake done several steps back. To learn more about History panel, check out this article.
([) / (]) (Descrease/ Increases Brush size) – When any tool that uses brushes is selected, use ([) key to decrease brush size. Conversely, use (]) key to increase brush size when a brush is in use. Adding [Shift] key to these combinations will increase/decrease brush softness.
[Alt]+[Right mouse button] (Increase/Decrease bush size/softness) – When a tool which uses brush functionality is active, while holding [Alt] key and right mouse button, move the cursor to left/right to decrease/increase brush diameter, top/bottom to increase/decrease softness.
[Ctrl]+[Alt]+[Shift]+[N] (New Layer) – Insert a new layer without a dialog box. Neglect [Alt] key to create a new layer and see the dialog box.
[Ctrl]+[E] (Merge Layers) – This just combines all selected layers into one. Pressing [Ctrl]+[Alt]+[E] will merge all selected layer into a single new layer while keeping while keeping originals preserved.
[Ctrl]+[Alt]+[Shift]+[L] (Auto Contrast) – Lets Photoshop automatically determine optimal contrast. Remove [Alt] key form this combination to perform automatic tone correction.
[Ctrl]+ [Shift]+[B] (Auto Color) – This command will tell Photoshop to automatically determine optimal colors for selected layer.
[Ctrl]+[Alt]+[Shift]+[I] (File Info) – Brings up file information window where you can see info about the equipment used to capture the image, Metadata and much more (if available).
[Ctrl]+[T] (Free transform) – Activates free transform function. As with other selections, holding [Shift] will force the layer to keep its original scale, while holding [Alt] will force the layer to change relative to its center.
[Ctrl]+[Alt]+[I] (Resize Image) – Brings up Image Size window where you can change pixel dimensions, document size and resolution.
[Ctrl]+[H] (Hides selection) – This command will hide the “marching ants” selection lines while still keeping the selection.
[Ctrl]+[I] (Invert Selection) – This shortcut will select the opposite of your selection.
[Ctrl]+[Alt]+[Shift]+[K] (Keyboard shortcuts menu) – This command will launch keyboard shortcuts menu where you can find all shortcuts available in Photoshop. Additionally, there you can create your own shortcuts for functions you use most often.
If you have additional Photoshop shortcuts that you frequently use which have not been discussed here, feel free to share them and any additional thoughts in the comments.