My Illustrator shortcuts habits

25 Jan 2011

Not sure about you, but I have this habit of using shortcuts all the time when I work in Illustrator (or in Photoshop). I thought it could be interesting to share some of those, and then ask the question what your typical methods are or shortcuts you can't live without.

My most used shortcuts

Let's start with the typical shortcuts, ignoring the ones like cut, copy and paste or save and open etc. Here are my shortcuts, divided into common and less common ones:

Common shortcuts

These are very common shortcuts that I use a lot when working in Illustrator. If you are used to work in Illustrator you probably know them very well too:

  • Cmd/Ctrl + U switching between enabling and disabling Smart Guides
  • Cmd/Ctrl + G and Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + G to Group and Ungroup items
  • Cmd/Ctrl + F and Cmd/Ctrl + B Paste In Front or In Back
  • Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + V to Paste In Place
  • Cmd/Ctrl + Y to switch between Preview and Outline mode

The shortcut I really use a lot is Cmd/Ctrl + U which turns the SmartGuides on/off. They sometimes hinder me while drawing bezier curves. Actually, what I want to say here is that the flashy Smart Guides kind of drive me mad (make me nervous) now and then, and so I tend to switch them off whenever I can. I love them for what they do, but I from time to time I also hate them a little.

Furthermore I also like the 'Paste In Front' and 'Paste In Back' shortcuts, because it pastes an item in the exact place. I can of course just use the 'Paste In Place' shortcut, which is what I often use too, depending on the situation. There are more shortcuts in that list like Cmd/Ctrl + J to join two anchor points, or Cmd/Ctrl + O to create outlines from text, but I thought I try to stick to 5 in total.

Holding down the command key while drawing

To avoid changing tools all the time to select a bezier handle or anchor point, I simply hold down the command key to do the editing.

Less common shortcuts

Here are the less common shortcuts that I use a lot too:

  • Cmd/Ctrl + Option/Alt + A to Select All items in the Active Artboard
  • Cmd/Ctrl + 8 to make a Compound Path (Cmd/Ctrl + Option/Alt + Shift + 8 to release the Compound Path)
  • Cmd/Ctrl + 7 to create Mask (Cmd/Ctrl + Option/Alt + Shift + 7 to release the Mask)
  • Cmd/Ctrl + D to Transform Again
  • Cmd/Ctrl + 2 to (temporarily) Lock an item (Cmd/Ctrl + Option/Alt + 2 to Unlock All locked items)
  • Cmd/Ctrl + 3 to (temporarily) Hide an item (Cmd/Ctrl + Option/Alt + 3 to Show All hidden items)

I often use the lock and hide shortcuts if something is in my way, or if an item is overlapping another item and you have trouble selecting it. I use this option a lot simply because it's a fast and easy option. I know there are other ways and usually my document and layers are prepared for these situations, but there will still be moments that this comes in handy. It's one of these old habits that I have so accustomed with over the years.

Same for creating a mask or a compound path. Although I use compound paths less often than before, because there are way more flexible and easier options and tools now. The most obvious choice is to go for the Pathfinder options, but since CS5 I tend to use the new Shape Builder Tool a lot.

Whenever I work on a geometric shape that has equally repeating elements I try to take advantage of the Transform Again shortcut. Take for instance the creation of a snowflake. The other day I was drawing a shutter. Starting from a circle, I drew 1 element and then rotated that element around the circle's center point at 60° , then I hit Cmd/Ctrl + D 4x, and I'm done!

2 of my typical habits

Holding down the command key

While drawing it often happens that I need to move an anchor point, or edit a bezier curve. To avoid changing tools all the time to select a bezier handle or anchor point, I simply hold down the command key to do the editing. Then when I'm finished I can continue drawing without having to go to the Toolbox as my Pen tool is still the selected tool. This works in other situations too, in combination with any other tool. This is something I'm very accustomed to over the years and can't miss anymore.

Using the key shortcuts to select certain tools

I use shortcuts all the time, it saves so much time. I even sometimes use them to select certain tools or to reveal certain palettes. This doesn't happen often, but the one I know best is the Layers palette (F7), and the ones to reveal the Characters palette (Cmd/Ctrl + T), although I often make mistakes with that one as I use this one in Photoshop to scale or rotate an element. As for selecting tools, the ones I use most are the ones to select the selection tools V for the Selection Tool (black arrow) and A for the Direct Selection (white arrow). The there is also P for the Pen tool and I for the Eyedropper tool. These are actually the same ones as in Photoshop. I try to use most of them actually. I'm using this method a countless time in my process.

How about you?

Any shortcuts or typical habits you would like to share?

Comments

  1. 1 Jim MacLeod 25 Jan 2011

    Good article. I’m so addicted to Illustrator shortcuts that I usually don’t know where half of these tools/actions actually live. And it’s so second nature, that I sometimes have a hard time explaining to people how I did something.

  2. 2 Debbie 25 Jan 2011

    Interesting stuff Veerle! I have implemented a shortcut in Photoshop to copy and paste a layer style. That saves me a lot of clicking :-)

  3. 3 Dave 25 Jan 2011

    Excellent, always hoarding away good shortcuts. I’m also a fan of tool specific shortcuts (ctrl+enter comes to mind to commit changes in a text box)

  4. 4 Mike Shoaf 25 Jan 2011

    Great article regarding something I think too few Illustrator users really take advantage of.

    Your list is very close to mine, except I’d have to add using the spacebar to pan around and the Command +/- to zoom in/out.

    I’ve also mapped Command-Shift-N to create a new layer with dialog (same as Photoshop), since I frequently use a lot of layers.

  5. 5 Joram 25 Jan 2011

    I pretty much use the same ones that you use, but I also use Command-H (hide or unhide edges) quite a lot… it drives my collegues nuts though, hehe.

  6. 6 Badger 25 Jan 2011

    I always get in a right pickle with shortcuts and flitting between Illustrator and Flash, if only they used the same shortcuts.  :)

  7. 7 jonathan patterson 25 Jan 2011

    Other common shortcuts I use…
    Command+1, zoom to 100%.
    F12, revert to previously saved version of document.
    Command+K, open preferences panel

  8. 8 yury rush 25 Jan 2011

    Shortcuts are the key to working faster. These days I use ILL less and less. But photoshop is my design tool of choice. My favorites are copy/paste—then C+T and of course C+Z and C+ALT+Z—find myself going back a few steps a lot.

    I also got into the habit of saving multiple versions of the document (just in case).

    As of late I have been making some actions for repetitive steps. Also a life saver if you do the same things over and over.

    Thanks for the new shortcuts.
    Yury

  9. 9 Sew Heidi 25 Jan 2011

    I could not live without the “option/alt” key to duplicate an item.  Simply click on the item, then hold option/alt, and grab and move the item to make a copy.  It is such a time saver!  Hold while doing this too if you need keep it in line with you X or Y axis.

  10. 10 Iestyn 26 Jan 2011

    Been trying to use Cmd+Shift+A to deselect all instead of looking for some empty space to click. It’s hard because I’m so used to Cmd+D to deselect in Photoshop.

  11. 11 John Mindiola III 26 Jan 2011

    Sew Heidi is right, the ALT key is priceless.

    My favorite shortcut in Photoshop is a custom one I setup for every computer I use regularly, at home and at work: CTRL + ALT + SHIFT + D for Transform Selection. Also, I’ve been using ESC a lot lately to quickly exit from selections.

    In Illustrator, I can’t live without CTRL + 0 for quickly viewing the entire artboard. Lastly, CTRL + ALT + C for Envelope Distort > Make with Top Object. It’s a sorely underused feature, and an even more underused shortcut.

  12. 12 Ajans Magic 26 Jan 2011

    I Like Cmd/Ctrl + Option/Alt + A

  13. 13 cehweh 27 Jan 2011

    Great collection of AI shortcuts Veerle,

    i could not live without shortcuts, they´re a huge timesaver and your list has almost the ones i like and use the most.

    There are two other ones i can recommend: when selecting something underneath an object (you simply lock it with cmd+2) but try to klick again while simply holding down the cmd key, this selects the object underneath and toggles through all the ones below an element and it saves time because there is no need to lock and unlock your item.

    And here´s the one i use all the time when i change between making guides selectable and not selectable: cmd - alt + , (komma).

    Thanks for sharing your good habbits.
    ;-)

  14. 14 Andrew Pomeroy 27 Jan 2011

    I’m also a frequent user of Cmd/Ctrl-H. Hiding edges is as important for my workflow as hiding the marching ants in Photoshop.

    One that I’m surprised nobody has mentioned is the use of the Tab key to temporarily hide your toolbars and palettes in order to free up screen real estate. Give it a bit of time to improve that keyboard-shortcut muscle memory and you won’t need those panels around half as often as you used to.

  15. 15 Kim 27 Jan 2011

    Thanks for this, Veerle. I too press tab and clear my screen of all panels until I can’t work anymore with just keyboard shortcuts. I also use + and - a lot to access the Add and Delete Anchor Point tools. I like to use cmd tilde to cycle through all my open files when checking for consistency. I sure wish AI and INDD would synchronize their shortcuts (like the commands for Place and the Links Panel).

  16. 16 Ben 28 Jan 2011

    My favorite shortcut is Cmd+Tab.  But, hey it works in any program I use it

  17. 17 cp 29 Jan 2011

    i can’t live without pressing “x” to toggle in between stroke and fill colors.

  18. 18 Dan 30 Jan 2011

    Hmm, I use about half of the shortcuts listed on a regular basis [mainly the common ones and ctrl+d to repeat a process].

    My personal action / shortcuts are:

    - F5 for duplicating an element [or layer]
    - F6 for perfect centering [i.e. both vertically and horizontally]
    - F7 to rotate an element 90 degrees
    - F8 to Outline/Expand a selected element

    On a off-topic note on Smart Guides though, maybe it’s because I’m still a newbie to the graphic [and web] design world, but am I the only one wishing that the guides acted the same as they do in InDesign [which are actually precise].
    It baffles me how two programs so similar in terms of dealt media use two different forms of accuracy!

  19. 19 Veerle Pieters 02 Feb 2011

    Thank you for the valuable comments, and for mentioning your habits and shortcuts.

    @Sew Heidi

    I could not live without the “option/alt” key to duplicate an item.

    Ah yes it’s definitely something I should have added to the list. I knew people would bring up some of the ones I forgot :)

    @cehweh

    There are two other ones i can recommend: when selecting something underneath an object (you simply lock it with cmd+2) but try to klick again while simply holding down the cmd key, this selects the object underneath and toggles through all the ones below an element and it saves time because there is no need to lock and unlock your item.

    Thanks for the great tip here, I don’t think I ever used that method.

    And here´s the one i use all the time when i change between making guides selectable and not selectable: cmd - alt + , (komma).

    That I use a lot too. Super handy. Thanks for mentioning this here.

    @cp

    i can’t live without pressing “x” to toggle in between stroke and fill colors.

    Me too. I do this a lot in Photoshop as well. Thanks for mentioning :)

    @Dan

    Am I the only one wishing that the guides acted the same as they do in InDesign [which are actually precise]. It baffles me how two programs so similar in terms of dealt media use two different forms of accuracy!

    I agree with you here. I sometimes struggle with that too if there are too many elements the snapping can jump to. I love and hate them at the same time. I don’t work in InDesign that often, but I think they work way better there.

  20. 20 Zeth 12 Feb 2011

    Do you have anything like this, but for Photoshop. What annoys me the most is the default padlock on the first layer, if you paste something in a new document. A freaking plague!! I’ve never EVER been glad that it was there…Does anyone know how to disable that? I know that ‘/’ locks the layer but you need to select the layer before it works, so you have you mouse over there anyway. Good blog!!