As designers, we often have to iterate quickly and meet tight deadlines, as well as ensure that we’re producing quality work for client submissions. In order to work more efficiently, it’s important to choose shortcuts wisely and to use the tools available in Photoshop to our advantage. Much of what’s mentioned below is simple and self-explanatory, but it’s easy to forget to use these tools if you don’t put them into regular practice.

Master Your Keyboard Shortcuts

One of the best ways to navigate any program more quickly is to learn its keyboard shortcuts and commit them to memory. Since I work primarily on banner ads, I use the following shortcuts daily, but this is just a handful of what’s available on Photoshop. To get the most out of keyboard shortcuts, find and utilize those that cater to the type of work you do, whether it’s banner design, drawing, or heavy image manipulation. And remember, Photoshop lets you assign keyboard shortcuts to commands (Edit > Keyboard Shortcuts), so don’t feel limited to the default settings.

Navigation

  • Spacebar: Hold to temporarily use the hand tool and pan around the image/canvas
  • Cmd/Ctrl + +/-: Zoom in/out
  • Cmd/Ctrl + 0: Fit canvas/artboards to window
  • Cmd/Ctrl + 1: Scale view to 100%

Workflow

  • Cmd/Ctrl: Hold to temporarily use the move tool
  • Cmd/Ctrl + Z: Undo/redo
  • Cmd/Ctrl + Alt + Z: Step backward

  • Cmd/Ctrl + T: Free transform

  • Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + T: Transform again

  • Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + V: Paste in place

  • Shift + [Tool Shortcut]: Toggle between hidden tools in the toolbar
  • Cmd/Ctrl + ;: Show/hide guides
  • X: Switch between foreground and background colors

  • D: Reset colors to default (black and white)

  • Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + N: New layer

  • Alt + Backspace: Fill layer with foreground color

  • Cmd/Ctrl + Backspace: Fill layer with background color

  • Cmd/Ctrl + ]/[: Bring selected layers forward/send backward

  • Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + ]/[: Bring selected layers to top/send to bottom

  • ]/[: Increase/decrease brush size

  • Shift + ]/[: Increase/decrease brush hardness

  • </>: 0%/100% hardness

  • Cmd/Ctrl + G: Group selected layers

  • Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + G: Ungroup

  • Cmd/Ctrl + /: Lock/unlock selected layer

  • Cmd/Ctrl + Alt + G: Create a clipping mask

  • 1–9: 10%–90% opacity; 0: 100% opacity; two digits for an exact percentage (e.g., 05 for 5%)

Export

  • Cmd/Ctrl + Alt + Shift + W: Export As
  • Cmd/Ctrl + Alt + Shift + S: Save for Web

Make Consistency and Precision a Habit

Inconsistency and sloppily-placed elements often signal that designers lack experience or don’t check their work, which can reflect poorly on both designers and other team members. Therefore, making an effort to be consistent and precise should be a top priority. That said, being this meticulous can eat away a good chunk of your time, especially in instances when you produce several different concepts that share core elements. Here are some methods to be exact without sacrificing time:

Duplicate layers to keep elements consistent across artboards

The Duplicate Layer(s) command acts like the Paste in Place function, but instead of pasting within the same artboard, it can be used to copy layers precisely between other artboards and documents.

Select and right-click on layers you want to duplicate. Then, select Duplicate Layers.

Select which document and artboard you would like to duplicate the layers to. In this case, I am staying within the same document and duplicating to another artboard.

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Use the Free Transform menu and/or the Properties Window to keep elements pixel-perfect

This may seem tedious, but if you do the math and make sure all your elements are positioned and sized at exact pixels, your work will look much cleaner. It’ll also save unnecessary time spent trying to figure out why a comp looks slightly off.

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Use guides and/or create a grid from Guide Layout

If you visualize better when the canvas has some structure, creating a grid before you lay anything out can be very helpful. These guides also ensure the elements on the artboard are aligned and easy to adjust as you refine. As with most grid layouts, they are best used for alignment and general placement, so don’t feel restricted to the structure.

Customize the guide layout to fit what you’re designing. For this basic example, I’ve created a simple 2×5 grid with equal margins on each side. Depending on what you’re designing, you might create precisely-sized columns and rows or choose to make use of the gutters.

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Clean Your File as You Go

Keeping your Photoshop layers organized not only allows you to navigate the file more easily; it also allows you to pass it off smoothly to another designer—a common occurrence for creative teams that work on multiple projects at once. Have you ever opened someone else’s .psd file, scrolled through layers with names like “Layer 27 copy 2,” and turned each layer’s visibility on and off several times to figure out what they were? It can be a hassle to clean and use up valuable time. Don’t be the designer who hands off cluttered documents or, worse yet, the designer who can’t navigate her own.

  • Use a naming convention that you are most comfortable with or your organization’s standard.
  • Group and/or link elements that function as a unit.
  • Color-code your artboards/groups/layers, especially if you have several of them.

   

Artboards and layers before and after cleaning up. The more complex the file, the more important it is to keep layers organized.

Working efficiently in Photoshop requires the use of smart shortcuts that will keep you moving quickly while maintaining a high standard. For me, this means keeping one hand on my keyboard and the other on my mouse, checking that my comps are pixel-perfect, and keeping my documents straightforward and tidy. If these shortcuts and tools are new to you, remember—practice makes perfect, and if you keep at it, you’ll quickly master your own Photoshop workflow.

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Casey Tsen
Casey joined 3Q in June 2017. Born and raised in the South Bay, Casey studied Graphic Design at UC Davis with a minor in Managerial Economics. When she’s not designing, she enjoys baking, endlessly watching Friends reruns, and napping with her cat, Toothless.