*Undocumented* Photoshop Keyboard & Mouse Shortcuts & Tools

Photoshop has some very handy keyboard shortcuts & mouse tricks that, while technically *not* undocumented, they’re not as obvious as most. You can certainly find them listed in many write-ups and lists in books and all over the Net. By “undocumented,” I’m referring to how these particular keyboard shortcuts don’t identify themselves within the Photoshop application itself, and most can’t be easily edited. And some of them are so essential they could be considered standard tools, rather than optional shortcuts.

But first, more on keyboard shortcuts in general. Photoshop has hundreds. Many keyboard shortcut lists, charts, and keyboard overlays are available; most of the ones I’ve seen have too much info on them for me; they list many things I never want to use. And to further complicate things, most keyboard shortcuts can be customized (In CS5 and previous, this is found in Edit menu: Edit Keyboard Shortcuts; in CS6, look in Window: Workspace: Keyboard Shortcuts & Menus). I’m the kind of person who likes to customize some of my keyboard shortcuts. I’m never going to remember the hundreds of built-in shortcuts Photoshop offers, but I certainly want CMD+Z to work the same way in Photoshop that it does in every other program! (I.e. I change CMD+Z to “step backward” rather than “undo”; this is just one of several customizations I always make to my keyboard shortcuts.)

Besides, most of these shortcuts are now documented in the software itself, reducing the need for printed charts and overlays. Any time you open a menu, hover over a tool, or click and hold down on a tool button, the shortcut for that menu item or tool appears next to it (if you haven’t noticed, try it!). Even if you’ve customized the keyboard shortcut, Photoshop will show you what it is currently set to. So rather than compiling a list of shortcuts and printing it out next to your monitor, if you forget your favorite shortcuts, just remind yourself by opening that menu or hovering over that tool again. Easy enough.

So what’s left? Some real gems. This is a very short list of some really great things you can do in Photoshop with just a few essential keys and mouse clicks. And only one of them has a tool tip (but the item is so small in the tool panel many people don’t even realize it’s there!)

Handy Undocumented Keyboard Shortcuts

Control+Tab
(Mac & Win)
Scrolls through open images. Adding shift goes in reverse order. Note that on a Mac this is CTRL, not CMD.
tab Hides all panels. Shift+Tab hides all but Tools and Options. You may or may not find this useful, but if you do it by accident it’s sure good to know what you did and how to fix it!
spacebar Holding it down activates the hand tool, allowing you to pan your image at any time, even when using other tools or in filter or other special dialogs showing image preview windows. Combine this with the well-documented zooming shortcuts in the view menu and you can get around your document easily.
option (Mac) /
alt (Win)
Holding it has different results depending on context:

  • When using selection tools, toggles subtract from selection.
  • When using a paintbrush, it activates the eyedropper tool.
  • When combined with a mouse drag it will duplicate. For example, Option+drag a layer to duplicate it. Option+drag a mask from one layer to another to duplicate it. Option+drag layer styles (effects) from one layer to another to duplicate them.
  • When transforming or making shapes it will work from the center rather than the upper left.
shift Holding it has different results depending on context:

  • When using selection tools, toggles add to selection.
  • Has the standard functionality found in other applications of adding to highlighted items when shift-clicking, for example when shift-clicking in layers, channels, masks panels, etc.
  • When transforming, maintains proportions.
  • New elipses and new rectangles will be forced into perfect circles and squares; new lines will be constrained.
Command (Mac) /
Control (Win)
Holding it has different results depending on context:

  • Has the standard functionality found in other applications of adding individual items when cmd/ctrl+clicking.
  • When free-transforming, will activate skew.
caps lock Shows alternate mouse cursor icon. Some tools, like the lassos, eyedropper, and paint buck have large, awkward mouse cursors that can be hard to work with. Turn on caps lock to see tidy crosshairs!
[   ] Increase/decrease brush size.
{   } Increase/decrease brush hardness.
x Switch foreground and background color. Easy to remember because x=cross, or switch. Commonly used when painting masks (i.e. black & white).
up | down Can be used to change values in any field. For example, when choosing a font, click on the font name and then use your up/down keys to scroll through the fonts, and Photoshop will preview the fonts for you as you scroll. You can also click in the font size field (or any other field) and use up or down to change the value.
drag layer to new layer icon Duplicates layer.
shift+click Enable or disable a layer’s mask.
double-click If you work with smart objects (and you should!) then you can double-click the smart object’s thumbnail in your layer’s panel to edit its contents.
Esc Cancels out of an operation. Many tools have a “half-way” stage; once you start using them, Photoshop will not allow you to continue until you either apply (return/enter) or cancel (escape). So if it seems Photoshop has stopped responding or is doing something strange, try pressing esc!
Enter / Return Applies an operation. See “Esc” above for more info.

I’ve probably missed a few really good ones in this article, so if you have some favorites I’ve missed, feel free to comment with yours. However, if it’s documented in Photoshop’s menus or tooltips, then I probably won’t add it to the list. Again, my purpose in this article is to mention the shortcuts and tricks you can’t simply find by looking in the Photoshop menus.

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