Master Keyboard Shortcuts

Master Keyboard Shortcuts

In this tutorial, you'll learn how to save a ton of time in Illustrator by creating and leveraging smart keyboard shortcuts.

Implementing the information in this video could easily cut 20% of the time off projects in Adobe Illustrator.

We've also included the AI file Von is using in the video so you can follow along (file is for education purposes only):

Click here to download the reference file


The ability to customize your own keyboard commands and create actions in Adobe Illustrator are, in my opinion, two of Illustrator’s most underrated features. Most people never even tap into them.

What is a Keyboard Shortcut?

Keyboard shortcuts are just what they sound like: the ability to use a key command instead of hunting down the command in a pulldown menu. They help make your workflow more efficient.

Not all functions in Illustrator allow you to add a shortcut command, though. In those cases, actions are your best bet.

Actions allow you to record multiple keyboard commands. Once you are done recording, you can assign the recording to a specific key command. The end result gives you a one button push, that can run a series of commands instantly, which obviously saves time.

The best way to determine how you can best use actions is to simply experiment. Anything you do routinely is a good candidate for an action.

For example, I have an action that converts all text to paths and then saves my artwork out as a PDF onto my desktop so I can email a design to a client. It’s all about improving mundane tasks.

How to Create Your Own Keyboard Shortcuts

To create your own keyboard shortcuts, go to Edit > Keyboard Shortcuts > Select, and pick either Tools or Menu Command from the pulldown menu in the pop-up window. Select a specific tool or menu command, and then enter in the key you want the task to be assigned to.

Illustrator will tell you if the key is already assigned, and you can decide to ignore or override it. Click Save, and your keyboard shortcut is ready to use. It’s that simple.

To create an action, go to Window > Actions. On the Actions panel, click the fly-out menu in the top-right corner. Then click New Action.

Creating an action in Adobe Illustrator

In the pop-up window that opens, name your action, assign it to an action set (mine is GS Actions), then bind your action to an F key, and click Record > Proceed to compile the series of commands you want to record (see Figure.jpg). (Remember that not all functions in Illustrator are recordable.)

Once done, click Stop in the Actions palette. You now have a customized action at the ready.

Make sure to save your action set by going to the fly-out menu in the top-right corner of the Actions panel and clicking on Save Actions. If you don’t do this Illustrator won’t retain them the next time you open the application.

How you ultimately use these features will depend greatly on what type of work you’ll be creating, but when it comes to building vector graphics, I have customized a handful of commands to make routine tasks easier.

Von's Keyboard Shortcuts

Here are twelve shortcuts and two actions I’ve assigned to F keys in order to ease my workflow and save time.

  • F1 is Make Clipping Mask (Command-7 or Control-7).
  • F2 is Release Clipping Mask (Option-Command-7 or Alt-Control-7).
  • F3 is Clone. Adobe Illustrator has no clone command. To clone an object, you must copy a shape (Command-C or Control-C) and then paste it in front (Command-F or Control-F). That’s two commands and four keys to hit. Keyboard shortcuts don’t allow multiple commands, so you’ll need to record an action and bind it to the specific F key you want (Figure.jpg).
  • F4 is Send to Back (Shift-Command-[ or Shift-Control={).
  • F5 is Bring to Front Again (Shift-Command-] or Shift-Control-]).
  • F6 is Ungroup (Shift-Command-G or Shift-Control-G).
  • F7 is Unite (Create Compound Path). This allows me to take two selected individual shapes and unite them into one shape without having to move my cursor to the Pathfinder panel. Since the Pathfinder panel functions don’t have keyboard commands, I created an action for this function and binded it to the F7 key.
  • F8 is Deselect All (Shift-Command-A or Shift-Control-A). Sometimes when you’re zoomed into your design, you can’t click on the artboard to deselect an object. Assigning the Deselect shortcut to the F8 key is like killing three keys with one click.
  • F9 is Punch (Minus Front). I can select two shapes, one on top of another and like a cookie cutter punch-out the top shape from the bottom shape with one button push. Since the Pathfinder panel functions don’t have keyboard commands, I created an action for this function and binded it to the F9 key (Figure.jpg).
  • F10 is Place Image. Illustrator has no default keyboard command assigned for placing images, so I’ve utilized the F10 key to streamline this function. Almost everything I create in Illustrator is based on a drawing so this is how I get my refined sketches into my vector building environment.
  • Option-F1 is Select Same Fill Color. I use this to quickly select vector elements with the same fill attributes.
  • Option-F2 is Select Same Stroke Color. I use this to quickly select vector elements with the same stroke attributes.

Bonus Pro Tip

Recording actions to perform routine tasks such as saving out PDF files, or converting and batch processing files is another great way to speed up your creative process. And when combined with keyboard shortcuts allows you to design your own custom functionality of sorts as well.

About the Author

Von is principal of Glitschka Studios a small boutique design firm located in the Pacific Northwest. His diverse range of illustrative design has been used by some of the most respected brands in the world. He creatively collaborates with ad agencies, design firms, in-house corporate art departments, and small businesses to produce compelling visual narratives.

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