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Killer Shortcuts

Updated 8 August, 2020

Killer Shortcuts

There a few shortcuts that make such a difference that there is a before and an after we learn them.


Use Global Rulers

Svija pages are designed around a coordinate system where 0,0 is the top left corner.

Resizing a document can move the artboard 0,0 point in unpredictable ways.

To use the global rulers instead, type cmd-alt-R.


Combine Panels to Avoid Clutter

If you use shortcuts to view panels, you can avoid visual clutter by combining them.

Drag all your regularly-used panels into a single panel group. You won’t be able to read the titles but it doesn’t matter.

Now when you open the Layers panel (for example) the previous panel will automatically be hidden.


Edit placed images

To edit a placed image in Adobe Illustrator, hold down the alt/option key and double click the image.


Use View › Transparency Grid

Under Document Setup, choose new colors for the background and foreground transparency colors that are the same.

I use the crayons, and pick the dark gray that is called iron.

Then you can use cmd-shift-D when you are working to make the background invisible.

This is very helpful when working with white images on a transparent background (for example).

I also find it much easier on the eyes to work on a gray background rather than a bright white background.


Keep all your placed images in a folder called links

When an image can’t be found, Illustrator automatically searches for it in a folder called links, in the same folder as the Illustrator document.

You’ll never have to relink your images again.


Cmd-click the lock icon on layers palette

This unlocks the current layer and toggles the lock state of the other layers.


Edit › Paste on All Artboards

This does the same thing as paste in front, but in the same place on every artboard.


Alt-eyedropper to Apply a Style

Suppose that you want to use the eyedropper to modify parts of a text block but not the whole block. For example, to change the font on a bunch of different header lines or to change a bunch of words to italic.

You can’t activate the eyedropper while you’re editing, but you can get the same utility using the option key, applying it to specific words or phrases, while skipping around the document.

You don’t have to navigate to get to the text you want to format.

Using the option key:

  • deselect everything
  • press i for the eyedropper
  • click on the text with the formatting you want to copy
  • press alt/option (the icon changes orientation)
  • drag the eyedropper over the word or text you want to format, as if you were selecting it.

Note: It’s frustrating that the text selection is invisible, but text formatting is updated as desired.


Remap cmd-N to “New from Template”

Use the Illustrator keyboard shortcut preferences to change cmd-N to “New from Template”.

Then save some of your most used files in Illustrator’s templates folder.

Now, each time you create a new document, you have everything set up the way you like it.


Use the Grid

Use the grid and snap to grid to keep all your boxes and margins evenly sized and aligned.

It’s unfortunate however that text is aligned to the point of the text path and not the actual letters.

Memorize the shortcut for turning on and off “snap to grid.”

Mac-specific Shortcuts


Cmd-‘ to Cycle Through Windows

In Illustrator, you can type cmd-‘ to cycle through open windows.

This is equivalent to cmd-tab in Photoshop.

Add shift to go in the opposite direction.

This is a general Mac shortcut — you can use it in the Finder, Safari etc.


Four Folders

On a Mac, there are three default folders that can be accessed with shortcuts:

  • Desktop (cmd-shift-D)
  • DownLoads (cmd-alt-L)
  • DOcuments (cmd-shift-O)

The fourth is the default “open a new window” in the Finder:

  • Custom (cmd-N) set in Finder preferences

By integrating these into your workflow, you can navigate your system much more quickly.

For example, I use them as follows:

  • DownLoads · sites that I’m actively maintaining
  • DOcuments · other graphic projects
  • Desktop · daily notes and images
  • Custom · files that I’m done with, to archive

Bonus: when you sit down to work every day, type cmd-shift-G to go to the project you’re working on. Then you can use the shortcut all day.

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