While this list of Adobe Illustrator keyboard shortcuts is not complete, it should be considered a starting point for anyone looking to become more efficient at using Illustrator. There are literally hundreds of key commands for Illustrator, not all of them are that useful. These 11 groups of commands should get you going towards a brighter future.
If you find yourself using repeating the same set of actions over and over again, you can always set custom key commands to perform them. This is easily done but maybe I’ll write a follow up How-To later on.
Guides in Illustrator are one of the most important tools a designer can use. Mastering the use of them will help you exponentially in your everyday designing tasks. Guides are set by dragging out of the Rulers on the side of the document window. By default, the Rulers are hidden so you’ll have to Show them by using the Cmd-R [Ctrl-R] key command. Once the rulers are visible, you can just drag a guide out onto your art board.
Cmd-R [Ctrl-R]: Show Rulers or Hide Rulers
Cmd-; [Ctrl-;]: Show Guides or Hide Guides
Option-Cmd-; [Alt-Ctrl-;]: Lock Guides or Unlock Guides
You can also turn objects in guides if you need to have oddly shaped guides.
Cmd-5 [Ctrl-5]: Make Guides (convert shape to guides)
Option-Cmd-5 [Alt-Ctrl-5]: Release Guides (convert back to shape)
Nudging with Intelligence
In Illustrator, using the arrow keys to move objects around is called “nudging.” By default Illustrator has this increment set to 1pt but you can set this to be whatever you want. This seems like a paint to change but a few clicks can save you a lot of time during the day. There are two ways to go about choosing a good setting for this. One, if your working on a document in scale then chose a number that is easily divisible in that scale. Two, you can set the nudge to de a specific amount, like 0.25 inches, so that if you hit the arrow key 4 times you know that you just moved that object exactly 1 inch.
Cmd-K [Ctrl-K]: Opens the preferences panel and highlights the keyboard increment field.
Arrow: Nudges the selected artwork
Shift-Arrow: Nudges selected artwork 10x the amount specified
Option-Arrow [Alt-Arrow]: Nudges a copy of the selected artwork
Shift-Option-Arrow [Shift-Alt-Arrow]: Nudges a copy of the selected artwork 10x the amount specified
Align with Smart Guides
One of the most basic settings in Illustrator is often the most overlooked. Smart Guides has been around since the early days, yet people seem to think that if it looks like the shapes are lined up then they must be. This is never the case. Use Smart Guides. Smart Guides allows you to snap objects to the boundaries, centerlines, corners, etc of other objects, guides and art boards. If seeing the Smart Guides pop up all the time is annoying to you then instead of ignoring them, try to control them. First things first, open the Smart Guides preference panel and uncheck all boxes except for Alignment Guides. Now use the shortcut below to selectively turn them on and off.
Cmd-U [Ctrl-U]: Toggles Smart Guide behavior on and off.
Faster & Smarter Selection
Selection tools are the most used tool in Illustrator. Learn how to tame them and cut out switching back and forth between the two. Use the keyboard shortcuts and quit having to mouse over and click on the right tool each time.
V: Selection tool (Solid arrow) — the inverted “V” looks like an arrow.
A: Direct Selection tool (Hollow arrow) — the “A” looks like an arrow with a hollow center.
Better Yet, rather than constantly switch between the two arrow tools, most power users use the Direct Selection tool most often and use these shortcuts:
Cmd [Ctrl]: Temporarily toggles to Selection tool.
Option [Alt]: Temporarily toggles to Group Selection tool.
And instead of dragging a selection box around all of your artwork to select it all just use these:
Cmd-A [Ctrl-A]: Select all.
Shift-Cmd-A [Shift-Ctrl-A]: Deselect all.
Controlling Object Atributes
Applying color to your object in Illustrator can be a little annoying. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve applied the color to stroke when I want to apply it the fill. Sound familiar? You ca use these key commands to get a little better control over it:
D: Resets an object’s appearance to white fill, 1pt black stroke.
X: Toggles the focus between Fill and Stroke.
Shift-X: Swaps the colors of an object’s fill and stroke.
/: Applies the None attribute.
Cmd-/ [Ctrl-/]: Applies a new fill (via the Appearance panel).
Shift-Cmd-/ [Shift-Ctrl-/]: Applies a new stroke (via the Appearance panel).
Object Stacking Order
Staking order in Illustrator is one of the most important functions. It controls which objects are in front and which are behind other objects. The traditional method for doing this for most users it to mouse to the Object then Arrange drop down. This takes to much time and can easily be accomplished with easy to use key commands.
Shift-Cmd-] [Shift-Ctrl-] ]: Bring to front.
Shift-Cmd-[ [Shift-Ctrl-[ ]: Send to back.
Cmd-] [Ctrl-] ]: Bring forward.
Cmd-[ [Ctrl-[ ]: Send backward.
Lock, Unlock, and Hide
When working with complex artwork it can sometimes be really annoying (and hard) to control your selections. While in Illustrator CS4, the Isolation tool (used by double clicking on a group or mask) has made it a little easier to control selection, it is still necessary to lock and hide some objects.
Cmd-2 [Ctrl-2]: Lock selected object(s).
Cmd-Option-2 [Ctrl-Alt-2]: Unlock all.
Cmd-3 [Ctrl-3>]: Hide selected object(s).
Cmd-Option-3 [Ctrl-Alt-3]: Show all.
For anyone who remembers Macromedia FreeHand, Pasting in Illustrator has been somewhat of a hassle. Pasting in Illustrator with the more known Cmd-V [Ctrl-V] is limiting in that it only Pastes in front and in the center of you screen. Using the more advanced Paste commands you can gain greater control over where in the stacking order you Paste that object, which is useful when working with complex groups and masks. This only really works well if you are performing this task immediately after copying an object with in the same group or mask.
Cmd-C [Ctrl-C]: Copy.
Cmd-V [Ctrl-V]: Paste.
Cmd-F [Ctrl-F]: Paste in front of the copied object.
Cmd-B [Ctrl-B]: Paste behind the copied object.
In Illustrator there are some tools that are off-limits, not because they are bad to use, it just that you really shouldn’t waste your time with mousing to them. The hand tool and the Zoom tool should never be clicked, you really just have no reason to.
Space: Hand tool.
Cmd-Space [Ctrl-Space]: Zoom in.
Cmd-Option-Space [Ctrl-Alt-Space]: Zoom out.
The only problem with key commands to use the Hand and Zoom tools is that when you are editing text, you have to add one more key to the mix otherwise your going to end up with a ton of extra spaces in your copy. By pressing Cmd-Space [Ctrl-Space] to access the Zoom tool, and then release just the Cmd [Ctrl] key, while still holding Space. This will give you the Hand tool. Slightly annoying but better than the other option.
This one is a real jem. Illustrator CS4 introduced Tabbed Document windows, use this key command to easily switch between them.
Cmd-` [Ctrl-`]: That’s a Tilde, which appears just over your Tab key on US keyboards, and allows you to toggle between open tabbed documents.
Using Effects Efficiently
Say your applying an Effect to a whole bunch of objects, you could select them all, then apply the effect but this will group all the objects first then apply the effect. Apply the first Effect setting all the parameters you want in the Graphic Styles palette then use these key commands to repeat.
Shift-Cmd-E [Shift-Ctrl-E]: Apply last-used effect with the same settings.
Shift-Cmd-Option-E [Shift-Ctrl-Alt-E]: Bring up the dialog box of the last-used effect.
Pathfinder Repeat Command
While there aren’t key commands set for each Pathfinder action (you could set your own if you wanted with custom actions) and the Live Paint feature in Illustrator CS4 is much more powerful, you can easily repeat the last used Pathfinder action with the below key command. This is useful if your doing some serious shape editing.
Cmd-4 [Ctrl-4]: Repeat last-applied Pathfinder function.