September 07, 2008

Obscure shortcut tips o’ the day

At Photoshop World this week, an attendee asked me why, after switching from Windows to Mac, she was having trouble changing layer blending modes via the keyboard.  It turned out the choice of OS had nothing to do with it.  Rather, she was missing a subtlety in how these shortcuts work: their target depends on which tool is active.


  • With the Move tool (V) selected, you can:
    • change a layer’s blending mode by hitting Shift-plus/minus, cycling forward/backward through the available options;
    • apply a specific mode via Shift-Opt/Alt-letter (e.g. Shift-Opt-O for Overlay);
    • change layer opacity by hitting number keys: "5" sets it to 50%, "6" to 60%, etc., while "55" sets it to 55%, "66" to 66%, and so on.  (Insert joke about "666" erasing your hard drive.)
  • With other tools selected (Brush, Eraser, Gradient, Clone Stamp–anything that can be applied with its own blending and opacity options), these shortcuts apply to the tool options instead of to the layer.  Therefore you can quickly alter your brush opacity by tapping the number keys, but to change the opacity of the layer, you’ll have to switch to the Move tool.
  • For completeness I should point out that you could also switch to another tool that doesn’t have it’s own blending options, such as Crop, and have the shortcuts apply to the layer.  Really, though, it’s easier to say that Move = layer, and brush = brush where these shortcuts are concerned.


Hopefully that’s of some value/interest.  For reference, here (bottom of the page) is a list of the specific blending mode shortcuts.  For further geekery I recommend scoring a copy of the Photoshop Power Shortcuts book on which I collaborated with Michael Ninness.  Skim it and you’ll quickly see why finding shortcuts for new functions in PS is, ah, non-trivial.

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