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More Illustrator Your Way: Customizing Keyboard Shortcuts

by Sara Froehlich

My Way

Don’t like the keyboard shortcuts Illustrator provides? Want to use the same shortcuts you use in another program, or maybe you just find other keyboard combinations more convenient? Perhaps you want a keyboard shortcut for a command Adobe didn’t provide one for. Whatever the reason, Illustrator makes it easy to customize your shortcuts.

Illustrator has a lot of keyboard shortcuts, and I imagine the programmers chose the commands they gave shortcuts that they used most often. But the fact is we all use Illustrator for different purposes, and sometimes the things they chose to give shortcuts to are not the features you yourself use the most.

I use Illustrator often for writing tutorials. I also use it for web graphics, and in both of these tasks, saving images for the web using crop marks is important. Since crop marks are one of the commands without native keyboard shortcuts, I added a custom keyboard shortcut to add and remove them.

Crop Marks may not be the thing you find most important, but you can use the same steps I’ll show you here to add any custom shortcuts you want. Open the Custom Shortcut dialog from Edit > Keyboard Shortcuts.

Using the Shortcut Dialog

Set: A group of shortcuts are considered a Set. You start off with one set: Illustrator Factory Defaults. You cannot change this set. If you make custom shortcuts, you’ll have to pick another name for them. Once you save custom shortcuts of your own, you can choose the custom sets from the list.

Popup Menu: Choose Menu Commands or Tools. Menu Commands lets you set custom shortcuts for the menu bar items, and Tools lets you set shortcuts for the tools in the toolbox. What you choose here is reflected in the shortcut and symbol list in the window below.

Shortcut: Shows the current shortcuts in the set for Tools and Menus. If there is nothing listed, the tool or menu command has no shortcut.

Symbol: Some shortcuts also have a symbol. These are the characters that appear in the tool tips when you hover over the tool with a mouse.

Undo: Click this button to return a selected keyboard shortcut to its default.

Clear: Click this button to remove a selected keyboard shortcut.

Go To: Click this button to navigate to a command or tool whose shortcut you have assigned to something else. You can assign the tool or command a new shortcut.

Save: Click to create a new set of shortcuts. Once saved, this set will appear in the Set Menu. Saved sets are stored as files on your hard drive with the extension .kys.

Delete: Delete the current custom set. You cannot delete the Illustrator default set.

Export Text: This exports the keyboard shortcuts as a text file you can print or save for reference.

Steps for Making Custom Shortcuts

Step 1. Open the Keyboard shortcuts dialog (Edit > Keyboard Shortcuts or ctrl + shift + opt/alt + K). Right now you only have the set called Illustrator Factory Defaults.


Step 2. We’re setting a custom shortcut for the Crop Area command on the Object menu. Right now, Tools is chosen; open the popup menu and choose Menu Commands.


Step 3
. All of the menus are listed in the Menu Commands list. Some of them have a twirldown arrow by them. If the arrow is pointing right, the menu is closed. Click the arrow to open the twirldown menu. When the arrow is pointing down, it’s open. Click the twirldown arrow to the left of the word Object.


Step 4. Scroll down until you see Crop Area in the list, and click the twirldown arrow to open the Crop Area menu.


Step 5. Click under the shortcut column on the Make line.


Step 6. Type the keyboard shortcut you want. (I use cmd + shift + 1 on the Mac, and ctrl + alt + 1 on the PC). Neither of these is used by another shortcut. Click on the shortcut column on the Release line.


Step 7. Type in the shortcut you want to use. If you get an error message, press delete or click the Undo button. This just means the shortcut is already taken, so try again.


Step 8. This time I used cmd + shift + 2, and since it’s not taken by anything else, I’ll use that one. (On the PC I use ctrl + shift + 1.)


Step 9. Notice how the Set has changed to [Custom] instead of Illustrator Default. This keeps you from overwriting the default set so you can load it at any time.


Step 10. Click the Save button and in the save Keyset File dialog that opens, give the new set a name. If you click OK, you will also be presented with the Save keyset File dialog. Click OK to use the new set of keyboard shortcuts, which includes all of the default shortcuts plus the new ones you just made.


The new shortcut set is now in the list and will remain the default until you choose another set. As you work in Illustrator more and more, you will see which commands you want custom shortcuts for. You can set as many as you like. You can also make different sets for different types of jobs you’re doing if you wish. Illustrator makes it easy to do things your way.

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©2005-2008 Sara Froehlich