Design Like the Pros: 5 Shortcuts to Improve Your Graphic Design Skills

By July 16, 2015 August 4th, 2020 Design Tips, Visual Communication


As designers, we’re always on the lookout for ways to streamline our design process — more time actually designing, less time clicking around. Here are a few handy tricks that will help even advanced designers get things done more efficiently. Incorporating these shortcuts into your work may seem awkward at first, but the couple of minutes it takes to memorize them is worth all the time you’ll save in the future.

Design Shortcut 1: Setting Up Template Files
When you hit Command+N on a Mac or Ctrl+N on PC, Adobe Illustrator gives you several very helpful standard options for setting up your file. That said, if you have a custom setting you usually input for size, it’s a good idea to set up your own template file. This is especially helpful for designers who create a lot of work for the web, since most of Illustrator’s dimension presets are for print.
1) Create a new file and set the dimensions to something you use often. A common setting for web infographics is 1,000 pixels wide.
2) Set up the rest of the document just how you like it, so it’s ready to go. That may include setting guides, creating and naming layers (including a locked background layer), and swatches.
3) Now go to File > Save as Template…
4) And that’s it! Now you can access your template any time by going to File > New from Template…


Design Shortcut 2: Shift+X, a.k.a. Toggle Fill/Stroke

When an object is selected, Shift+X toggles the fill and stroke of the object. It’s pretty straightforward, but can be a big timesaver when compared to manually toggling it, or using the eyedropper tool each time.

keyboard_shortcuts_for_designDesign Shortcut 3: Recoloring Artwork
Use this trick when you have to recolor a large amount of strokes and/or objects, and don’t want to go through the hassle of selecting each one individually.

Let’s say we want all the people to have blue shirts.
1) Start by selecting all of the people.
2) Now look at the toolbar and click the color wheel icon that has appeared.
3) Drag the colors to make the changes you want. Make sure Recolor Art at the bottom is checked, as this allows you to see the changes as you make them.


Design Shortcut 4: Shift+M, a.k.a. The Shapebuilder Tool
Shift+M performs several of the functions that are in the Pathfinder toolbar.
1) Select 2 or more objects and/or strokes.
2) Hit Shift+M, and you’ll notice a little “+” appear next to your cursor. Holding down the Alt/Option key changes the + to a –.
3) Now click on any part of the selected objects to “add” or “subtract” that part.


For those of you with full keyboards, one more special tip…

Design Shortcut 5: Setting Up Function Keys
For efficient designers, keyboard shortcuts are part of daily life. Most of us have gone to the Settings panel to tweak them to our specifications. However, what some people don’t know is that you can also assign your function keys in Illustrator.

Think of something you do frequently that’s not already a keyboard shortcut. For example, an especially helpful one is Reflect.
1) Go to Edit > Keyboard Shortcuts… and find the command you want. In this case, it’s under Menu Commands > Object > Transform > Reflect.
2) Now set the function key of your choice.
3) That’s it! All that’s left is forming the new habit of hitting a key.

keyboard_shortcut_for_designEven once you’ve become proficient as a designer, there are always new tricks to learn. These shortcuts are a sure way to speed up your workflow. What are your favorite design shortcuts? Let us know in the comments!


Author Jess

Jess is a senior designer at Killer Infographics.

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