21 useful Illustrator shortcuts to speed up your workflow

A screenshot showing use of one of the best Illustrator shortcuts
(Image credit: Adobe)

Illustrator shortcuts can help improve your workflow on what remains the industry standard vector design tool. From creating brand design assets or infographics, Illustrator offers designers a powerful range of tools. But as with a lot of software, sometimes simple and frequently repeated tasks can become a drag and slow down your workflow. The solution to that is to use Illustrator shortcuts to perform those tasks as efficiently as possible.

Many frequent tasks can be performed with an Illustrator shortcut, from changing the size of text to deselecting or merging layers. There are also handy shortcuts for brushes, saving and closing, viewing options and lots more. It can be close to impossible to memorise all of the shortcuts at once, but if you start with the tasks you do most often and gradually incorporate more into your workflow, they start to become second nature.

If you still need the software, see below for the best Adobe Creative Cloud prices. If you're ready to go, scroll down for our list of the most useful Illustrator shortcuts. We've provided each shortcut for both Windows and Mac. You might also want to see our pick of the best Illustrator tutorials and best Illustrator brushes.

The most useful Illustrator shortcuts

A screenshot showing use of one of the best Illustrator shortcuts

Illustrator shortcuts can help you perform frequent tasks more efficiently (Image credit: Adobe)

01. Select all items on layer

Mac: Option+Click layer name
Windows: Alt+Click layer name

Quickly select all the items on one particular layer – including those that are locked and not visible (to select only the visible, unlocked objects, click the select circle in the layers palette).

02. Hand Tool

Mac: Spacebar
Windows: Spacebar

Move around your artboard without disturbing the content. This shortcut can't be used while editing typography.

03. Hand Tool (Editing type)

Mac: Cmd+Spacebar
Windows: Ctrl+Spacebar

Move around your artboard without disturbing the content. This can be used while editing type, but you have to start moving the cursor around very quickly after releasing the Cmd/Ctrl key, otherwise Illustrator will start adding spaces to your text.

04. Activate Zoom In tool

Mac: Cmd+Spacebar
Windows: Ctrl+Spacebar

Zoom closer into the artboard.

05. Activate Zoom Out tool

Mac: Cmd+Option+Spacebar
Windows: Ctrl+Alt+Spacebar

Zoom out of the artboard.

06. Access Selection or Direction Selection tool

Mac: Cmd
Windows: Ctrl

Switch between the Selection or Direction Selection tool – a big time saver.

07. Move Selection 10 pts

Mac: Shift+arrow direction
Windows: Shift+arrow direction

Shift your imagery and/or typography accurately and quickly.

08. Add to a selection

Mac: Shift-click
Windows: Shift-click

Create multiple selections, with the ability to add more if needed.

09. Lock selected artwork

Mac: Cmd+2
Windows: Ctrl+2

This is a handy way to lock down those layers that keep getting in the way.

10. Unlock all artwork

Mac: Cmd+Option+2
Windows: Ctrl+Alt+2

Unlock previously locked layers all at once.

11. Duplicate

Mac: Option+drag
Windows: Alt+drag

Just drag your selection while holding Option to duplicate the file.

12. Scale proportionally with Selection tool

Mac: Shift+drag bounding box
Windows: Shift+drag bounding box

Never distort your images again: scale them proportionally with this method.

13. Sample colour

Mac: I
Windows: I

Sample colour from a vector, gradient or image with the eyedropper tool.

14. Show/hide artboards

Mac: Cmd+Shift+H
Windows: Ctrl+Shift+H

Each artboard is bound by solid lines that represent the maximum printable area, with a canvas area beyond these boundaries. This shortcut shows/hides the artboard boundaries.

15. Show/hide artboard rulers

Mac: Cmd+R
Windows: Ctrl+R

Make sure everything lines up by toggling rulers on.

16. View all artboards in window

Mac: Cmd+Option+O
Windows: Ctrl+Alt+O

Shows you multiple artboards at once.

17. Decrease/increase type size

Mac: Cmd+Shift+< or >
Windows: Ctrl+Shift+< or >

An effective way of changing your font size directly in front of your eyes.

18. Decrease/Increase leading

Mac: Option+up/down
Windows: Alt+up/down

Quickly adjust the kerning without having to keep clicking in the character tab.

19. Decrease/Increase kerning or tracking

Mac: Option+arrow L/R
Windows: Alt+arrow L/R

Adjust the space between your text in Illustrator with this handy command.

20. Align text left/centre/right

Mac: Cmd-Shift-L/C/R
Windows: Ctrl+Shift+L/C/R

A great way to experiment with the alignment of your text, this shortcut will enable you to do it quickly.

21. Save for Web and Devices

Mac: Cmd+Shift+Opt+S
Windows: Ctrl+Shift+Alt+S

If you prefer not to drag your mouse around a number of options, use this shortcut.

More default Illustrator shortcuts

Adobe's Illustrator shortcuts cheatsheet (Image credit: Adobe)

Adobe provides a cheatsheet listing many but not all of the most useful Illustrator shortcuts. It's quite long, but it's a handy reference to have. It's available on the Adobe website for both Mac and Windows.

How do I customise Illustrator shortcuts?

To customise Illustrator shortcuts, go to Go to Edit > Keyboard Shortcuts. Select a set of shortcuts from the Set options and select a shortcut type ('menu commands' or 'tools' from the menu above the shortcut display.

Select 'OK'  to activate the set of shortcuts or select the Shortcut column of the scroll list and type a new shortcut to change an existing one. You'll see an alert if you enter a shortcut that's already assigned to another command or tool. In that case, select 'Undo' to undo the change, or select 'Go To' to go to the other command or tool and give it a new shortcut.

In the Symbol column, type the symbol that will appear in the menu or tool tip for the command or tool. You can use any of the characters allowed in the Shortcut column. Select 'OK' to save changes to the current shortcuts and select 'Save' to save a new set of shortcuts with a new name. The new set will appear in the pop‑up menu under the new name you create.

If you want to save a list of your new shortcuts for reference, select 'Export Text' to export them as a text file. In the 'Save Key Set File As' dialogue box, enter a filename for the set and select 'Save'. You can then print this out.

Where are customised Illustrator shortcuts saved?

By default, customised Illustrator shortcuts are saved as kys files to the preferences folder in following locations on Mac and Windows: 

Mac: user/Library/Preferences/Illustrator CC

Windows: Users\[user name]\AppData\Roaming\Adobe\Adobe Illustrator CC Settings\[language]\mycustomshortcut.kys

The files can be copied to the same location on another machine and you will be able to choose the set of shortcuts in the Keyboard Shortcuts dialogue in Illustrator. You should be able to use the same .kys file across platforms as long as the modified shortcuts are valid.

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Aaron Kitney is a freelance graphic designer and art director based in London and Vancouver. He specialises in branding, identity, web design, publication design, packaging and book design.