It seems that Photoshop Beginners are often told not to worry about learning keyboard shortcuts until “later” – that using shortcuts is more “advanced”. To some degree that’s true, but at the same time there is a real advantage to starting to gradually add in keyboard commands to save you time.

So why bother using keyboard shortcuts? Why not just use the menus and the toolbox? Let’s look at a simple example. Imagine you have added a Layer Mask and want to paint on it, then move it. You move over to the toolbox to click on the Brush tool, before moving back to the image to paint on the mask over the right edge of the photo. Then you head back to the toolbox to select the Move tool before returning to the mask in the Layers panel once again. That’s a lot of real estate to cover!

To do the same thing using the keyboard (after adding the layer mask) you would press B for the Brush tool, paint, then press V for the Move tool.  Much faster – and you only had to remember two keys.

And that’s really the point here: I’m not suggesting that you immediately attempt to memorize every keyboard shortcut for every tool and menu command. Instead I’m recommending that you look at the tools you use the most and learn the single letter keys to activate those tools. (Then over time, add in more tool shortcuts as you start to use those tools more).

Some people find it hard to remember keyboard shortcuts, and I think that part of the problem might be that they’re trying to remember too many shortcuts. That’s why I recommend that you start by thinking of 3 or 4 tools that you use the most and try to remember the single letter shortcut for those tools. If you can’t remember the key, hover over the tool to see the letter and then press it. Yes that will take longer at first, but the more you do that, the more quickly you’ll start to remember the keys and save yourself time. (By the way, many of the most commonly used tools have logical letters such as M for Marquee, C for Crop, L for Lasso, B for Brush, T for Type, etc).
For tools that have multiple options such as the Lasso set of tools, press the letter (in this case L) to activate the current Lasso, and then press Shift and the letter to toggle through the other tools in the same set.
Once you have a few tool shortcuts under your belt, think of some other functions and menu commands that you use regularly and start to learn those shortcuts. For example, navigating around you document. Do you head over to the toolbox, click on the Zoom tool, go back to your image and click to zoom in? Or, with any tool active, do you press Command + (PC: Cntrl +) to zoom in and Command – (PC: Cntrl –) to zoom out? And rather than using the scroll bars or the Hand tool to scroll to a different part of your photo, press the Spacebar to temporarily activate the Hand tool. When you let go of the Spacebar you’ll return to whatever tool you were using. (As you might expect, the Spacebar shortcut does not work when you’re using the Type tool).
One last reminder as you attempt to add more shortcuts to your repertoire: it will probably slow you down at first as you double-check to make sure you have the correct shortcut. But it’s worth it! You can save so much time in Photoshop by slowly but surely using more and more keyboard shortcuts.