Hello folks! I will try to give you some useful information on keyboard shortcuts in this tutorial plus some tips and tricks in Adobe Photoshop (TM) every artist should know. Using the techniques explained in this tutorial can help you improve your efficiency and speed when painting.

I will also go over some functions in Photoshop that can quickly change the mood and colors in your painting. I'm talking about the powerful "Curves", "Hue/Saturation", "Color Balance" and other dialogs. These functions can be very useful to fix problems, add fx postwork and much more.

Adobe Photoshop

This tutorial is based on Adobe Photoshop 7.0, but most rules apply to older versions as well. Contact me if a certain function doesn't work for you and I'll update the tutorial.

Note: I will only go through those functions that I personally found to be very helpful to an artist when painting. Adobe has put together a quick reference paper on many of the most used shortcuts. The file is availiable as PDF.

Click here to download Adobes Quick Reference paper.
(Adobe Acrobat Reader required for viewing)

I would love some input and feedback on these tutorials so please don't hesitate to comment on my portfolio or mail me at For my portfolio please visit:



     Eraser Tool (E)

Hold over
tool to see

Brush Tool (B) THE BRUSH TOOL Keyboard shortcut: B

The most common tool, used for painting in the canvas. Can be set to have soft edges (airbrush) or hard edges. In Adobe Photoshop 7.0, these brushes can be modified using the brush engine.

To reach this tool just press the keyboard button "B".

ALT + Mouseclick
Quick eyedropper mode:
Hold down ALT and click on the painting to pick the color beneath and use it as the current drawing color. Very handy! I think I use this function the most when painting.

Move in canvas:
Hold down the SPACEBAR when using the brush tool to use the Hand Tool and you can then move on the canvas. When you release the SPACEBAR you can continue painting. Good to use when working on details zoomed in.

Draw straight lines: If you hold down SHIFT while painting your brush strokes will become vertical or horicontal straight lines.

SHIFT + mouseclick
Draw more specific lines: If you hold SHIFT and click in the canvas the line will go from point A to next click point. This is realy good for doing perspective layouts. See example image here:

Opacity defines how much color to paint with and how much of the background to shine through. 50% will paint with half the color you choose and let the background be 50% visible.

While using the brush tool you can set the opacity using following options:

Opacity %: 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 90 100
Keyboard: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0

To use 45% in opacity you first click 4 and directly after a 5.

. and , (semicolon and dot)
Select brush
There also is a keyboard shortcut for choosing brushes. You can go forward and backwards in the brush list. I usually paint with the default brushes. They come in sizes from 1 pixel to 300 pixels. So i'ts a quick way to increase and decrease size of brush.

[ and ]
Increase and Decrease brush size
Using these keys to change the size of the current brush.
Note: I haven't been able to use this on my swedish keyboard, if you have any information or tips on this, please contact me.

Exact brushes
Most artists want to see the exact size of the brush when you are painting. This is not turned on by default. To change this, go to "Edit" in the menu. Then choose "Preferences" and "Display and Cursors". Set the settings for the cursors to look like in the image below.


Burn Tool (B) THE BURN TOOL Keyboard shortcut: O
Dodge Tool (O)

Sponge Tool (O)
Note: If you can't find this tool do the following. See if you find the tools you have here to the left. They are called the "Dodge Tool" and the "Sponge Tool". You see the little arrow in the right bottom corner. If you hold down the mousebutton on these tools with an arrow a list of other tools folds out.

All of the tools in the list have the same keyboard shortcuts, you can choose the next tool by holding down SHIFT and the tools shortcut. For example:
SHIFT+O to change between Dodge, Burn and the Sponge tool.

ALT + mouseclick
Dodge mode:
Hold down ALT and use the burn tool as usual, but when holding down ALT it will dodge the painting instead of burning. In other words, holding down ALT will switch to lightening the image instead of darkening.

Using the Burn tool to add basic depth and shadows.
When I paint my paintings i usually start with a sketch, then I do a quick base coloring. After that begins texturing, first step I do when I texturize is to add shadows. I add shadows using the Burn tool.

Before using the Burn Tool After using the Burn Tool Before using the Burn tool

Darkening painted areas.

As I continued working on my painting Skullbridge i needed to add more contrast and mood to the painting. By darkening some areas my overal feeling changed greatly. Below you can see a before and after picture. It makes a great difference.

Before darkening After darkening

I usually add details that have a brighter color on top of the parts i just darkened. This will make the details "pop" out and give depth.

Eraser Tool (E) THE ERASER TOOL Keyboard shortcut: E
Eraser tool practically does pretty much what it is supposed to do, it erases what you have painted. It acts just like a brush, so you can configure the Eraser just as a brush as well. All brush shortcuts also works on the Eraser.

TIP - Don't undo faulty brushstrokes!
If you are painting a sketch or an outline where you for example needs to draw a line, but you don't manage to get it correct - don't erase or undo your faulty brushstrokes (apply this only if you are painting on a transparent background). Instead have the faulty stroke visible and draw the new on top over the old one. Then you can more easily avoid doing the same mistake again.

When you have a correct brushstroke, use the eraser tool to remove the faulty one. If you are used to layers, why not draw the new stroke on a seperate layer. Then it's just to remove the other layer.





Photoshop has many shortcuts for often used actions, and some of them can greatly help you paint faster and more efficiently. Other shortcuts will make Photoshops interface less "in the way" and let you use all your creativity on a big canvas without annoying dialogs and menus. Shortcuts that handle the brushes are explained in the text above.

Note. Some programs that interfere with Windows such as ICQ can sometimes be configured to take over some shortcuts. So if ICQ or another program pops up when you use these, check that program's configuration. I know ICQ has a setting to disable this.



Hides all dialogs and windows in Photoshop. Leaving an empty work-space where you can work with a big canvas without beeing distracted.

Note. You can still paint on this canvas! If you already know shortcuts for the most used tools then it should be a breeze.



Hides all dialogs and windows except the toolbox and the tool setting window. Good for quickly hiding the layer, history, info window and still be able to edit and paint on your painting.



Click "F" once to switch to full screen mode with menus. It will hide all open files and canvases, centering the current selection canvas - and the workspace around the canvas will be a grey color.

Click "F" one more time to go from full screen mode with menus to a complete full screen mode without menus. The workspace will now be black. This mode combined with "TAB" will let you paint without any distraction only showing the canvas. - This is how I paint. Try it if you haven't already and see the advantages!



When working in full screen mode you can force the menu to be hidden or reappear again by pressing "SHIFT+F". If the menus are hidden a little arrow will come on the top part of the toolbox. Clicking on this arrow will bring up the menu.



In Adobe Photoshop 7 come some partly annoying functions such as the slices. Although they can be very useful for a web designer such as myself, they become a burden for a painter.

"CTRL+H" will hide all "Extras" such as slices, guides, audio, notes selections and so on. If you press "CTRL+H" while these are hidden they will become visible once again. When starting on a new painting I always hide these elements directly.



"CTRL+R" will hide or show rulers to the painting. Rulers can be a great tool when doing perspectives and web designs. If you click on the ruler and drag out to the canvas a guideline will be created.

Using the move tool these guides can be moved or deleted. To delete a guide just drag it to the ruler or outside the canvas. If you just paint you usually don't need the rulers to be visible.

CTRL + (+)

Shortcut for zooming in on the painting. Zooming is useful for adding details. When zoomed you can navigate on the canvas using the hand tool. A shortcut for this when your are painting is to hold down the SPACEBAR.


CTRL + (-)

Shortcut for zooming out on the painting. When working on paintings for print, the size often increases to severeal thousand pixels in both height and width. It can be practical to paint in 25%, or 50% on a 5000 pixel big painting. When working in zoomed out mode the painting looks best in 12.5%, 25% and 50%.


CTRL + ALT + (+)

This zooms in on the painting and increases the canvas window according to the zoom.


CTRL + ALT + (-)

This zooms out on the painting and decreases the canvas window according to the zoom.



Most new mouses have a scroll wheel attached to itself. Some of these (most Microsoft and Logitech mouses) can be used as a zoom shortcut in Photoshop. Scroll the wheel up to zoom in on the painting.


See above. Scroll the wheel down to zoom out on the painting.



Very useful :) Poor traditional artists, but when you start getting used to painting and you are getting good you don't use this feature as much as a beginner. Instead of undoing every missplaced stroke I simply paint over it and use the faulty stroke as a texture. You need a little practicle for that, though. "CTRL+Z" will only undo latest change. Pressing undo again directly after undoing will undo the undoing :)



In Photoshop there is a history window, it stores all your actions (up to a miximum of 99 actions, but this can be configured in the Photoshop settings). This shortcut will go one step back in the history window, allowing you to undo multiple actions.



This shortcut will instead go one step forward in the history window. If you just have undone several steps and went one step too much, use this shortcut to go forward again. It looks like a shortcut from hell but when you know it, it's very useful.


Brings up the Color Balance window. I will in detail go over this further down in this tutorial (read more here).



Brings up the Hue/Saturation window. I will in detail go over this further down in this tutorial (read more here).



Brings up the Curves window. I will in detail go over this further down in this tutorial (read more here).


Mostly useful when editing. If you have selected a part of a painting this will let you freely transform the selection. Can be useful for adding perfect reflections in water.


Fills a selection or the canvas with the current background color. I usually use this when starting on a new painting.

Fills a selection or the canvas with the current foreground color. I usually use this when starting on a new painting.


Not enough yet? Then...
Click here to download Adobes Quick Reference paper.

(Adobe Acrobat Reader required for viewing)



The Curves feature is a very useful function in Photoshop. It is mostly used on photos by photographers. Curves can fix bad contrasts, too light highlights, details gotten lost in shading and much more. When i paint skin tones i found it very useful to use Curves. Sometimes i get the color balance wrong and i have too many midtones everywhere. Using curves usually fixes this.

The keyboard shortcut for Curves is CTRL+M.

The Curves Feature

Pressing Ctrl+M will open a Curves window, and the settings you apply here will only affect the current layer. But if you want some insurance you can add an "Adjustment Layer". You add such a layer in the "Layer" menu, under "New Adjustment Layer". This will create a layer with your Curves settings. You can later delete this layer, change opacity or blending mode. You can even paint with black on this layer making everything that is black to not be affected by the curves.

Note: It can sometimes be sufficient to just press the "Auto" button.

TIP - Paint with values, not colors!
When an artist paints, the artist should paint using values instead of color. Since if you paint with correct values a painting can look great in greyscale, red colors or even blue. But if you have incorrect values it won't look good in any way you show it. Beginners usually paint a portrait in greyscale, that way it's much easier to draw the correct values. When you have a correct value template they add a new layer with the blending mode set to "Multiply". Now they can paint with color and the values will be intact.

Fixing midtones in shadows.
Here is a work in progress, I'm painting a portrait of my sister. This is far from done, but here I had to use Curves to fix the midtones. I had pretty much nailed the values in it. But i had too much "red" in my shadows. Using Curves i managed to fix the most problems, adding much more realism to the painting (I know that I have added some hair in the after painting, but the screenshots should serve the purpose).

Before fixing shadows After fixing shadows  

Click on either the Before or After painting too see full view version.



Color Balance is something I almost always play around with when i have finished a painting. It can create amazing moods and color variations instantly. But once started changing it can be hard to quit. You can change the midtones, highlights and the shadows' base color. I would recommend to use the "Adjustment Layer" just as we did with the Curves above.

But if you only want to use this function on a layer, then the keyboard shortcut is CTRL+B.

Changing the mood and concept.
Here below is my first edition of my painting Evergrey. I just fooled around in the Color Balance dialog and made a fantasy world concept. It's green :) I used this function to get the cold blue mood that i have in my finished painting Evergrey.

Before adjusting color balance After adjusting color balance

Click on either the Before or After painting too see full view version.



Hue/Saturation works almost like the Color Balance, but instead of defining midtones, shadows and highlights seperately this function changes the color on all simultanious. If you click in the "Colorize" box in the window, it will change all colors according to your selected color. And because nothing is just one color this isn't a very useful function. Except for experimental paintings and post fx.

The keyboard shortcut for Hue/Saturation  is CTRL+U.

Quick change of color.
Here below is a speedpainting that I did some years ago. Using Hue/Saturation I could quickly change the color of this greyscale painting. I could just as easily made it blue, matrix green, darker or lighter.

Before adjusting hue After adjusting hue

Click on either the Before or After painting too see full view versions.

Well, we have now come to the end of our little shortcut tutorial...
I hope you learned something and picked up a few tricks. Please tell me what you thought,
and you are always welcome to mail me suggestions and tips for future tutorials. Telling me about errors and misspelled words is also appreciated, I'll fix them at once.

Take care.

Nicklas Forsberg (Nalfaren)


Tutorial created by Nalfaren View Profile