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New to After Effects? Here Are 10 Must-Know Keyboard Shortcuts

Joe Frederick

Welcome to the wonderful world of Adobe After Effects! Get more from your new favorite software with these vital keyboard shortcuts.

You might be intimidated right now, new After Effects user. It’s understandable. You have a lot to learn! After all, After Effects is a wildly versatile piece of software, and it can do so much.

Nonetheless, we promise — whether you’re looking to create high-quality motion graphics or develop amazing visual effects — you’ll get there sooner than you think. And some basic keyboard shortcuts will help.

These simple key combinations let you perform commands that you’d typically execute with your mouse, and while they may only save you a few seconds each time you use them, those saved seconds will add up to saved hours over the duration of a project. Here are the 10 keyboard shortcuts you should learn first.

(Windows users, take note — we’re using Mac language in the examples below. So anywhere you see Command, use Control instead, and anywhere you see Option, just use Alt.)

1. Activate Selection Tool: V

This tool does exactly what you expect it to — it selects anything from keyframes to layers to masks. This is hands down the most-used keyboard for most video editors.

No matter what you’ve done or where you’re at inside After Effects, you can always go back to the all-important, frequently used Selection tool by simply pressing V.

2. Activate Hand Tool: H 

The Hand tool allows you to pan around in the Composition, Layer, or Footage panel. I regularly use this tool to move a different part of the composition into view, especially when I’m zoomed in. It’s one of those tools that you have to try before you realize how immensely useful it is. 

3. Reveal All Keyframed Properties: U

Reveal Keyframe Properties

This command reminds you about which keyframes you previously added.

After using the Selection tool to select one or several layers, you can see all the keyframes that have been added to those layers with a quick press of the U key.

Hot tip: If you reopen a project after time away from it, this command will help you remember the keyframes you added in previous sessions. 

4. Precompose Selected Layers: Ctrl + Shift + C

Precompose Layers

This key combination helps me declutter my timelines exponentially. With this shortcut, you can take one or more layers that are already in a composition and turn them into their own composition. This new precomp will sit in your current composition, the many layers now represented as one!

Precompose Layers

Precomposing layers helps in organizing your composition.

An Adobe tutor once told me he could instantly recognize an editor’s experience level with a quick glance at their timelines. If they didn’t used precomps, they were clearly a beginner. 

5. Show/Hide Opacity: T

Show/Hide Opacity

Access the opacity by pressing T

By simply pressing T, you can access the Opacity property for one or many layers. This allows you to see all the opacity keyframes present on specific layers. You can one-up this command by pressing Option + T. This instantly adds an opacity keyframe on all selected layers wherever the playhead is. This can be a monumental time-saver.

The shortcuts for opening up other properties work in the exact same way:

  • For Scale, press S
  • For Rotation, press R
  • For Position, press P
  • For Anchor Point, press A

6. Fit to Screen: Shift + /

Fit to Screen

So often, in After Effects, you find yourself zooming in on your viewer to do some detailed work.

Fit to Screen

This key combination allows you to go back to where your composition fits the screen.

In these situations, this key combination is a dream, as you can instantly go back out to where your comp fits the available screen space.

7. Split Layer: Cmd + Shift + D

Split Layer

This keyboard shortcut enables you to split your footage over two layers.

This keyboard shortcut lets you split your footage over two layers at a chosen point. It’s the closest you can get to the Blade/Razor tool found in  FCPX and Premiere Pro.

8. Trim Layer Out Point to Current Time: Option + ]

Trim Layer Out Point

Trim Layer Out Point

Cut selected layers with this key combo.

This key combination offers an alternate way to cut any selected layers. However, unlike the previous shortcut, it doesn’t keep the portion after the cut (as shown in the screenshots above).

9. Go Back/Forward One Frame: Command + Right/Left Arrow

Rather confusingly, this command doesn’t have the same shortcut as it does in most editing software. Instead of just using the Right/Left Arrow keys to move the playhead by a frame, you must also press Command at the same time.

I use this shortcut to watch my work frame by frame, particularly when I’m fine-tuning my keyframe placement.

10. Stretch Keyframes: Option + Mouse Drag

Stretch Keyframes

Highlight the keyframes, then press the option key and drag with the mouse.

Once start using keyframes, this shortcut will be an absolute game-changer.

You’ll no longer have to drag each keyframe individually when you want to slow down an animation. Instead, you’ll simply highlight the desired keyframes, and then press and hold the Option key while dragging the keyframes with the mouse. 

This image displays all the shortcuts we just looked at. Save it or print it out to keep it close. Once you’ve got the shortcuts memorized, you won’t just feel more comfortable in After Effects, you’ll be way more efficient as well.

Congrats on beginning the After Effects journey. Here are a few more resources we think you’ll like: 

Cover image via vinnstock.