Over 10 Lifesaving Mac & PC After Effects Shortcuts

After Effects April 9, 2021 8 min read

We all know that there is nothing more important than time. We are constantly running out of time and a lot of it has to do with our work. So, whenever we can shave a few seconds off of a task, we are basically stealing our lives back from the work machine.

Okay, maybe that’s a bit dramatic, but here are a total of 30 time-saving keyboard shortcuts for After Effects that you’ll be glad to have in your back pocket. With the additional 20 shortcuts, you are now fully prepared for all those last-minute project edits!

Part 1: Top 10 Time-Saving After Effects Shortcuts

1. Maximize Panel

MAC: ` (accent grave)
PC: ` (accent grave)

After Effects is a complex program with lots of tabs and windows. It’s easy to get lost and it’s easy to run out of room on the screen for everything.

When you want to quickly maximize your space for one window, like the layer palette or the main comp window, nothing is quicker than hitting the accent grave key (the key up on the far left corner of the keyboard next to the number 1). We aren’t talking about the apostrophe! Simply highlight the window you want to maximize and hit the accent grave key to start living large.

2. Maximize After Effects

MAC: Cmd + \
PC: Ctrl + \

Another quick way to spread out and maximize your space is with the Cmd + \ or Ctrl + \ shortcut. Hitting this little combo once will make your entire AE window fill the screen. Hit it again, to hide the top of the frame. Be aware that once you hide that top of the frame, your min/max buttons will go away. You’ll just need to hit Cmd + \ or Ctrl + \ one more time to get them back.

3. Center Layer in Comp

MAC: Cmd + Home
PC: Ctrl + Home

This is one of those Why didn’t they teach me that in school? shortcuts. Layers can end up all over the comp, and it can be a hassle to center them up. The Cmd + Home or Ctrl + Home combo will center your anchor point in your composition. So, if your layer’s anchor point is centered (as it often is) this will center your layer in a snap.

4. Move Layers Up/Down In Stack

MAC: Opt + Cmd + Up/Down Arrow
PC: Alt + Ctrl + Up/Down Arrow

How your layers are stacked in AE is important. Layers above other layers will block out the ones below in most circumstances. So you often have to move layers up and down. But why click and drag over and over again? Just highlight the layer you want to move and hold down Opt + Cmd + Up or Down arrows or Alt + Ctrl + Up or Down arrows. Re-stacking layers just got a lot more fun. Well, it’s easier anyway.

5. Move Layer Back or Forward One Frame

MAC: Opt + Pg Up or Pg Dn
PC: Alt + Pg Up or Pg Dn

Why isn’t that layer turning on when you wanted it to? Oh, it’s one frame off! Now you have to zoom all the way in and drag the layer over one frame. What a pain! Or, simply highlight the layer and hit Opt + Page Up or Down or Alt + Page Up or Down to slide the little bugger over one frame in either direction. As is the case with many of these kinds of shortcuts add Shift to the mix to make the layer jump 10 frames instead. Now we’re hopping.

6. Move Keyframe Back or Forward One Frame

MAC: Opt + Left/Right Arrow
PC: Alt + Left/Right Arrow

So maybe it’s not the layer that’s slightly off, but it’s the keyframe that needs a gentle nudge. No problem. Just highlight the out-of-place keyframe and hold down Opt + < or > or Alt + < or > to make it jump over by one. Again, adding in Shift will bump the keyframe by 10 in either direction. Way better than doing math.

7. Set Work Area To Layer Length

MAC: Cmd + Opt + B
PC: Ctrl + Alt + B

When you are trying to focus on a specific part of the animation, you don’t want to RAM preview the whole comp. So, naturally, you set up a work area. But you have to change it often as you work on different elements.

One great time-saver is Cmd + Opt + B or Ctrl + Alt + B. Highlighting a layer in your comp and pressing this secret combo will automatically set your work area to the length of that layer.

8. Replace Layer In Comp

MAC: Cmd + Opt + /
PC: Ctrl + Alt + /

Layer replacement is super common. And also kind of a pain. Generally, you have to select the layer in the comp, plus the replacement layer in the project window. Then you have to hold down Opt or Alt as you drag one layer on top of the other, hoping to make a connection.

We all know that dragging is……well, a drag. So, skip that step with a little Cmd + Opt + / or Ctrl + Alt + / action. Boom, layer replaced. No drag. We call that flying.

9. Toggle Last Two Composition Views

MAC: Esc
PC: Esc

Working with cameras adds a fun layer of dynamics to your project as well as more buttons and tabs to keep up with. There are several camera views available in the comp window like Active Camera, Custom View, Back, etc. And consistently having to find the drop down to switch is time-consuming. No need to interrupt your flow. When working with comps with cameras simply hit Esc to toggle between the last two camera views used. Now that is easy like Sunday morning.

10. Split Comp Window and Lock One

MAC: Cmd + Opt + Shift + N
PC: Ctrl + Alt + Shift + N

Okay, this is the finger twister of shortcuts, but it’s super useful. Often times you need to make changes to a pre-comp, but you want to see the results in your main comp quickly. Seems hard? But it’s not.

Simply highlight your main comp window and hold down Cmd + Opt + Shift + N or Ctrl + Alt + Shift + N and voila! Your main comp window locks and a new comp window opens next to it. Now load your pre-comp in that window and work your magic. You’ll see the changes in the main window right away.

Want a little more info on this one? Take a look at our tutorial:

Part 2: 20 Extra Must-Know After Effects Shortcuts

How frequently you use these extra shortcuts will depend on the type of projects you are working on. Some editors will never need these tools; for others, a single shortcut might change their workflow entirely.

1. Easily Set Keyframes

MAC: Opt + A, P, S, R, T
PC: Alt + Shift + A, P, S, R, T on Windows

If you are doing many keyframe animations, this handy shortcut can save you time and energy creating each keyframe point. Just hold Option or Alt and select your keyframe type using the single key shortcuts: S for scale, P for position, etc.

2. Reveal Keyframed Properties

PC/MAC: U

The Reveal Keyframes Properties is an excellent shortcut for every After Effects user to know. Even when you are not creating keyframe animation, the odd keyframe can cause all kinds of havoc with your editing. Select a layer and press U to see all the keyframed properties for that layer, select no layers, and press U to view all keyframes properties for the whole composition.

3. Quick Ease to Keyframes

MAC: Fn + F9
PC: F9

Another excellent shortcut for keyframe animators, the F9 key can quickly add an Easy Ease to any keyframe property. Highlight the keyframes in the timeline and change the ease in 1 (or 2) clicks.

4. Hand Tool

PC/MAC: Space Bar

You can press H to access your Hand tool, but you need to press V to return to the arrow. Saving you fractions of a second, you can also hold the spacebar for quick access to your Hand tool.

5. Faster Previews

MAC: Ctrl + 0 on the Number Pad
PC: Shift + 0 on the Number Pad

The Faster Previews shortcut does exactly what you would expect; it gives you a way to preview your composition faster.

6. Add Markers to Timeline

MAC: Ctrl + *
PC: * on the Number Pad

Adding markers to your timeline or layers can help build large or complex compositions or when the timing is essential. Rather than right-clicking on the assets, selecting Markers, then New Marker, you can hit the * button on your keyboard.

7. Precompose Your Layers

MAC: Cmd + Shift + C
PC: Ctrl + Shift + C

Another shortcut to the right-click menu options is precomposing your layers. The bigger the project, the more likely you need this handy shortcut. Select the layers you want to Precompose, hit three keys, and enter your new composition name.

8. Scale Layers to Fit

MAC: Cmd + Opt + F
PC: Ctrl + Opt + F

Getting your layers to fit your composition can sometimes be a bit tricky, but with the Scale to Fit shortcut, you can immediately size your layers and shapes to suit whatever composition size you are working on. Remember, this may affect the aspect ratio of your layer, so use it wisely.

9. Different Viewer Resolutions

Full: Ctrl/Cmd + J
Half: Ctrl/Cmd + Shift + J
Quarter: Ctrl/Cmd + Opt + Shift + J

When working with a lot of layers, effects, or assets, playback can be an issue. Fortunately, lowering the Playback Resolution can allow you to see your work at full speed without rendering it first. Jumping between Viewer Resolutions is quick and easy with this shortcut.

10. Replace Your Layer

MAC: Cmd + Option + /
PC: Ctrl + Alt + /

An excellent shortcut for working with template projects and placeholder layers is Replace Your Layer. Select the layer in the timeline, along with the asset you want to replace within the project browser, hit the keys, and your new layer will have taken its place.

11. Split Your Layers

MAC: Cmd + Shift + D
PC: Ctrl + Shift + D

A standard action in After Effects is to Split Your Layer(s), cutting your layer into two at the playhead point. With this shortcut, you can split your layers instantly! Make sure your playhead is in the correct place and select the layer(s) you want to break up.

12. Hide Layer Controls

MAC: Cmd + Shift + H
PC: Ctrl + Shift + H

Looking at your composition with all of the Layer controls visible can be a bit messy and cause you to miss your composition mistakes. Flick the Layer controls on and off with this simple shortcut.

13. Access Graph Editor

MAC: FN + Shift + F3
PC: Shift + F3

Accessing the Graph Editor is only one click away from the timeline, so why would you need a shortcut? The keyboard shortcut for this essential tool can be convenient when regularly flicking in and out of the Editor, allowing you to focus your cursor in the edit area.

14. Kerning Your Titles

PC/MAC: Option + Right or Left Arrow Keys

Kerning your titles or changing the tracking on them is a piece of cake with this shortcut. Ensure your text is highlighted, hold the Option key and use the arrow keys to change the space between your characters.

15. Save Your Current Frame

MAC: Cmd + Opt + S
PC: Ctrl + Opt + S

Exporting stills of your work is something every editor will need to do at some time. Whether you’re using them for client feedback, a social media post, or for another project, this shortcut will let you add all the stills you want to your Render Queue in a couple of clicks.

16. Center Shape Layer Anchor Points

MAC: Opt + Cmd + Home
Macbook: Opt + Cmd + Fn + Left Arrow
PC: Opt + Ctrl + Home

So, technically this is a shortcut, but whether you decide to use this will depend on the device you are using. There is an even easier shortcut for this function – hold Cmd or Ctrl and double-click the Anchor Point icon. Regardless of which shortcut you choose, being able to center your anchor points quickly is a lifesaver.

17. Jump to Layer In-Point or Out-Point

PC/MAC: I or O

Being able to jump around your timeline using your layers is as simple as using the arrow keys in Premiere and Final Cut Pro. In After Effects, you can do precisely the same thing, jump to the beginning or end of a layer/asset.

18. Open Up the Solid Properties Panel

MAC: Cmd + Shift + Y
PC: Ctrl + Shift + Y

If you don’t know about this little trick, you might find working with solid layers to be frustrating. The Solid Property panel can be pretty tricky to find without this excellent shortcut.

19. Time Remapping

MAC: Cmd + Option + T
PC: Ctrl + Option + T

Whether for stylistic or functional purposes, the Time Remapping tool in After Effects is a go-to for many animators. Having a shortcut helps you avoid those right-click menus and the wrist strain that comes with them.

20. Bring Up All Keyboard Shortcuts

MAC: Cmd + Alt + ’ (single quote)
PC: Ctrl + Alt + ’ (single quote)

The last shortcut is probably the most important; it is the key to all of the After Effects shortcuts. Not only can you search for and find your favorite actions, but you can also create your own shortcuts or change those you use most frequently.

Part 3: How to Customize Shortcuts in After Effects