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Ultimate Guide: Align Objects With Keyboard Shortcuts in Adobe Apps

If you use Adobe creative apps, you are familiar with the object alignment tools. In this guide, we create keyboard shortcuts for these most useful alignment aids.

One of the most underrated features in Adobe creative apps are the various object alignment tools (left align, right align, align top edges, horizontal align middle, etc.) If you’re anything like me, you use these tools regularly. And while they are conveniently — and sometimes even dynamically — located in multiple locations, you may find yourself moving your cursor back-and-forth from your artwork to the alignment panel more often than you’d prefer. This can slow down — or even disrupt — your workflow. The solution? Keyboard shortcuts!

In this guide we setup keyboard shortcuts for the most common alignment actions. I also include notes about variations you can explore on your own.

Adobe apps come chalk full of keyboard shortcuts (see official keyboard shortcuts lists for InDesign, Illustrator, Photoshop and XD), so finding a combination of keystrokes that are not already designated to a shortcut can be tricky, and you’ll likely need to press several keys to employ any new shortcut. In this guide, most of our shortcut will involve only three keys, but, luckily, they don’t require years of finger yoga to be able to get your hands in the positions required to press them all at the same time. If you have ever reset the PRAM on a Mac, you know what I’m talking about.

We’re going to start with Adobe InDesign.

For our keyboard shortcuts we’ll consistently press Control+Command and then we’ll add a modifier key.

Note: for ease of research, writing and reading this tutorial, I’ll be using Mac keys only, so, if you’re using a Windows machine, you’ll need to adjust accordingly. I.e. Command on MacOS = Ctrl on Windows.

As much as I tried to get directly into the setup of these shortcuts, there is at least one more thing that needs clarification.

Adobe uses different names for the same action, in different locations in the same app. Here’s what I mean. When you position your cursor over the first button in the Alignment panel, the tooltip says “Align left edges,” but, when you setup your keyboard shortcuts, the name for this action is “Horizontal Align Left.” Why Adobe would use two names for the same action is beyond me, but this is what we have to work with. And, if that isn’t bad enough, these same alignment actions get different names in different Adobe apps. For example, the tool tip in InDesign and Photoshop is “Align left edges,” but in Illustrator it is “Horizontal Align Left” and simply “Align Left” in XD.

While writing this guide, I nearly created a keyboard shortcut for inserting the face palm emoji.

So, in this list of the shortcuts we’ll create, I list the action’s name (from the shortcut creator dialog box), then the tooltip, then the shortcut itself.

Action nameTooltipShortcut
Horizontal Align CenterAlign horizontal centersControl+Command+C
Horizontal Align LeftAlign left edgesControl+Command+Arrow-Left
Horizontal Align RightAlign right edgesControl+Command+Arrow-Right
Vertical Align BottomAlign bottom edgesControl+Command+Arrow-Down
Vertical Align CenterAlign vertical centersControl+Command+M *
Vertical Align TopAlign top edgesControl+Command+Arrow-Up
*I use the letter M for the Vertical Align Center shortcut to differentiate between C for Horizontal Align Center and M for Vertical Align Center Middle. I find it helpful to think that you can find the shape of the letter V in the shape of the letter M, which I can only assume is the reason Adobe folks used when setting these up as default shortcuts in Adobe XD.

Setup keyboard shortcuts in Adobe InDesign

  1. Select Edit > Keyboard Shortcuts…
    1. Optional: You may want to create a new set, just in case something goes wrong you can revert to the default set.
  2. Set Product Area: to Object Editing
  3. Under Commands: Scroll to and click on Horizontal Align Center
    1. Note: this list is alphabetical, so this will be the first of our shortcuts to create).
  4. Click in the New Shortcut: text box and press down the following keys: Control + Option + Command + C
  5. Click Assign
    1. Repeat for all the other shortcuts in the list above.
  6. Click Save
  7. Click OK

Use your new shortcuts!

And, you’re done!

… Kind of.

To create shortcuts in other Adobe apps, keep reading.


Adobe Abnormalities

Understanding that Adobe apps are developed by app-specific teams helps us understand why each app handles very similar tasks so differently. Organizations the size of Adobe cannot have an entirely flat org. structure, so silos exist, and this affects how we interact with their apps. In this section, we’ll uncover some of these dissimilarities and how to overcome them.

Adobe InDesign

Adobe InDesign doesn’t list the object alignment actions anywhere in the app’s menus, which is why, when setting up the shortcut you must find it in Product Area: Object Editing. This isn’t bad, it’s just different than the rest of the apps we cover in this guide.

Adobe Illustrator

The Adobe Illustrator shortcut setup is a bit different than that of InDesign. One of the reasons for this is that the alignment actions can be found in the app’s menus, so that’s where you find the actions in the keyboard shortcut setup process.

Adobe Illustrator doesn’t let you use the Control key or the arrow keys in keyboard shortcuts, so I’ve substituted the Option key for the Control Key and letter keys for the arrow keys.

Setup keyboard shortcuts in Adobe Illustrator

  1. Select Edit > Keyboard Shortcuts…
  2. Select Menu Commands
  3. Under Command: Twirl open the arrow next to Object, then Align
    1. Note: this list is kind of alphabetical, it appears in the same order as it does in the menu.
  4. Click twice in the Horizontal Align Left row and the Shortcut column
  5. Press down the following keys: Option+Command+L
    1. Repeat for all the other shortcuts using the list below as a guide.
  6. Click OK
    1. You will be prompted to save the Set of keyboard shortcuts. Name it, save it and you’re good to go.
Action nameShortcut
Horizontal Align LeftOption+Command+L
Horizontal Align CenterOption+Command+C
Horizontal Align RightOption+Command+R
Vertical Align TopOption+Command+T
Vertical Align CenterOption+Command+M *
Vertical Align BottomOption+Command+B
* Remember M is for Middle

Adobe Photoshop

Adobe Photoshop does allow you to use the Command key, but doesn’t allow you to use Arrow keys in keyboard shortcuts. So, similar to Adobe Illustrator, my solution is to use the first letter from each action’s directional component. I.e. C for Center, L for Left, R for Right, etc. as the modifier key in the shortcut.

The shortcut setup is a bit different in Photoshop, too.

Setup keyboard shortcuts in Adobe Photoshop

  1. Select Edit > Keyboard Shortcuts…
  2. Set Shortcuts For: to Application Menus
  3. Under Application Menu Command: Scroll to Align > Top Edges and click in the right half of the Top Edges row.
    • Note: this list is NOT alphabetical, it appears in the same order as it does in the menu
  4. Press down the following keys: Control+Option+Command+T
    • Repeat for all the other shortcuts using guide below.
  5. Click OK
Action nameShortcut
Top EdgesControl+Option+Command+T
Vertical CentersControl+Option+Command+M *
Bottom EdgesControl+Option+Command+B
Left EdgesControl+Option+Command+L
Horizontal CentersControl+Option+Command+C
Right EdgesControl+Option+Command+R
* Remember M is for Middle

Adobe XD

Adobe XD doesn’t allow you to create custom — or modify existing — keyboard shortcuts. (It has been a feature request since 2018.) This limitation is one of the reasons we used the specific shortcuts key combinations that we did — they are the defaults in XD, so no additional setup is necessary … in XD.

That’s not to say that XD is perfect. XD does its part in confusing all these alignment matters. KD is the only app that lists the vertical alignment options before the horizontal options.

XD also groups the horizontal distribution action with the vertical alignment actions and the vertical distribution action with the horizontal alignment actions. I really gotta think Adobe is just screwing with us in this case.  


Further customization

In InDesign, each of the alignment actions can be modified further by setting the Align to: option in the Align panel. We created our shortcuts based on the default option: Align to Selection, but you may find yourself aligning objects to Key Object, Margins, Page or Spread more often than Selection. In this case, you can change your designated actions and/or setup additional shortcuts for multiple Align to settings. I find I use Selection, Key Object and Page most often. Key Object alignment doesn’t require additional keyboard shortcuts, you just have to define the key object before you use the shortcuts we’ve already set up, and it will work as expected — the alignment action will determine its position based on the key object.

Align to Page

To setup additional keyboard shortcuts for Align to Page, I’vesimply added the Option key to the shortcut.

Action nameShortcut
Horizontal Page Align CenterControl+Option+Command+C
Horizontal Page Align LeftControl+Option+Command+Arrow Left
Horizontal Page Align RightControl+Option+Command+Arrow Right
Vertical Page Align BottomControl+Option+Command+Arrow Down
Vertical Page Align CenterControl+Option+Command+M
Vertical Page Align TopControl+Option+Command+Arrow Up

Align to Margin

To setup additional keyboard shortcuts for Align to Margin, I’vesimply added the Option and Shift key to the shortcut.

Action nameShortcut
Horizontal Margin Align CenterShift+Control+Option+Command+C
Horizontal Margin Align LeftShift+Control+Option+Command+Arrow-Left
Horizontal Margin Align RightShift+Control+Option+Command+Arrow-Right
Vertical Margin Align BottomShift+Control+Option+Command+Arrow-Down
Vertical Margin Align CenterShift+Control+Option+Command+M
Vertical Margin Align TopShift+Control+Option+Command+Arrow-Up

Distribute spacing

Let’s address the elephant in the room. All these Adobe apps’ alignment panel also include Distribute Spacing actions. Let’s set up some shortcuts for these actions as well.

Action nameShortcut
Horizontal Distribute SpaceShift+Control+Option+Command+H
Vertical Distribute SpaceShift+Control+Option+Command+V

Notes:

  1. Each app handles the modifications of this action a bit differently, but this guide is far past TLDR-qualified, so I won’t cover that here. 
  2. InDesign had default keyboard shortcuts for both Control+Command+H and Control+Option+Command+H, which is why we used the more complicated Shift+ Control+Option+Command+H, but you’re welcome to override default keyboard shortcuts if you never (or rarely) use them and will use this one more. 
  3. XD, by default, uses the simpler Control+Command+H and Control+Command+V, respectively.

Okay, now you’re done.

I hope you learned a thing or two and that these shortcuts prove as useful to you as they have to me.

Remember, give yourself time and grace to learn these new skills. Soon enough you’ll get the hang of them and be glad you did.

Happy creating,
Nick

Nick Saemenes 🗣


P.S.

Some third party apps allow you to setup app-specific keyboard shortcuts, which allow you to create more consistent keyboard shortcuts for like actions across multiple Adobe apps. I have used BetterTouchTool for such. I have no affiliation with BetterTouchTool. I am a paying customer and find it useful for MacOS customizations.

By Nick Saemenes

Visual design leader
Oregon State University Ecampus
Pronouns: he/him