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Photoshop CS4 – Automating Photoshop with X-keys

December 11, 2008 2 comments

Everyone knows I am a huge fan of Adobe products. In fact I have been using Photoshop since version 3 and have never missed an upgrade or new release. The reason is simple, I believe in the products and like what Adobe has done to mature their products. CS4 is no exception. There is value in this upgrade and once I got my issues with XP64 resolved I can say without reservation that the money spent was well worth it.

So, why then write an article about speeding up Photoshop? If you were one of the people invited to the webinar featuring Adobe’s new CS4 line of products prior to the release then I am sure you caught the theme that was used to back this release. While there were new features and major changes, Adobe was on a marketing mission and that mission was to let everyone know that the real value was in optimizing their tools to enhance the workflow and make people more productive. While I agree that many great strides were made in enhancing the Photoshop workflow, I can tell you that NOTHING adobe did in this release enhances the speed of working in Photoshop more than an X-keys keyboard from P.I. Engineering. In fact, this was easily the best $169 I have ever spent on my Photoshop workflow.

The X-Keys Professional (58 Key) Keyboard

The X-Keys Pro USB (58 Key) Keyboard

While Adobe has gone to great lengths to make Photoshop more productive and faster the program still has over 300 Keyboard Shortcuts. Today, in the modern consumer software world the only applications that are more complicated to use are CAD and 3D modeling applications. It is the complexity of Photoshop that lets the X-keys keyboard shine. This keyboard along with Actions in Photoshop (or simple keystrokes and short keys) has automated my Photoshop workflow and allowed me to increase my speed within the application easily by 200%. Certainly this isn’t any different than creating actions and using the drop downs or assigning keys to function keys on your regular keyboard. But, with the X-keys keyboard you can have individually labeled keys that are programmed to work with Photoshop and eliminate the memorization of function keys or new keyboard shortcuts (especially the ones that require CTRL+SHIFT+ the actual key or compound keystrokes). When Photoshop can have a 4 page document outlining keyboard short cuts you don’t need to be creating your own.

I purchased the X-keys Professional (58 Key) USB keyboard. Both USB and PS2 are offered and each come with the software needed for easy programming of the keyboard, cords, user manuals and instructions.  Both keyboards plug right in, are immediately recognized by Windows and offer quick configuration and set-up. The software for creating and customizing the keyboard is extremely simple. You literally select the key on the keyboard you wish to program, and then type. That’s it. Once you are done typing, you select OK and the button is assigned. (the PS2 version has the software built in where the USB version comes with Macroworks II)

Once you are done creating your Photoshop actions and then programming the keyboard, you need to create a template that labels your keys. Templates are available online as well as blanks for making your key descriptions in a variety of formats. I use the MS Word format, color code my text and fills and have all of my shortcuts organized by type and function on the keyboard. This makes remembering where they are and what they do simple (increased speed).

X-Keys Templates

X-Keys Templates

The keyboard itself is made of a durable high impact plastic. In every sense of the word it is made like a consumer keyboard in terms of design and quality. The keys are removable (it comes with a simple tool) and each key has a clear top to it that is removable so that you can place your key designator underneath. No mess, no fooling with stickers and nothing that will fade over time. Additionally, each keyboard has a concept of layers. There is a green and red layer. Each key can have a command recorded for each later. That’s a 114 commands on my keyboard alone you have to program one key on the keyboard to switch between layers. An LED designates which layer you are actively using.

What can be done with this keyboard? Literally anything, it’s not limited to Photoshop, it can be used with any application that has keyboard shortcuts, macros or a programming language. All you have to do is record or type the trigger and the keyboard will send the right key strokes to the parent application and your shortcut, automation or function is immediately executed. I have my keyboard set up with my most used compound commands, complex save and re-size routines, effects and conversions.  So if I am saving for my on-line store, JPG Magazine, MyShutterspace and my blog all I have to do is select one keystroke and the image is flattened, re-sized and saved in the right format with my signature in the bottom (or not for some sites) all automatically.

Adobe did a great thing by speeding up CS4, offering some new and compelling functionality and continuing the development of a great application. However, if you are looking for real speed for CS3 or looking to automate your workflow more in CS4 this is an excellent tool of tremendous value and a very easy addition to your creative system.


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