How to Create Custom Keyboard Shortcuts in Mac OS

Aug 8, 2017 - 19 Comments

Make a custom keyboard shortcut on the Mac

Did you know you can create a custom keyboard shortcut for any menu item on the Mac? You can create keystrokes for common action items across many applications, or even just for a specific menu option in a particular application. Making custom keyboard shortcuts in Mac OS is an excellent power user tool, but despite being robust and highly customizable, it’s actually quite easy to implement and is helpful for all Mac user levels.

This is an excellent Mac power user tip, and if you find yourself frequently accessing the same menu items within an app or all applications, consider setting up a custom keyboard shortcut for that item to speed up your workflow. This tutorial will walk through the appropriate steps to making a custom keystroke out of a menu item, it works in basically every version of Mac OS too.

How to Make a Custom Keyboard Shortcut on Mac

This works to create a custom keyboard shortcut in macOS and Mac OS X, the technique is compatible and behaves the same in basically every version of Mac OS system software dating back well over a decade. Here is how this excellent feature works:

  1. From MacOS, go to the  Apple menu and choose “System Preferences” and then go to the “Keyboard” preference panel
  2. Make a custom keyboard shortcut on Mac

  3. Choose the “Shortcuts” tab and then select ‘App Shortcuts’ from the left side menu
  4. Make a custom keyboard shortcut on Mac

  5. Click on the “+” plus button to create a new keyboard shortcut on the Mac
  6. Next to ‘Application’ choose whether you want the keyboard shortcut to be used in all applications or a specific application (we are using ‘All Applications’ in this example)
  7. Make a custom keyboard shortcut on Mac

  8. Next to ‘Menu Title:” type the exact name of the menu option item you wish to create a keyboard shortcut for (in our example here we are using “Rename…” from the File menu)
  9. Click into “Keyboard Shortcut:” and press down the exact keystroke you wish use for the keyboard shortcut you are making (in this example we are using Command+Control+R)
  10. Click “Add” when finished
  11. Go to any application with the aforementioned menu item available and pull down the menu to confirm your custom keyboard shortcut is now available for use (in this example, “Rename…” now has the custom keystroke alongside it)
  12. Custom keystroke has been created

Note that you must use exact syntax for menu items to create custom keyboard shortcuts. That includes any capitalization, punctuation, periods, and precise text – the name entered for the keystroke absolutely must match the menu item otherwise the menu keystroke will not work.

You must choose a custom keyboard shortcut that does not overlap or interfere with an existing keyboard shortcut in use on the Mac, whether in all applications or in the chosen application, respectively.

Once you have finished making your custom keyboard shortcut, go ahead and go to an application and an appropriate scenario to test out the keyboard shortcut. If you follow the example we use of creating a ‘rename’ keyboard shortcut, then you simply open any file within an app like TextEdit or Preview (or any other app that supports the File > Rename option) and hit the appropriate keyboard shortcut to initiate that function, in this case it’s renaming the file that is currently opened and in the foreground.

We have used variations of custom keystrokes in many prior tips, including to perform actions like setting a keyboard shortcut for Save as PDF, making new emails with an attachment via keystroke, using Save As on Mac versions that removed the keystroke, and much more. The options are broad and vast, encompassing system functionality, default apps, and third party apps, if it’s in a menu you can turn it into a keystroke.

Making Custom Mac Keyboard Shortcuts for All Applications vs Specific Applications

A brief explanation on using All Applications versus a specific app when setting up custom keystrokes:

  • Create a custom keyboard shortcut for ALL Applications – choosing “All Applications” will allow that keyboard shortcut to be used in every single app that has the menu item option. This is most relevant to common shared menu items, like things found in the File and Edit menus on all Mac apps
  • Create a custom keyboard shortcut for a specific application – choosing a specific app will create that keyboard shortcut confined to the selected application. This is helpful if you’re using a particular menu item quite often in one application, for example to flip a picture or zoom a window, or some other app specific menu item

Is this a great trick or what? Mac power users have been using custom keyboard shortcuts for many years, but as you can see it’s not particularly difficult to set these up, so even if you’re more of a novice user you should be able to get some use out of this tip.

Do you make custom keyboard shortcuts on your Mac? Do you have any particularly helpful keystrokes or keyboard shortcuts you use that you’d like to share with other users? Let us know in the comments!

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Posted by: Paul Horowitz in Mac OS X, Tips & Tricks

19 Comments

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  1. Connie Bowen says:

    Can I make a short cut for type, i.e. Sonoma County Visitors Guide & Map? I use this in subject for a ton of emails, but I need copy paste for lots of things, so it would be great if I could have a short cut for just that.
    Thx!

  2. iMactouch says:

    Sadly it is not possible to use the normal Eject Button to eject a CD/DVD/Bluray from an external drive. :-(

    • no way says:

      I use the eject key on my MBP and Apple BT keyboards to eject from a Samsung USB external DVD drive daily with no problems, same with my Mac Mini.

  3. WTS says:

    Is it possible to make a short cut key/hot key to empty the trash in Thunderbird my Mail Application ?

    If not, is there a third party application ? Free version, Paid version.

    • Patrick McMahon says:

      As long as the command is available via a menu item, then yes you can. Just remember that the command must be written precisely as it appears in the menu.

  4. ram bhat says:

    My favorite is the following one for Safari. Apple should have made it, but neglected this badly needed shortcut:

    “Command+Shift+M” for “Merge All Windows”. Whenever you have many windows open this shortcut will merge them in to tabs, resulting your screen well organized.

  5. expobill says:

    Sounds like fun! Will this work with a keyboard that I use via an app on my iPad to send to my Mac mini because Sierra will not recognize the new Bluetooth keyboard I purchased last year?
    I’m beginnng to despise technology more by the upgrade!

    • Patrick McMahon says:

      A Bluetooth keyboard should work fine, no matter the operating system. Try removing it and then re-pairing it.

      • Expobill says:

        Thanks for the tip, but no luck, I tried getting the manufacturer to help, they can’t! Luckily I have an iPad app to type on the Mac mini

  6. Mark says:

    A few comments:

    1. You can use custom shortcuts to deliberately hijack some of the built-in features. I often use this to stop ⌘Q from quitting.

    2. If you have two items with the same shortcut, then as far as I can tell, the first one will be used. For this reason I sometimes use ⌘Q to mean About [whatever] because it comes before quit.

    3. Some items use …, which is not 3 dots. For this you type option-semicolon (⌥;).

  7. Chief Architect says:

    If you have to create Keyboard Shortcuts for Submenu Items, then use -> wherever you see the solid >.

    macOS Sierra: Create keyboard shortcuts for apps: https://support.apple.com/kb/PH25377?locale=en_US

    In the Menu Title field, type the menu command for which you want to create a shortcut, exactly as the command appears in the app, including the > character (type ->), ellipses (type three periods without spaces or press Option-;), or other punctuation.

    For example, to set a shortcut for the default ligature command in TextEdit, you would type Format->Font->Ligatures->Use Default. To set a shortcut for the Export to PDF command, you would type File->Export to PDF… in the field.

    I needed this for iTunes and never knew about -> all these years.

  8. Anthony Poolman says:

    how do you create a shortcut for a MAC Excel command which can only be done with a mouse – eg paste special values?

  9. Mary Carmichael says:

    How do I get my macbook to remember my email address as I start to type it into forms? I have already set up the autofill feature.

  10. Debba says:

    I have always hated that Word doesn’t have a shortcut for Save As . . . I JUST made it (Shift-Command-S) and it showed up! YEEHAW!

    I also made one for ‘Page Setup’. Shift-Command-P. I’ve not tried it to see how it works, but they are showing up in the menu. I’m excited.

    What *I* miss is making MACROS. Appleworks used to let you do that and I had a whole mess of them. I just hit a few keys to get layouts to change from Portrait to Landscape, to rearrange the second page of vocabulary so they would put the correct answers on the back of the first page (using 3 or 4 columns). I had MACROS set up in Photoshop to set fonts and colors, to change image sizes, brightness and orientation with one combo on the keyboard. I’ve not had time to try again with Photoshop but I think you can still do that. Sadly, Appleworks is no more and the last version of it took away the macros option.

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