Make Dodging and Burning Easier Using Wacom Pen Shortcuts

Make Dodging and Burning Easier Using Wacom Pen Shortcuts

Beginners ask all the time on Facebook groups or in forums how to diminish their retouching time. The truth is, there aren't any magical technique to cut time, only tricks to help accelerate your workflow. There is one, in particular, to make your dodging and burning process more flawless and thus a bit faster by utilizing a Wacom tablet.

Achieving great results with techniques that rely heavily on the drawing quality of the retoucher usually require a Wacom tablet. Every Wacom tablet comes with a pen that has a few buttons: one eraser on the back and two buttons on the side. When dodging and burning, you usually have two layers: one for lightening and the other for darkening. Two buttons, two layers… you probably see where I am going with this. The geek that I am couldn't do anything else but customize these buttons to make them switch from one layer to the other. Let's see how you can do the same.

Wacom Pen on Steroids With Photoshop Shortcuts

When using a Wacom tablet to retouch, I often feel like using any menu or tool panel disrupt my working process. Particularly for techniques such as dodge and burn, frequency separation, and masking. Having to go from one layer to another requires me to move my cursor away from the area I am working on. However, there is a keyboard shortcut in Photoshop that allows you to change the layer you are working on. There are two shortcuts: one that will select the layer above, another the layer below.

Even though keyboard shortcuts are great, the Wacom pen has two buttons that are set by default to double-click and right-click. Not features that are useful on a pen for retouching. So instead, we can set the lower button to change to the layer below and the other button to change to the layer above. By default the shortcuts are alt/option + ] to select the next layer and alt/option + [ to choose the previous layer (Note: these shortcuts are different for every language version of Photoshop, these particular ones work for the English version and might not if you have Photoshop installed in French, Spanish, or any other language).

To set the buttons on the side of the pen with these shortcuts, open up the Wacom Desktop Center, go to Pen & Button Settings and click Open Pen Settings. Then only change the settings for the two buttons Double Click and Right Click as shown on the screenshot below:

You want to choose Keystroke from the drop-down list, clear the current shortcut if there is anything written in the text area, and then press either of the shortcuts mentioned above. Just make sure to give each button a different shortcut and not twice the same. Once done, you are good to go. No need to restart Photoshop, it should work right away.

Now when you dodge and burn, you don't need to travel half of your screen to change from one layer to another, you can just press the button on the side of your pen to change from the dodge layer to the burn one. But this not limited to the dodging and burning layers. You can quickly go through any layers without having to move your cursor.

Note that if you do a lot of drawing it might be a better idea to use these buttons to change the two colors of your palette or to open the color picker especially if you have an Intuos Pro. While the Bamboo and basic Intuos don't offer a wheel on the tablet, the Intuos Pro does and you could use it to change layers very quickly. This might come in handy if you do a lot of manual HDR or compositing work.

While it will probably not cut your retouching time drastically, it will surely help you have a less disruptive experience while doing your dodging and burning. The only thing that could probably cut your dodging and burning time considerably while making your retouching better would be to improve your drawing skills. But that's a whole another topic that I will leave for a future article.

Do you also rely on a lot of shortcuts? Have you have customized your Wacom tablet and pen shortcuts?

Quentin Decaillet's picture

Quentin Décaillet is a photographer and retoucher based in Switzerland specializing in portrait and wedding photography.

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I played around with a few button variations on my wacom pen, before an old boss suggested using the lower one as alt/option, and the upper one as the right click.

The option button modifies so many things in Photoshop, I can't imagine it any other way. This way to switch between layers, you can hold the pen button + [ and ]. Hold space bar and lower button, easily zoom in/out, etc.

The potential issue I see with your system is that you'd need to change the shortcuts when you're doing anything other than dodge/burn when in photoshop, no?

I set it this way because what I do most in Photoshop is either cloning/healing on three layers (one in normal blending mode, one in lighten and one in darken) or dodging and burning. So having a quick access to change between layers is really great. Add to that that my keyboard is QWERTZ and not QWERTY, I don't have access to the [] with one keystroke…
And most of the other shortcuts I need/use are during process that I don't mind leaving my pen on the table to use my keyboard. While dodging/burning or cloning/healing, I like to be concentrate on the task and use only my tablet :) Some might call me crazy, but it works for me ;)

Oh interesting, I never considered the possibility of the brackets being less accessible.

For me, having the option key on the pen is crucial when cloning/healing, don't you need to use the keyboard to select your source for these tasks?

To each their own, but what makes the most sense to me is to use this function on the tablet buttons, instead of the pen.

I almost always have my left hand on my keyboard. So pressing alt/option to resample the healing/cloning brush isn't a problem. But to hit the bracket keys + alt/option, I either have to use my right hand or have to place my tablet another way (I have it in front of my keyboard) :)
This is what feels the most practical for me, but it might not for others.

Great idea. I've rarely used any of the Wacom button (not the tablet either), which is surely a miss on my part. FYI that it looks like the first image accidentally got posted twice, the recommended settings aren't shown visually.

I'm not using the buttons on my tablet much either unless I'm working in a tight space where I have to place my wacom tablet on my MBP keyboard. I cannot get used to the buttons to work quickly, don't know why :/
Thanks for the image. I just changed it ;)

Great tip, thanks Quentin :)

On my pen, I use the two buttons for right click and for undo, because with Alt+right click I can change quickly the brush size and hardness. Undo is also useful to reach quickly. And I use the upper 3 buttons of my Intuos Pro S. Beside this, I put may hands on the lower left part of the keyboard, where I remap the most important shortcuts. This gives a really fast workflow for me.
The only problem is exactly, what you write about, to move the coursor to the side, if I want to change layers. Now, the problem is, that I use may PS in english, but I'm hungarian, so the keyboard doesn't have the two bracket keys... And the other, is that I simply coudn't find the shortcut setting for changing layers! Or the definition for this.
Can you help me maybe, where are these settings exactly? I mean in the shortcut menu, of course, I looked all the options, but I don't find it... :-) Where is it?

I don't think you can change the shortcut for moving or going through the layers. I use Photoshop in English as well as in French, so I'd love to be able to set the shortcuts the same way for both version with custom shortcuts, but I couldn't figure out a way to do it.
So when I use Photoshop in English, I remap my keyboard in the settings to the US layout so that I have access to the bracket keys and when I use it in French, I change it to the original Swiss French layout of my computer. It's a bit of pain as I have to also reset my Wacom shortcuts (and mouse shortcuts), but well… it's the only solution I've found yet.

So at least I'm not blind - there is no option to change "select layer" . Even it's not in the shortcut menu...aarrgghh. Adobe, please put it in! :-) (Quentin, maybe you could update, and mention it in the article! ;-) )
You're right, maybe it's okay to change the language of the OS for the time of the work. i'll give it a try! :-) Thx!

i think everyone need to be very careful with natural skin highlights when doing D&B... almost no one can create natural highlights that not to look like fake... if you want to get good highlights you just need to ask your make up artist to use highlighter of just use vaseline or something like that by yourself

I'm using a intuos pro 4 gen. and was trying so hard to love using the buttons but nope!
the haptic feedback and placing is so annoying, also the screen overlay if your fingers hovering over the buttons. I'm still faster with the wacom + keyboard. I'm using wacoms since the 1998 and still wating for a better placement of the buttons on the pen, this is not really egonomic. but there is no alternative to the wacom ;)

There is the iPad Pro or the Windows Surface Pro 4 as well. But it doesn't seem to be as good.

I made a script to toggle between dodge and burn layers you can assign a shortcut to. Works great with "Ctrl + X" so you have jsut X to switch foreground and background colors and "Ctrl + X" to switch between dodge and burn layers. You can get the script here for free:
You can customize the script easily to work also with f.e. frequency separation layers etc

That's a great solution :) But I guess if you have multiple dodge & burn layers it wouldn't work? For example I have often have 2 curves in luminosity mode for cleaning and then 2 in normal mode for shaping/contouring… The script would go through all four layers, right? :/

The script allways switch between two layers - when you hit the shortcut it looks at current layer name and selects assigned layer. You can specify these layer pairs in the arrays in the script using notepad. You can have four layers named like "dodge", "burn", "dodge lumninosity", "burn luminosity", so when your selected layer is "dodge" it switch to "burn", when it's "dodge luminosity" it selects " burn luminosity" and reversly... The problem would be if you had same layer names, like two "burn" layers - then the script selects the first one in layers palette..

This is a great option...I just wish my pointer finger could reach the top button easier. Unfortunately this solution doesn't work for me because of this. I wish there was a one button keyboard solution for toggling D&B layers. I saw Pratik's 2 key solution, but I'm not ready to give up my "cut" shortcut. ;)