How To + Software & Apps

How to Make Custom Keyboard Shortcuts for Any macOS Menu Items, and to Launch Your Favorite Apps

Posted on July 19th, 2017 by

Trackpads and mice are great for some things, but inefficient for others. For example, to select a menu item, you must move the cursor to the menu bar, click, move it to the item you want, and then click again. It’s much faster to use a keyboard shortcut.

But not all menu items have keyboard shortcuts, nor do some important macOS actions, like launching specific apps. In this article, you’ll learn how to define keyboard shortcuts for both of those things.

Create an app-specific custom keyboard shortcut

Open TextEdit and click the File menu. You’ll see Export as PDF — a useful action — lacks a keyboard shortcut. Let’s rectify that.

Open System Preferences, select the Keyboard pane, and then click the Shortcuts tab. From the sidebar, select App Shortcuts. Click the + button, and from the Application menu, choose TextEdit.

Create an app-specific custom keyboard shortcut

In Menu Title, type the menu item’s name exactly — Export as PDF… (the ellipsis character is required — type that with Option+;). In Keyboard Shortcut, define a shortcut for the item, such as Command+E. Click Add.

Back in TextEdit, click the File menu. You’ll see your new shortcut, ready to use.

Override existing macOS keyboard shortcuts

Although you can’t remove existing keyboard shortcuts from menu items, you can change them. For example, if you sometimes accidentally quit Safari when trying to close a window (given that Q is right next to W), you can add an extra layer of safety.

Override existing macOS keyboard shortcuts

In System Preferences, follow the process outlined for adding the Preview shortcut, but select Safari for the application, and use Quit Safari for the menu title. For the shortcut, use Ctrl+Command+Q, which is much harder to trigger by mistake than Command+Q.

Create a systemwide custom keyboard shortcut

Many applications share common shortcuts, and these can also be defined in System Preferences. For example, Window > Zoom has a window make better use of available screen space, by expanding vertically, or sometimes filling the entire screen.

Create a systemwide custom keyboard shortcut

In System Preferences, create a Zoom shortcut by choosing All Applications from Application, and typing Zoom in the Menu Title field. However, don’t go for the obvious shortcut, Command+Z — that’s already taken by Undo. Two menu items cannot have the same shortcut, and Undo’s would disappear if you created something new that clashed with it. Instead, use something like Ctrl+Command+Z.

Launch macOS apps and documents with the keyboard

Rather than bringing up the Dock and clicking on an app or document — or, worse, having to locate it in Finder — you can use the keyboard to launch such things.

Launch macOS apps and documents with the keyboard

The built-in way in macOS is Spotlight. Command+Space brings up the Spotlight window, and you start typing the name of what you want to launch. Apps are usually listed first, with folders and documents further down.

BetterTouchTool, which we mentioned in a piece on unlocking the power of your Mac’s trackpad, provides an even faster route to often-used apps and files. Install and launch the app, and select Preferences from its menu bar extra.

Add New Shortcut or Key Sequence

In the Keyboard tab, click Add New Shortcut or Key Sequence. In the Trigger Preferred Action menu, expand Controlling Other Applications and click Open Application/File/AppleScript. In the drop-down sheet, navigate to and select what you’d like to create a shortcut to — let’s use Safari.

Click Open to confirm your choice. The sheet will close, and the Shortcut field will be highlighted in the main BetterTouchTool window. Type your shortcut, again taking care to ensure there are no clashes with shortcuts in apps you use. Ctrl+S will be fine for most people, or Ctrl+Shift+S.

BetterTouchTool shortcuts

You can create many such memorable shortcuts, for super-fast access to all of your favorite apps and folders. And all those seconds saved you’d otherwise have spent using the trackpad or hunting through folders will soon add up.


New to Mac? Learn tips and tricks at our New Mac User Center!

Want to get the most out of your new MacBook, iMac or other Apple computer? Whether this is your first laptop or you’ve just switched from Windows, there are a few things you should know about your new Mac, like basic keyboard shortcuts or how to use the various features macOS has to offer. Learn more about what your Mac computer can do for you at the Intego New Mac User Center: Get started now!

About Craig Grannell

Craig Grannell is a technology writer, mostly specialising in Macs, iOS, apps, and games. He’s been immersed in all things Apple for over 20 years, and enamoured with computers since getting his hands on a VIC-20 as a kid. He also has a Korg Gadget addiction. Send help. Or alternatively, visit his website, craiggrannell.com, and follow him on Twitter at @craiggrannell. View all posts by Craig Grannell →

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