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A to Z of After Effects: Tips, Tricks, & Hacks

Get ready for some rapid-fire tips and tricks on how to use Adobe After Effects! Here are 26 tips, tricks, hacks, shortcuts, and how-to tutorials for After Effects, from A to Z.

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What You Will Learn

We'll be covering many topics in this article on how to use Adobe After Effects. Here's a quick sample:

  • How to import files into After Effects
  • How to parent different layers
  • How to activate motion blur for your animations
  • How to quickly add glow lighting effects to your objects
  • How to increase the vibrance of a video
  • And more!

A is for Animation

Animating things is the bread and butter of After Effects. There is so much you can do that it might seem a little bit overwhelming for beginners. However, with built in animation presets, making things move couldn’t be easier! 

To access these simply go to the Effects and Presets Panel. If it is not available you can access it by going to Window > Effects & Presets

Open the Animation Presets option, and browse through the many options you have available! Then simply click and drag the option onto the text to apply it.

animation presetsanimation presetsanimation presets

B is for Blur and Sharpen

Access all the blur and sharpen effects from the Effects and Preset menu. Apply any of these blur effects by dragging it and dropping it on to the composition. 

Once applied you can adjust the blur by changing the value in the Effect Controls panel. The higher the value the more blurry your image will appear. 

gaussian blurgaussian blurgaussian blur

C is for Composition

The majority of your work in After Effects will be placed within a composition. A composition is basically a container that stores all the layers of your animation or video. To create a composition go to Composition > New Composition 

Adjust the settings of your composition such as the size, framerate and duration and then click OK


D is for Drop Shadow 

A drop shadow can give the impression that an object is raised above the object behind it. 

To apply this effect go to the Effects and Presets panel and type in Drop Shadow in the search bar. Select it from the list and drag it onto the logo to apply it.

You can then adjust the way that it looks by going to the Effect Controls panel and changing the options (e.g. color, opacity, the direction and distance). 

drop shadowdrop shadowdrop shadow

E is for Eyedropper Tool 

You can change the colour of your object or text quickly and easily with the Eyedropper Tool

Simply select your text and then go to the Character Panel. Then next to the colour swatches you will see an icon for the Eyedropper Tool.

Click on it and then use it to select any colour that’s displayed on your screen. Even if it is outside Adobe After Effects, such as on your desktop or internet browser.

eyedropper tooleyedropper tooleyedropper tool

F is for Frame-rate 

The frame --rate of a video is measured by the number of frames played back each second. The acronym Fps stands for Frames Per Second, and we can choose what Fps we use by going into our Composition Settings and adjusting the Frame Rate.


G is for Glow 

To apply this effect on an image, go to the Effects and Presets panel and type in Glow in the search bar. Select it from the list and drag it onto the image to apply it! 

You can then adjust the way that it looks by going to the Effect Controls panel and changing the options (e.g. color, radius and whether it is behind or in front of the object). 

glow effectglow effectglow effect

H is for the Hand Tool 

The hand tool allows you to grab your composition and move your view around it. This could be particularly useful when you are zoomed in and you need to move around the space quickly. 

You can select it from the top toolbar menu or by simply pressing and holding the Spacebar on your keyboard. 

hand toolhand toolhand tool

I is for Importing Files 

To import files such as images, videos or audio you need to go to File > Import 

Here you can choose to import a single file or multiple files.

importing filesimporting filesimporting files

J is for CTRL-J 

With more complex compositions, sometimes you may need to reduce the resolution in order to improve the performance.  

Pressing Control - Shift - J on the keyboard will reduce the resolution to half. Pressing Control - J instead will set the resolution back to full.

control jcontrol jcontrol j

K is for Keyframes 

Keyframes are the time markers that allow you to tell After Effects where you want some sort of change to occur (such as simple transform properties like position, opacity, scale, and rotation).

You can create two Transform keyframes with two different value settings to create a growing or shrinking animation.


L is for Layers

Whenever we introduce something new into a composition, it is placed inside it as a Layer

There are many different types of layers that we can add, and we can easily identify each type via the small icon next to it (i.e. shape layer, text layer, adjustment layer, light layer etc.)


M is for Motion Blur 

Clicking on the Enable Motion Blur button will allow you to activate motion blur on any of your layers. 

Then go to the layer where you wish to apply the effect and select the motion blur box next to it on the right.

Ensure these options are available to you by first expanding your layer options by clicking on the buttons located near at the bottom left of the layers panel.

motion blurmotion blurmotion blur

N is for Null Object 

A null object is an invisible layer which can be used to become a parent to any other layer within a composition. This can be useful if we have a composition with multiple layers, and we want to move everything at once. 

Create a null object by going to Layer > New > Null Object 

From here we need to activate the Parent and Link column by right clicking on the top bar here and going to Column > Parent and Link. In the dropdown box, select the Null Object for each of our layers. This will allow you to control any layer with the Null Layer.

null objectnull objectnull object

O is for Opacity 

Open up the Transform options within a layer to access the list of choices to edit. Once you’ve found opacity, click on the Stopwatch icon to create a Keyframe

Move forward a few frames into the timeline and then set the opacity to 0 to create a second keyframe. Click on the Play Preview button or scrub back and forth within the timeline to see your newly created opacity transition. 

fade opacityfade opacityfade opacity

P is for the Pick Whip 

The Pick Whip is a quick way to attach one layer to another. 

If you want to attach a layer to a parent layer such as a Null Object, simply select the Pick Whip icon located on the right of a layer and then click and drag it onto the parent layer.

pick whippick whippick whip

Q is for Shape Tools

Activate and cycle through the Shape Tools (located on the top menu bar) by pressing Q on your keyboard. This will cycle through all the available shapes (Rectangle, Rounded Rectangle, Ellipse, Polygon, Star).

shortcut key qshortcut key qshortcut key q

R is for the Rotate Tool 

To rotate an object select the Rotate Tool from the top menu bar or press W on the keyboard. Then hover over the image you want to rotate and then use the mouse to click and drag to rotate the image.

rotate toolrotate toolrotate tool

S is for Shape Layers 

Shape layers are 2D flat objects created either manually by the user with the Pen Tool, or with a predetermined shape using the Shape Tool such as a rectangle, oval, or pentagon. 

You can change the colour of a shape by modifying its Fill Settings in the top menu bar. The Stroke Settings are also located right next to it.

shape layersshape layersshape layers

T is for Time Remapping 

Time Remapping is an extremely useful feature that allows you to manipulate the timing of your footage (e.g. expanding, compressing, or freezing a duration of a layer).

To access it, select your footage and then go to  Layer > Time > Enable Time Remapping which will automatically place keyframes at the beginning and end of your layer (one for when your footage will start, and one for when it ends). 

By moving one of these you can stretch or compress the timing of your video. You can even add additional keyframes by clicking on the keyframe button on the timeline to manipulate the layer even further.

time remappingtime remappingtime remapping

U is for Unsharp Mask 

The Unsharp Mask effect increases the contrast between colours that define an edge. Once applied, you can use the Effect Controls panel to adjust the values for the radius and the threshold (a lower value will produce a greater result).

unsharp maskunsharp maskunsharp mask

V is for Vibrance 

You can easily increase the vibrance and saturation of your image in After effects by selecting the layer you want to adjust and then going to Effect > Colour Correction > Vibrance to apply it to the layer.

Go to the Effect Controls panel to adjust the values. Vibrance will increase the intensity of the more muted colours whilst leaving the more saturated colours alone. Saturation will bump up the intensity of all the colours. 


W is for Workspace 

The organization and positioning of all the panels on the screen is called the Workspace. After Effects comes equipped with some ready made preset workspaces that you can use. To access them go to Window > Workspace and then choose the type of workspace that is most suited to the project that you are working on (e.g. animation, essential graphics, colour, paint, minimal etc.). 


X is for X-Y-Z Rotation 

In After Effects you can use additional transform options by enabling 3D for a Layer. To do this, go to the right side of the Switches Column and then click on the box underneath the 3D cube icon.

Then when you expand the layer transform options you’ll find that the new X, Y and Z rotational positions will become available.

3d rotation3d rotation3d rotation

Y is for Anchor Point Tool

The Shortcut Key Y is to activate the Anchor Point Tool. This is perfect If you want to change the Pivot Point of the image. Use the mouse to click and drag to change it, which will allow you to rotate the image using the new anchor point. 

shortcut key yshortcut key yshortcut key y

Z is for the Zoom Tool 

Press Z on the keyboard to activate the Zoom tool. Once you see the mouse cursor change, simply click on your image to zoom in! 

zoom toolzoom toolzoom tool

Ready to Try More Adobe After Effects Tutorials?

Awesome! So now that we have gone through the A to Z of Adobe After Effects, why not check out some of our more in-depth Adobe After Effects tutorials on Envato Tuts+ to really take your skills to the next level. 

Whether you're working on motion graphics, logo stings, animations, or you just want to learn more, Envato Tuts+ has got you covered!

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