1. Computer Skills

Using Palettes to Improve Keyboard Shortcuts in Keyboard Maestro

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Read Time: 6 min

In the previous tutorial I showed you how to use Keyboard Maestro to create powerful keyboard shortcuts. While you can set up keyboard shortcuts in System Preferences, Keyboard Maestro is better for a few reasons:

  1. It’s a lot more powerful. In the last tutorial, not only did the keyboard shortcut I created open the Goals panel in Ulysses, it also filled in a default value of 900 words. There’s almost no limit to what you can accomplish with a single keypress using Keyboard Maestro
  2. Keyboard shortcuts aren’t the only thing you can do with Keyboard Maestro. You can use it to fill in complex forms, Tweet your favourite Spotify songs and much much more. Unfortunately, there’s a steep learning curve to the app, so creating simple keyboard shortcuts is a great way to get started
  3. It’s really quick and easy to create keyboard shortcuts in Keyboard Maestro. You can also create them on the fly. This means that if you’ve got to do a repetitive task a few times, you can throw together a Macro to help. I’ve written articles like this one on male portraits where I’ve needed to upload and add attribution to dozens of photos. Instead of doing it all by hand, I spent 15 minutes making a Macro that automated most of the rote work
  4. One keyboard shortcut can be used for multiple macros with Palettes which is what I’ll cover in this tutorial

To follow along, you will need to have read the previous tutorial, How To Set Up Custom Keyboard Shortcuts on Your Mac

It will also help if you’ve read the first two tutorials in my introductory series to Keyboard Maestro: Keyboard Maestro I: Introduction and Keyboard Maestro II: Launching Apps Intelligently

You will also need Keyboard Maestro installed on the Mac. You can grab a copy from the developer’s website for $36. There’s a free trial so you can see if Keyboard Maestro is for you before investing. 

Introducing Palettes

Palettes are a way for you to trigger more than one Macro from the same place. There are three different palettes in Keyboard Maestro: the Global Macro Palette, Macro Group Palettes and Conflict Palettes.

The Global Macro Palette

Any Macro can be assigned the Global Macro Palette as a trigger. It is permanently visible as you can see in the screenshot below. 

keyboard maestro global macro palettekeyboard maestro global macro palettekeyboard maestro global macro palette
The Global Macro Palette is a constant annoyance.

Hovering over it with your mouse brings up the list of macros assigned to it. Click on one to run it. 

global paletteglobal paletteglobal palette
You need to hover over it and use your mouse which doesn't help keyboard shortcuts.

Personally, I’m not a fan of the Global Macro Palette as there are better ways to use Palettes in Keyboard Maestro, especially when combined with keyboard shortcuts.

Macro Group Palettes

Macro Group Palettes are a little better than the Global Macro Palette. They can be assigned a keyboard shortcut which activates or deactivates them. 

There are, however, still a few issues. Any Macros in a Macro Group that has a Palette can’t be activated when the Palette (or its annoying little hovering icon) isn’t visible even if they have their own independent trigger. 

You also have to either assign every Macro in the group its own keyboard shortcut, or select them from the list with your mouse. While they do have their uses, they’re not ideal for what I want to accomplish: one keyboard shortcut that makes it easy to trigger multiple macros without touching the mouse or trackpad.

macro group palettesmacro group palettesmacro group palettes
Macro Group Palettes are a little better but still less than ideal. Each Macro still needs a unique shortcut.

If you want to play around with Macro Group Palettes, create a new Macro Group and change Always Available to Shows/Hides a Palette When or Shows a Palette for One Action When.

setting up palettesetting up palettesetting up palette
Setting up a Macro Group Palette.

Assign the Palette a hot key. 

hotkey for macro grouphotkey for macro grouphotkey for macro group
Assigning a hot key.

Now when you press the shortcut, the Palette will activate. If you’ve selected Shows/Hides a Palette When it will remain active until you press the hot key again. If you’ve selected Shows a Palette for One Action When it will remain active until you select a Macro.

Conflict Palettes

While Conflict Palettes sound like they’re some sort of trouble shooting or anti-bug feature, they’re actually the most useful form of Palette. When more than one Macro has the same trigger, Keyboard Maestro displays a Conflict Palette so you can select which one you want to trigger. 

conflict palettesconflict palettesconflict palettes
Conflict Palettes are the best solution. 

The Palette works like the Global Macro Palette and Group Macro Palettes except for two important differences. 

First, to select a Macro, you don’t have to use the mouse or assign each a unique shortcut. Instead, you type the first letter of its name. In the screenshot above you can see that pressing B would activate the BetterTouchTool Macro, pressing K would activate the Keyboard Maestro Macro and pressing T would activate the TextExpander Macro. 

I only need to remember one keyboard shortcut, in this case Command-Shift-L. Keyboard Maestro takes over the duty of giving each a unique shortcut.

Second, it doesn’t display the annoying icon overlay. The Palette disappears as soon as you select a Macro or press any other key.

I'll show you how this set up works. 

I’ve got three Macros that do a very similar thing: they each assign a link to the system clipboard and they all have the hot key shortcut Command-Shift-L. I’ve created each one with the techniques covered in the last article. 

three similar macrosthree similar macrosthree similar macros
Three similar macros each with the same shortcut. Pressing Command-Shift-L activates the Conflict Palette so I can select between them.

Instead of having to dig through my post archives every time I want to link out to another article (which I’ve done several times already with this one), I can just press Command-Shift-L and select from a list of the ones I most often use. The link is then assigned to my clipboard so I can post it in wherever I want. It’s a real time saver.

To create your own Conflict Palette based system, create a few Macros that each work in the same app or do similar things. It’s best to use this technique in situations when there is some connection between the Macros, otherwise it just gets messy. 

Assign each one the same hot key trigger. Now, as long as you give each one an appropriate name, you only need to remember the one hot key to get all the benefits of keyboard shortcuts for as many macros as you want.

Wrapping Up

The Conflict Palette is by far the most useful for keyboard shortcuts: it works automatically and means you don’t have to take your fingers away from the keyboard to trigger any Macro you want. 

If you have several similar Macros, don’t give them each an individual shortcut; instead, give them just one and let the Conflict Palette take care of the rest.

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