A Tale of Two Enter Keys

Does your familiar keyboard have hidden powers?

If you use an extended keyboard, you might think that the keys on the numeric keypad are mere duplicates. But in some applications they work differently than those on the main keyboard, particularly the Enter key. If you love boosting your productivity with keyboard shortcuts, understanding the different Enter keys can give you more of an edge. And even though laptops and other compact keyboards lack a numeric keypad, yours may have a hidden second Enter key that you can use.

The Enter Keys: Non-Identical Twins

First of all, note that while Windows PCs have an Enter key on both the main keyboard and numeric keypad, Macs have a Return key on the main keyboard and an Enter key on the numeric keypad. But the way this pair of keys works is consistent across both platforms, so if you’re a Mac user keep in mind that when I mention the Enter key on the main keyboard, I’m talking about the Return key on the Mac.

The difference between the Return and Enter keys

The Return (green) and Enter (cyan) keys on a Mac keyboard. On a PC keyboard, both are labeled Enter.

You might know that you can use the Enter key as a shortcut to clicking the default button in a dialog box. But when you’re typing text in some dialog boxes, pressing the Enter key creates a new line instead of acting as a shortcut for the OK button. In that case, what’s the shortcut for applying the default button? It’s usually the Enter key on the numeric keypad.

How the Return and Enter keys have different functions for text entry in an InDesign dialog box

When you’re entering text in a dialog box in InDesign, pressing the main keyboard’s Return/Enter key creates new lines of text; to apply the OK button you’d press the numeric keypad’s Enter key.

Adobe InDesign also uses the two Enter keys differently when editing text in a frame on a page. Normally, pressing the Enter key creates a new paragraph, and of course you’d expect that. But if you press the Enter key on the numeric keypad, you create a column break.

How the Return and Enter keys create different breaks in an InDesign text frame

In InDesign, the main keyboard’s Return/Enter key creates a paragraph break (top), while the numeric keypad’s Enter key creates a column break (bottom).

You can find a similar example in Adobe Photoshop. When you’re editing a text layer, pressing the main keyboard’s Enter key creates a new paragraph; pressing the numeric keypad’s Enter key applies the text edits.

How the Return and Enter keys have different functions when editing text in Photoshop

When editing text in Photoshop the main keyboard’s Return/Enter key creates a paragraph break (green), but the numeric keypad’s Enter key applies the text changes as if you had clicked the check mark in the options bar (cyan).

You’ll find similar examples in other applications. For example, in Adobe After Effects, pressing the main keyboard’s Enter key renames a selected item, while the numeric keypad’s Enter key opens a selected item.

It’s Not Just About the Enter Key

The Enter key isn’t the only one that works differently between the main keyboard and the numeric keypad. For example, in Adobe InDesign, the number keys on the keypad are the only non-modifier keys you can use to create keyboard shortcuts for styles (such as paragraph and character styles).

In After Effects you can use the number and asterisk keys on the numeric keypad to work with composition markers, and use the numeric keypad’s 0 (zero) and . (decimal) keys to start video and audio previews, respectively.

Can you use numeric keypad shortcuts by plugging a USB numeric keypad into your laptop? The answer is “maybe.” With some USB numeric keypads, like the one I have, most keypad shortcuts work but some don’t. For example, in InDesign I could use the USB keypad’s Enter key to create a column break, but InDesign didn’t let me create style shortcuts using the number keys on the USB keypad.

Spare Keys Hidden Under the Mat

If you’re thinking “These tips don’t help me because I don’t have an extended keyboard,” don’t give up yet. For example, Mac laptop and compact keyboards have a Fn key that gives many keys a second function, and the Return key is a prime example of that. When you press Fn+Return, the Return key works like the Enter key on a numeric keypad. So if you’re on a MacBook Pro and you want to use the numeric keypad function of the Enter key, press Fn and Return together.

How the Fn key activates a second function for some keys

On many compact keyboards, pressing the Fn key (red) activates the second function of some keys (purple).

The Fn key can alter a compact keyboard in other useful ways. For example, I like to use the Page Up, Page Down, Home, and End keys for scrolling and navigating documents in many Adobe applications; they help scroll around zoomed-in images in Photoshop and Adobe Lightroom. While those keys are clearly marked on an extended keyboard, at first glance there’s no sign of them on most laptops or non-extended keyboards. But on a Mac they are there, hiding behind the arrow keys: Press Fn+Up Arrow, Fn+Down Arrow, Fn+Left Arrow, and Fn+ Right Arrow respectively.

On a Mac, Fn+Backspace makes the Backspace key work like a Forward Delete key, which some find useful when editing text.

A lot of the Fn key tips for the Mac also apply to Windows PCs, though you’ll have to check how the Fn key is implemented on your particular hardware. On many PC keyboards the second functions are printed on their keys in the same color as the Fn key, making them a little easier to learn than on the more minimal Mac keyboards.

Exploring the Other Side of the Keyboard

If you rely on keyboard shortcuts to accelerate your creativity and production efficiency, take a closer look at the keyboard shortcut help pages for your favorite applications to see if there are extended keyboard shortcuts that you might want to add to your workflow. You might discover that your favorite application has more tricks up its sleeve for that second Enter key, or for the other keys outside the main keyboard.

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Posted on: August 12, 2015

Conrad Chavez

Conrad Chavez writes books, articles, and training materials with a focus on digital imaging using Adobe Creative Cloud tools. He is the author of books such as Real World Adobe Photoshop CS5 for Photographers, and is also a fine art photographer. You can find out more about Conrad at his website, conradchavez.com.

6 Comments on A Tale of Two Enter Keys

  1. LOVE this article! I was teaching InDesign last week and one of the students had the same problem. He said that when he was following my instruction to click inside a paragraph and “hit Return” to create a new paragraph, the text following his cursor was disappearing. (!) I had to walk over and watch him as he hit the Return key, and yep he was hitting the number pad Enter key on his Mac keyboard, thinking it was a duplicate of the Return key. The text was oversetting the text frame, since there was no column to jump to.

  2. I second Anne-Marie’s enthusiasm. This is going to make an immediate difference.

  3. So glad to learn about the column break. I just figured my extended keyboard didn’t like InDesign (or vice versa). Thank you!!!

  4. Thanks! I use several computers at work and one of them has a compact keyboard. This article will save me a lot of hair pulling! Thanks.

  5. Does anyone know where InDesign is taught in Orange County, California?
    Please contact Gerhard “Gary” Barsch in the city of Orange, CA. I am on the internet.

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