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Speed up your workflow with a tailored Tools Panel layout

Selecting a tool to use could barely be simpler, yet there are ways to make the Tools Panel in Affinity Designer, Photo and Publisher work even better for you.

Ordinarily, you can’t drag and drop items on the Tools Panel to change their order. This avoids accidental changes that might disrupt your work. The layout is not set in stone, though.

Reordering the tools is possible by selecting a menu command, and it’s not the only thing you can do to make the Tools Panel better fit your workflow.

To get started, select View> Customise Tools.

To the right of the panel’s usual contents, you’ll see:

  • The full set of items that can be added to the panel.
  • An option to set the panel to display items across up to eight columns.
  • An option to reset panel items to the default set and order, so you can experiment as you see fit.
Drag items from the full toolset onto the panel and existing items will move aside. Are items you don’t use worth removing? You can always add them back later.

In this mode, existing items can be dragged to new positions. Additional items can be dragged from the full set and dropped onto the panel at your preferred position, and unwanted items can be dragged off the panel to remove them.

Promote tools from flyouts to the top level

Some panel items display a small triangle at their lower right. It’s a space-saving indication that you can click and hold the item to access a flyout menu of related tools.

Perhaps you’d prefer direct access to certain shape tools in Affinity Designer or Affinity Publisher, or specific painting or erasing tools in Affinity Photo.

Thankfully, every flyout menu item can be added to the panel’s top level as a discrete item.

Add dividers

Items that are related in some way tend to be clustered together on the panel. Over time, you’ll memorise tools’ icons and relative positions.

Adding dividers between tool groups can make it easier to get there, and might make the panel easier to navigate regardless.

The divider item is listed last in the full set of available items, and its icon is a thin, horizontal line. Drag it onto the Tools Panel, like you would any other item, and drop it between logical groups. Multiple dividers can be added.

Add more columns

The Number of Columns setting rearranges the panel’s contents across as many as eight columns.

On its own, you might find adding more columns is counterproductive because they take away space from the document view.

Adding more columns while the panel is docked may not be to your taste. Three or more columns works best when combined with other modifications.

Multi-column presentation works best when combined with other customisations (discussed below), at least on a display with a common aspect ratio. The ‘wasted’ space might not bother you at all on a superwide display.

Make the panel moveable

The Tools Panel doesn’t have to be docked in a fixed position within your app’s main window. Select View> Dock Tools to turn it into a floating panel.

Quickly switching back and forth between a few tools? Undocking the panel means you can move them closer to the document area you’re editing.

After tailoring the panel to present tools across multiple columns, undock it from your app’s main window. This reduces the panel’s dimensions to only what’s required for its contents.

As with other relocatable panels, there are additional benefits:

  • With multiple displays connected to your computer, you can relocate the Tools Panel to another display so it doesn’t encroach on the document view at all. Keep it near the common edge for quick access, though.
  • You can bring the Tools Panel closer to the document area you’re working on. So, you’ll only need to move the pointer a short distance when regularly switching between Affinity Photo’s retouching tools, for example.

Dividers and multiple columns

Ordinarily, the multi-column Tools Panel fills its rows from top to bottom. Dividers give you full freedom about what each row contains.

Drag and drop a divider into the middle of a row and the icons to its right are moved down to a new row. The divider sits between rows rather than between items within a row.

The multi-column Tools Panel works best when combined with several other customisations, most notably when it’s undocked and dividers are added.

This makes it even clearer which tools ‘belong’ together, even more so than in the earlier one-column arrangement.

Technical author

Alan is part of our technical authoring team and joined us from the world of magazines (MacUser), where he wrote up software techniques and worked on pioneering interactive digital editions. When he’s not neck-deep in page layouts, layer masks and adjustment layers, you’ll often find him digging through second-hand records for interesting sleeve artwork or gazing in wonderment at the graphical variety of Japanese video games.

Credits & Footnotes

Artwork by Emi Haze