Give your hands a break and speed up your After Effects workflow! Let your hardware do the work for you with programmable keys!Top image via SteelSeriesAs my knowledge of After Effects grew, I found myself looking more into the program’s hotkeys for more repetitive tasks, in hopes of spending less time navigating menus. This certainly sped up my workflow to an extent, but with some hotkeys being combinations of three and even four characters, I still had to take the time to pause, recall, and set up my hands in awkward position to press said combination.I found that using hardware with programmable keys created a big jump in my productivity. Programmable keys allowed me to, say, scale a layer to match the composition width without having to think about it. Once I memorized that key location, what was previously a conscious, distracting action, became second nature.It may sound trivial, but when applied to everything from layer transform actions to typing expressions, it can speed things up to a surprising degree. If this guaranteed boost in After Effects efficiency appeals to you, there are several affordable options you can choose from.1. Macro KeypadsPrice: $100 – $500The XK-24 USB Keypad via X-keysFor most digital artists, dedicated macro keypads are the ideal device. While they aren’t necessarily the cheapest, they specifically cater towards video editors and the likes. These are especially great if you simply want more buttons in addition to your current peripherals. With many button counts to choose from, and various layout options, you can most likely find something that will fit perfectly in your current work station. They even feature different backlighting color options!The XK-4 Stick via X-keysMoreover, pads such as X-Keys include customizable key labels, so that you can simply identify your keys by their individual icons. While you can technically do this with a DIY setup or a keyboard with built-in macro keys, these labels are designed to allow you to re-use them easily in the future, rather than having to peel a sticker each time.2. Keyboards with Macro KeysPrice: $30 – $200 The Apex 300 Keyboard via SteelSeriesIf you would rather your programmable keys be integrated into your keyboard to prevent some clutter, or also simply happen to be in the market for a new keyboard, you may want to look into purchasing one that has programmable keys built in. Unlike dedicated macro keypads, most keyboards of this design are geared more towards PC gamers, so they’ll force you to memorize the position or number dedication of your individual keys. However, if you have decent muscle memory, you may find that it’s worth the slight inconvenience.The G710 Plus Mechanical Gaming Keyboard via LogitechGaming keyboards are usually fairly flashy, but there are a few conservative, professional-looking options available as well. There are even a few options with mechanical keys, if you prefer them to the more common membrane keys. One of the cooler aspects of gaming keyboards is their ability to program macros on the fly without opening their software. For instance, if you find that a certain project will repeatedly use a specific expression, you can press a “macro record” button and it will automatically assign your following keystrokes to the chosen key.3. MMO MousesPrice: $30 – $100The G600 MMO Gaming Mouse via LogitechIn a similar vein to the keyboards we just discussed, gaming has provided some great mouses that are surprisingly handy for programs like After Effects. MMO gamers typically require many easily accessible macro buttons for split-second actions. While the After Effects workflow isn’t this intense, one can certainly benefit from being able to access so many functions without having to relocate your hands. This is my personal favorite of these options, and it has eliminated most lag I deal with from minor tasks.The Razer Naga MMO Gaming Mouse via RazerI find this to be by far the most efficient way to deal with complex keystrokes and recurring expressions, simply based on the physical convenience of the buttons. Additionally, gaming mouses generally feature more precise movement, with the ability to toggle sensitivity levels on the fly. If you don’t necessarily need upwards of twenty programmable buttons, there are many more streamlined options with just a few additional buttons for you to map.4. DIY Macro KeypadPrice: $10 – $30USB Numeric Keypad via AmazonIf you’re interested in any of these options, but lack the budget to invest in one, worry not! With simple open-source program called HIDMacros, you can transform an every day number keypad into your own dedicated programmable macro keypad!You may already have one laying around, but if not, you usually can find them for around $10 new. If you have an extra full-sized keyboard laying around, you can use it with HIDMacros as well. Add some home made sticker labels if you’d like, and you’re good to go!While there are a number of ways to improve the speed of your work flow within After Effects, doing so with the purchase of new hardware is a satisfying shortcut amongst more tedious, knowledge-based progression. Ideally, the use of macros will benefit you as much as it helped me.What unique hardware do you use to enhance your workflow? Let us know in the comments below.