O'Reilly Book Excerpts: Flash Out of the Box

Flash: Workflow and Workspace Tips

by Robert Hoekman, Jr.

Editor's note: Robert Hoekman has an excerpt offering to help improve your workflow and organize your workspace while using Flash. Learn how to adjust preferences under each tab, customize the keyboard shortcuts, and personalize the panel layout. Like reading a book from the back to the front, here's a sneak peak at Appendix A from all the way in the back of the book.

Related Reading

Flash Out of the Box
A User-Centric Beginner's Guide to Flash
By Robert Hoekman, Jr.

You're still here? Oh. Well then I guess I'll keep talking. Here are some tips that can improve your workflow while using Flash. I hope this appendix answers some of the questions that may be lingering in your head.


Just like every program out there, Flash has a Preferences dialog box. Flash's Preferences dialog box has five tabs, and each tab has several sections. The following subsections suggest ways you can improve or enhance the performance and functionality of Flash by adjusting the preferences under each tab. I won't tell you about every tab and every option in Preferences, just the ones I think will help you. (I've excluded the Clipboard and Warnings tabs because they're just not very exciting.)

To follow along, open the Preferences dialog box by choosing Edit → Preferences on Windows, or Flash (Professional) → Preferences on Mac.

The General Tab

The General tab, shown in Figure A-1, contains miscellaneous preferences that don't seem to belong anywhere else. Here, I highlight some preferences of particular interest.

Undo levels

When you first install Flash, the number of undo levels is set to 1000 (although this defaults to 100 in the 7.2 update). But the undo stack requires memory that your computer may not have to spare. Everything you do must be remembered by Flash so that it can be undone if requested. With this number set so high, your computer is doing more work than you probably realize just to track every step you take. Lowering this number decreases the amount of memory required to run Flash. I leave mine set to 200, but you can choose whatever number you are comfortable with. Don't set it too low--you still want to be able to undo.

Highlight color

Selecting an object on the Stage highlights it with a blue bounding box by default. You can change the highlight color using the nearby color swatch if you set the Highlight Color option to Use This Color. Alternatively, each layer in the timeline has its own colored square next to the layer name. To highlight all of the objects on a particular layer using the layer color, change the Highlight Color option to Use Layer Color. This makes it easier to tell the objects on one layer apart from another. This color is also used when viewing content in outline mode (View → Preview Mode → Outlines). You can set the color for the selected layer in the Layer Properties dialog box (Modify → Timeline → Layer Properties).

On launch

This section of the General tab enables you to choose what to show upon launching Flash. By default, the Start screen is shown, but you can choose to have Flash open a new document, the last document you had open, or no document at all. Personally, I find the Start screen pretty handy, as you can use it to quickly open various types of new templates or reopen any of the last ten opened documents. There are also options in the Start screen to search Macromedia's web site and launch the Flash Exchange. Nonetheless, you may find it more desirable to open the last document you worked on.

Figure A-1. The General Preferences tab.
Figure A-1. The General Preferences tab

The Editing Tab

The Editing tab, shown in Figure A-2, contains preferences for the Pen tool, drawing settings, and project settings. Following are some highlights.

Figure A-2. The Editing Preferences tab.
Figure A-2. The Editing Preferences tab

Drawing settings

Change the drop-down list choices in this section to accommodate your particular drawing needs. Need smoother curves? Choose Smooth from the Smooth Curves menu. Bad at drawing shapes freehand, but still want Flash to recognize them? Choose Tolerant from the Recognize Shapes menu.

Project settings

For those of you using Flash Pro, this section enables you to close project files when you close a project in the Project panel (Window → Project) and save project files when you test or publish an opened project. If you don't tell Flash to close all of the project files at once, you'll have to do it yourself. And that's just no fun.

The ActionScript Tab

The ActionScript tab, shown in Figure A-3, lets you configure all sorts of things related to writing code in Flash, such as the font used in the Actions panel, how reserved keywords are color coded, and whether you want to use code hints.

Figure A-3. The ActionScript Preferences tab.
Figure A-3. The ActionScript Preferences tab

Editing options

Here, you can set the amount of time delay for code hints when typing in the Actions panel, from 0 to 4 seconds. If you like code hints, 4 seconds can be a long time to wait, so leave it set to 0. If you want to disable code hints entirely, simply uncheck the Code Hints checkbox.


Some developers swear that they absolutely must use certain types of fonts when writing code, but you can use whatever you want. In this section of the ActionScript tab, you can change the font and font size of ActionScript in the Actions panel to something you might find easier to read. The default is 10-point Monaco (on Mac) or 10-point Courier New (on Windows).

Keyboard Shortcuts

Many commands and features in Flash already have corresponding keyboard shortcuts, such as pressing V to activate the Selection tool. But you may want a speedier way to run a command or open a custom panel set (which I'll show you how to create in a minute). Here's how to customize the keyboard shortcuts:

  1. Choose Keyboard Shortcuts from the Edit menu on Windows (or the Flash (Professional) menu on Mac) to open the Keyboard Shortcuts dialog box, shown in Figure A-4.
  2. Click the Duplicate Set button in the dialog box, name the new keyboard shortcut set (name it after your dog, perhaps), and click OK.
  3. In the Commands section of the dialog box, expand the File menu and select Close All (which closes all open documents and libraries).
  4. In the Shortcut section, click Add Shortcut, and press the keys you want to use as the new shortcut. For example, you might press Ctrl+Shift+W on Windows or Cmd+Shift+W on Mac. The keys you press appear in the Press Key field.
  5. Click the Change button. This opens a message warning you that the shortcut is already assigned to the Work Area command, which is, in my opinion, completely useless (all it does is shove the Stage up against the timeline, eliminating the work area space between them).
  6. Click Reassign.
  7. Click OK to close the dialog box.

Now, when you have more than one document or more than one library open, simply use this keyboard shortcut to close all of your Flash files at once.

You can set up whatever custom shortcuts you like using the preceding procedure.

You want another tip? When you need to see the Stage a little better and get some of those panels out of the way, press F4 to hide all of the panels at once. Press it again to show the panels.

Figure A-4. The Keyboard Shortcuts dialog box.
Figure A-4. The Keyboard Shortcuts dialog box

Panel Layout

Customizing the panel layout in Flash enables you to organize your workspace exactly the way you want, but first you need to know how to dock and undock panels:

  1. To undock a panel, locate two panels that are docked together. Click on the titlebar (more specifically, click on the little dots on the left side of the titlebar) of one of them and drag the panel away from the other panel, and then release the mouse button.
  2. To redock the panel, drag it over the top of the titlebar of another panel until a heavy black line appears between them. Then release the mouse button.

When you've got that mastered, here's how to customize your panel layout:

  1. From the Window menu, open any panel you believe you'll use often.
  2. Next, choose Window → Design Panels, Window → Development Panels, and Window → Other Panels to locate any panels that are currently not open. Open the ones you think you'll use often.
  3. Arrange the panels in any way you like. Leave a nice view of the Stage, Tools panel, Properties panel, and Timeline panel (you use those a lot in Flash).
  4. When everything is arranged how you like it, choose Window → Save Panel Layout to open the Save Panel Layout dialog box.
  5. Give your panel set a name and click OK to close the dialog box.

My preferred setup is shown in Figure A-5 (note that my preferred setup is on a Macintosh, with iTunes running--it's what keeps me sane). In fact, I've saved this custom panel set as Flash Out of the Box Panel Set and included it on the enclosed CD-ROM (in the Appendix folder). You can install it by placing it in the Panel Sets directory in your Flash MX 2004 installation folder.

Flash remembers your current layout the next time you launch it, but you might move things around while working. Any time you want to restore your workspace to your saved panel layout, simply choose Window → Panel Sets → your panel set. Choose the Default Layout or Training Layout panel set from this menu if your windows become hopelessly misarranged or if you can't locate a panel you need.

Figure A-5. My preferred workspace setup.
Figure A-5. My preferred workspace setup

Miscellaneous Tips

And here are a few tips that don't seem to fit into the previous categories.

Save and Compact

Adding assets to a Flash document, whether they're bitmaps, symbols, or scripts, can substantially increase the size of the .fla file. In the event you need to FTP the document or email it to someone, a large file can be a huge problem. To remedy this, choose File → Save and Compact. This menu option can cut the file size of a large file in half. Generally, it decreases file size by even more than half, especially if you have deleted unused assets from the Library. Using File → Save, which performs an incremental save, doesn't ordinarily lower the file size of the .fla, but Save and Compact squashes your file nicely.

Quick Edits

To quickly enter Edit mode for a Library symbol, click the Edit Symbols button in the Edit bar attached to the timeline, as shown in Figure A-6.

Figure A-6. The Edit Symbols menu in the Edit bar.
Figure A-6. The Edit Symbols menu in the Edit bar

Simply locate the symbol name and click. Voilà! You're in Edit mode.

Tabbed Documents

Windows users get a little bonus when working with multiple .fla files. If the document windows are maximized within the Flash authoring window, each open document adds one tab to the top of the Flash document window. Click through the tabs to access each open document quickly. Otherwise, you can access open documents from the bottom of the Window menu.

Transfer Software License

This is one of my favorite new features. Suppose you have one licensed copy of Flash MX 2004 installed on two computers (this is allowed by the End User License Agreement, or EULA) and suddenly find yourself needing to take Flash with you on your laptop for a business trip. Well, go right ahead and do it, mister; I'm not stopping you.

To do this, choose Help → Transfer Your Software License to open the Macromedia Product Activation screen. Click Transfer License and wait. The license is transferred to a Macromedia server, which tracks your registration information with the serial number for your copy of Flash. Next, install Flash on your laptop and register it with the same serial number.

The key here is that you can legally register one copy of Flash on two computers and install Flash on as many computers as you want. You can't, however, use Flash on both computers at the same time (according to the EULA). So before you head for the airport, transfer the license from one computer and then register the copy on your laptop. Instantly, you have a portable copy of Flash. When you get back from your trip, transfer the license from your laptop and register the copy on your main computer. Everything is legal and everyone's happy.

Enable Simple Buttons

Need to see how a button looks but don't want to go to the trouble of running yet another test movie? Choose Control → Enable Simple Buttons. You can now roll over and click those buttons on stage just as you would in a test movie. They do not, however, run any ActionScript associated with them. Enabling simple buttons allows you to see the button in context.

Check Spelling

Now, I'm an excelent speler. I don't mean to boste, but realy, I am very guud. I wun speling beez in skool and everything. But you mite not bee az good az me.

Once again--Flash to the rescue. To check your entire .fla file for spelling mistakes, choose Text → Check Spelling. A dialog box opens, through which you can verify every word Flash does not understand. And if your typing skills are as bad as mine, it might take a while.


In conclusion, ladies and germs, not all features are documented. Sometimes you just have to hunt them down and find your own ways to make working with Flash easier and faster. I've done what I can for you. Now go away. I'm all done with you. Check the resources in Chapter 13 if you need more than I can offer.

Happy Flashing!

Robert Hoekman, Jr. , is a Certified Macromedia Flash MX Designer and has worked with Flash since version 3. He is also the founder and manager of the Flash and Multimedia User Group of Arizona, an official Macromedia User Group (MMUG) with approximately 150 members.

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