Workspaces, panels, and viewers in After Effects

Workspaces and panels

Adobe video and audio applications provide a consistent, customizable user interface. Although each application has its own set of panels, you move and group panels in the same way in each application.

The main window of a program is the application window. Panels are organized in this window in an arrangement called a workspace.

Each application includes several predefined workspaces that optimize the layout of panels for specific tasks. You can also create and customize your own workspaces by arranging panels in the layout that best suits your working style for specific tasks.

You can drag panels to new locations, move panels into or out of a group, place panels alongside each other, and undock a panel so that it floats in a new window above the application window. As you rearrange panels, the other panels resize automatically to fit the window.

Example of workspace
Example workspace

A. Application window B. Grouped panels C. Individual panel 

To increase the available screen space, use multiple monitors. When you work with multiple monitors, the application window appears on the main monitor, and you place floating windows on the second monitor. Monitor configurations are stored in the workspace.

Workspaces are stored in XML files in the preferences folder. With some caveats regarding monitor size and layout, these workspaces can be moved to another computer and used there.

  • (Windows) [drive]:\Users\[user_name]\AppData\Roaming\Adobe\After Effects\[version]\ModifiedWorkspaces

  • (Mac OS) [drive]/Users/[user_name]/Library/Preferences/Adobe/After Effects/[version]/ModifiedWorkspaces

See this video tutorial about workspaces by Andrew Devis on the Creative Cow website for more details.

Stacked panel layout

Customize your workspace by grouping panels the way you want to. In a panel group, you can arrange panels in both stacked and tabbed states. 

You can expand and collapse stacked panels with a single mouse-click on the panel header. For more information, see Working with stacked panels.

The Home screen assits you to get started quickly with After Effects. You can use the following options on the left hand side:

  • Home: Click this tab to open the Home screen.
  • New Project: Creates a project in After Effects. 
  • Open Project: Opens an exisitng project.
  • New Team Project: Creates a Team Project.
  • Open Team Project: Opens an exiting Team Project.

If you are a new user, the centre of the screen also gives you the option to create a project. As you create projects in After Effects, the content on the home screen evolves. Experienced users get an option to learn What's New in After Effects, along with other documentation links.

Home screen for new users
Home screen for new users

You can also use the Home icon at the left-hand side of the UI to navigate between the project and the Home screen.


Use the Learn workspace and Learn panel

Learn panel

Designed for new-to-After Effects users, you can use tutorials in the Learn panel to quickly learn about the different panels, timeline, and effects in After Effects. You can access the learn panel from the Window menu > Extensions. You can use these lessons to create projects in the application.

The panel is fully interactive with task-oriented videos. When you click a video in the panel, it displays the steps to perform the task. As you try the steps in the UI, the panel tracks your motion and guides you through the steps. Once you complete a task, the status of the task updates to completed.

Learn panel and Learn workspace
Learn panel and Learn workspace

Learn workspace

The Learn workspace offers a simple interface with the following panels that you use to create an After Effects project:

  • Learn panel
  • Project panel
  • Composition panel
  • Timeline panel

To access the workspace, select Help > Learn After Effects. The workspace includes the Learn panel docked to the side so that you can follow the instructions along with clear access to the rest of workspace.

Customizing workspaces

Choose a workspace

You can access custom or default workspaces with a single click in the new workspace bar. The workspace bar occupies the right side of the Tools panel. You can customize the width of the bar by dragging the vertical divider between the tool and the workspace bars.

Save as new workspace

The workspaces that do not fit in the available space display in the chevron menu (>>) on the workspace bar.

Workspace chevron menu

When you move the Tools panel from its position, the Workspace menu replaces the workspace bar.

Workspace menu


Choose Window > Workspace > Edit Workspaces or click the chevron menu (>>) on the workspace bar to display the Edit Workspaces dialog box. You can select a workspace and reorder workspaces.

Edit Workspaces dialog box
Edit Workspaces dialog box

Choose a workspace

  • Choose Window > Workspace, and select the desired workspace.

  • Choose a workspace from the Workspace menu in the Tools panel.

  • If the workspace has a keyboard shortcut assigned, press Shift+F10, Shift+F11, or Shift+F12.


To assign a keyboard shortcut to the current workspace, choose Window > Assign Shortcut To [Workspace Name] Workspace.

Save, reset, or delete workspaces

Save a custom workspace

As you customize a workspace, the application tracks your changes, storing the most recent layout. To store a specific layout more permanently, save a custom workspace. Saved custom workspaces appear in the Workspace menu, where you can return to and reset them.

  1. Arrange the frames and panels as desired, and then choose Window > Workspace > New Workspace. Type a name for the workspace, and click OK.


(After Effects, Premiere Pro) If a project saved with a custom workspace is opened on another system, the application looks for a workspace with a matching name. If the application cannot find a match (or the monitor configuration doesn’t match), it uses the current local workspace.

Reset a workspace

Reset the current workspace to return to its original, saved layout of panels.

  1. Choose Window > Workspace > Reset workspace name.

Delete a workspace

  1. Choose Window > Workspace > Delete Workspace.

  2. Choose the workspace you want to delete, and then click OK.


    You cannot delete the currently active workspace.

Dock, group, or float panels

You can dock panels together, move them into or out of groups, and undock them so they float above the application window. As you drag a panel, drop zones—areas onto which you can move the panel—become highlighted. The drop zone you choose determines where the panel is inserted, and whether it docks or groups with other panels.

Docking zones

Docking zones exist along the edges of a panel, group, or window. Docking a panel places it adjacent to the existing group, resizing all groups to accommodate the new panel.

Dragging panel onto docking zone to dock it
Dragging panel (A) onto docking zone (B) to dock it (C)

Grouping zones

Grouping zones exist in the middle of a panel or group, and along the tab area of panels. Dropping a panel on a grouping zone stacks it with other panels.

Dragging panel onto grouping zone to group it with existing panels
Dragging panel (A) onto grouping zone (B) to group it with existing panels (C)

Dock or group panels

  1. If the panel you want to dock or group is not visible, choose it from the Window menu.

  2. Do one of the following:

    • To move an individual panel, drag the gripper area in the upper‑left corner of a panel’s tab onto the desired drop zone.

    Drag panel gripper to move one panel
    Drag panel gripper to move one panel

    • To move an entire group, drag the group gripper in the upper‑right corner onto the desired drop zone.

    Drag group gripper to move entire group
    Drag group gripper to move entire group

    The application docks or groups the panel, according to the type of drop zone.

Undock a panel in a floating window

When you undock a panel in a floating window, you can add panels to the window and modify it similarly to the application window. You can use floating windows to use a secondary monitor, or to create workspaces like the workspaces in earlier versions of Adobe applications.

  1. Select the panel you want to undock (if it’s not visible, choose it from the Window menu), and then do one of the following:

    • Choose Undock Panel or Undock Frame from the panel menu. Undock Frame undocks the panel group.

    • Hold down Ctrl (Windows®) or Command (Mac OS®), and drag the panel or group from its current location. When you release the mouse button, the panel or group appears in a new floating window.

    • Drag the panel or group outside the application window. (If the application window is maximized, drag the panel to the Windows taskbar.)

Maximize or restore panel groups

Double-click the active panel's tab, or in the fallow area of the tab well of a panel group to maximize or restore that panel group. You can also press the ` (accent grave) key with the mouse pointer over that panel group to maximize or restore a panel group.

Resize panel groups


To quickly maximize a panel beneath the pointer, press the ` (accent grave) key. (The accent grave is the unshifted character under the tilde, ~, on standard US keyboards.) Press the key again to return the panel to its original size.

When you drag the divider between panel groups, all groups that share the divider are resized.

  1. Do either of the following:
    • To resize either horizontally or vertically, position the pointer between two panel groups. The pointer becomes a double arrow .

    • To resize in both directions at once, position the pointer at the intersection between three or more panel groups. The pointer becomes a four‑way arrow .

  2. Hold down the mouse button, and drag to resize the panel groups.
    Dragging divider between panel groups to resize them horizontally
    Dragging divider between panel groups to resize them horizontally

    A. Original group with resize pointer B. Resized groups 

Open, close, and show panels and windows

Even if a panel is open, it may be out of sight, beneath other panels. Choosing a panel from the Window menu opens it and brings it to the front of its group.

When you close a panel group in the application window, the other groups resize to use the newly available space. When you close a floating window, the panels within it close, too.

  • To open or close a panel, choose the panel from the Window menu.

  • To close a panel or window, click its Close button . If you accidentally close a panel, choose the panel from the Window menu, and the panel will be displayed again.

  • To open or close a panel, use its keyboard shortcut.

  • If a frame contains multiple panels, place the pointer over a tab and roll the mouse scroll wheel forward or backward to change which panel is active.

  • If a frame contains more grouped panels than can be shown at once, drag the scroll bar that appears above the tabs.


Scroll bar for showing tabs of other panels
Scroll bar for showing tabs of other panels


A viewer is a panel that can contain multiple compositions, layers, or footage items, or multiple views of one such item. The Composition, Layer, Footage, Flowchart, and Effect Controls panels are viewers.

Locking a viewer prevents the currently displayed item from being replaced when you open or select a new item. Instead, when a viewer is locked and a new item is opened or selected, After Effects creates a new viewer panel for that item. If you select the item from the viewer menu of a locked viewer, a new viewer isn't created; the existing viewer is used.

Instead of housing multiple items in a single viewer and using the viewer menu to switch between them, you can choose to open a separate viewer for each open composition, layer, or footage item. When you have multiple viewers open, you can arrange them by docking or grouping them, like any other panels.

For example, you can create one Composition viewer each for different 3D views (Top, Bottom, Back, Front, custom views) so that you can maximize each of the views with the ` (accent grave) keyboard shortcut, which maximizes or restores the panel under the pointer.


To create a custom workspace with multiple viewers, ensure that all viewers are unlocked before you save the workspace. Locked viewers are associated with a specific project context and are therefore not saved in the preferences file.

  • To create a new viewer, choose New from the viewer menu. (See Open panel, viewer, and context menus.)

  • To lock or unlock a viewer, choose Locked from the viewer menu, or click the Toggle Viewer Lock button.

  • To lock the current viewer, split the current frame, and create a new viewer of the same type in the new frame, press Ctrl+Alt+Shift+N (Windows) or Command+Option+Shift+N (Mac OS).

  • To cycle forward or backward through the items in the viewer menu list for the active viewer, press Shift+period (.) or Shift+comma (,).

Edit this, look at that (ETLAT) and locked Composition viewers

If a Composition viewer is locked, the Timeline panel for another composition is active, and the Composition viewer for the active composition is not shown, then most commands that affect views and previews operate on the composition for which the viewer is shown.

For example, pressing the numpad 0 can start a preview for the composition visible in a locked Composition viewer rather than the composition associated with the active Timeline panel.

This behavior facilitates a working setup sometimes referred to as edit-this-look-at-that (ETLAT). The most common scenario in which this behavior is useful is the scenario in which you make a change in the Timeline panel for a nested (upstream) composition and want to preview the result of the change in a containing (downstream) composition.


ETLAT behavior works for keyboard shortcuts for zooming, fitting, previewing, taking and viewing snapshots, showing channels, showing and hiding grids and guides, and showing the current frame on a video preview device.

To prevent this behavior, unlock the Composition viewer or show the Composition viewer for the composition that you want to view or preview.