Getting The Most Out Of Your Stream Deck (For Non Streamers)

We covered the major features of the Stream Deck for non-streamers in our last article. That was more of a ‘first impression’ and why the Stream Deck can be so powerful for non-streamers.

This article is all about optimizing to get the most productivity out of this device. If you’re reading this, I’m assuming you are very interested in optimizing your productivity. Let’s get into it. 

If you haven’t yet, set up your Elgato Stream Deck with their quick start guide. This walks you through installing the software and such. Elgato has a nice library of articles to help with Stream Deck-related things.

Quick General Tips With The Stream Deck

Before we dive into all the optimization steps, here are some general tips that I’ve picked up so far with my Stream Deck. 

Elgato Says No USB Hubs, But…

In step 1 of the Elgato quick start guide, they mention you must connect the Stream Deck directly to a USB port on your computer. No USB hubs allowed. 

This is likely due to the high power/data usage this device has with the computer. After all, we are powering up a decent-sized LCD screen behind these buttons while using data to perform tasks. They even mention that if you use a USB extension cable, limit its length

In theory, a USB hub might work fine, but it just might require that no other high-powered devices are connected. Or perhaps if power is the only bottleneck, a powered USB hub like the one below could work? I have not tested this.

Anker 10 Port 60W Data Hub

This 7-port USB hub from Anker, with 3 PowerIQ ports, offers ultra-fast data transfer speeds of up to 5Gbps and the fastest possible charge of up to 2.1 amps per port. Its compact design packs 60W of power into a device the size of a pen case, making it easy to charge multiple devices while conserving space.

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What I actually have tested that has been working without fail, is a docking station. I only have one cable connected to my laptop. And that cable is a Thunderbolt 3 cable for my Dell Thunderbolt 3 docking station. 

Stream Deck Using Docking Station

I have the Stream Deck plugged into a USB port on the dock, and that seems to work perfectly fine. Notice one thunderbolt cable going into my laptop with the Stream Deck active.

Hiding Your Stream Deck Cable

I don’t like wires on my desk at all. I have a wireless mouse and keyboard and have cable-managed pretty much everything else. 

That’s why I’ve published a bunch of articles on just hiding wires. Hide wires under your desk, hide monitor cables, hide wires on top of your desk, etc. 

Once the Stream Deck came into my life, I made the exception for a wire to be on my desk. Just because the productivity benefits were way too good. 

I still didn’t like how the bare wire looked on my desk. But not all wires have to look ugly. I used a tip that I talk about in my article on hiding wires from wired keyboards and mice. The tip was to make the wire actually look decent. Maybe even premium. 

Stream Deck Cable Cover

I ended up using an ⅛” diameter braided split cable wrap on my Elgato Stream Deck cable. I like the way this cable looks way more than just a random bendy wire on my desk. 

Split Cable Management Sleeving

This black wire loom is split and easy to load wires. They come in a large range of diameters and lengths depending on how many cables you need to manage. It groups your individual cables and wraps them in this aesthetically pleasing mesh wrap.

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Here is the split sleeving I ordered to get this look. Costs around $7 at the time of writing, so I just bundle that into the cost of a Stream Deck to make myself feel better. 

Elgato LCD Color Accuracy Is Terrible

One thing to keep in mind when it comes to icons on the Elgato LCD is that the color reproduction is pretty horrible. Obviously, we’re not editing photos or anything on our Stream Deck button LCDs, so it’s far from a deal breaker. 

This was just a little annoying when I would design an icon with a sweet color, just to add to a button and have it look completely washed out. 

My main remedy for this bad color accuracy was to stick with black-and-white icons. The black and white icons look perfect. 

However, having color-coded buttons is a huge advantage. For the color buttons I do use, I stay away from very vibrant and bright colors. Those just get washed out. Instead, choose a dark or desaturated version of the color you want. Then when you upload it, the “washed-out” version will look more like what you wanted in the first place. 

It was annoying to have to do this, but I love my color-coded buttons now. You just have to set it once. 

Smaller Icons Are Better Icons

This one might be personal preference and mostly aesthetic. Smaller icons are way better than icons that take up the full screen of a button. 

Each button on this Stream Deck is curved up toward the edges, so the viewing angle looks best head-on. When they are not exactly and perfectly head on to your eyes, the icons start warping at the edge due to the viewing angle. 

Stream Deck Viewing Angles

Smaller icons are less affected by this issue. You can look at the buttons in a much larger range of viewing angles with no issues. Also, the smaller icons just look cleaner. 

I highly recommend the Entypo Icon pack from Elgato. Very clean and slightly smaller icon sets. They are also black and white, so you don’t have to worry about color accuracy issues. 

Entypo Icon Pack

8 Ways To Get The Most Out Of Your Stream Deck

Alright, now that we have those general tips out of the way, let’s get into some pro tips that will give you the most out of your Stream Deck. 

Keep The Deck Close To Your Keyboard

First things first, keep that Stream Deck in a convenient place. It might look fantastic at the back edge of your desk so you don’t see the cable. But you need to travel to press buttons and that eats into those productivity benefits.

My go-to place for my stream deck is right in front of my keyboard towards the left side. That way if I am in the middle of typing or if my right hand is on the mouse, the Stream Deck is in a super quick and convenient access location. 

Stream Deck Left Side of Keyboard

When you keep it close to your keyboard, it basically becomes an extension of the keyboard. The best place to keep the deck is as close as possible to your hands, and right up against the keyboard is as good as it gets. 

Find Your Favorite Program’s Keyboard Shortcut List

If you have a program that you use more than any other program, do yourself a favor and look up the full list of keyboard shortcuts. 

You probably already know a few and perhaps even programmed a few to your Stream Deck already. 

Finding a complete list of keyboard shortcuts for your most often-used programs lets you find even better ways to use your program with shortcuts you never knew existed. And you can activate them with your Stream Deck.

I recently did this with Google Docs, because I write there fairly often. Here is Google’s keyboard shortcut list for Docs

I found out that there is a keyboard shortcut to switch from editing or suggesting or viewing! Then I looked at what keys you have to press, those shortcuts require 4 keys to activate! You can save a ton of time if you just program it to a Stream Deck hotkey. 

Then you can assign a ‘pencil’ icon for editing, a ‘comment’ icon for suggestion mode, and a ‘glasses’ icon for viewing. Now you have three intuitive buttons for these actions. Instead of hitting four keys, we just press a button. 

There are keyboard shortcuts for indenting, aligning, making bullets, checklists, and so much more on Google Docs. I didn’t, and I never would have. Now I have my most commonly used actions that have shortcuts set up on my Stream Deck, and it’s a real game changer. 

What will be possible for your favorite programs?

Categorize Groups of Keys With Folders

Depending on what you are doing, you probably want different icons presented on your Stream Deck. 

If you find yourself needing a full set of different buttons for different tasks, group your buttons into various folders. Press on a folder and a new set of buttons appear. You can also use pages to expand your ‘home’ screen buttons. 

If you want your buttons to change based on what program you are using, look into using different profiles. Profiles are set up to activate when a specific program is running. I don’t like this as much because I’m always using multiple programs, not really a single one. 

Just keep in mind that you don’t want to be scrolling through a ton of pages and folders to find the right button. That would be counterproductive. Keep it as simple as you can. 

Don’t Duplicate Tasks That Are Already Quick

Speaking of being counterproductive, try not to duplicate actions that are already quick or actions that you don’t use very much at all. 

If you need to open an internet browser, but that is right at the bottom of your home screen, then it might not be the best use of a button. If you want to open a specific webpage, on the other hand, that will launch the browser and go to the webpage with one button press. There is a difference between those two actions. 

Also, if you find some obscure hotkey for a program that you don’t actually use much, don’t program it to your deck. These buttons are too valuable to waste on unused icons! 

I did this with the Windows task manager. I figured I would use it more, so I set up a button to launch it. I never did end up pressing it after I programmed it and tested it out. So I deleted it and replaced it with something I use more often. 

Don’t Feel The Need To Fill All Buttons

With regards to unused buttons, don’t feel like you need to actually fill in all of the buttons on your Stream Deck. You might actually do better with fewer buttons programmed. 

If you only have a few buttons programmed, it will be easier to find the right button quickly without a full ocean of icons to choose from. 

It is better to have only 4 or 5 buttons that actually help you be productive than a full set of 15 or 32 buttons that slow you down when it comes to pressing that button. 

Don’t Spend A Ton Of Time Making Custom Icons

I was the most guilty of this when I first got my Stream Deck. I wanted a custom icon for everything. I ended up spending way too much time in Photoshop, and this was ironically eating up my productivity. 

It’s a slippery slope trying to design your own icons. On one hand, you are certain this will help you identify the button. But on the other hand, almost every icon can have a “better” version. 

I highly recommend the Entypo Icon Pack and the Palette Simple Color Pack. The Entypo pack is a large set of very clean icons. The Palette color pack on the other hand is a huge library of colors. This is a great way to color-code your buttons. 

If either of those icon packs is not descriptive enough, remember you can add text to any button! I recommend using the Trebuchet MS font, as it’s pretty modern and space efficient. Also looks great in bold

Use The Color LCD To Your Advantage

Speaking of the Palette Color Pack Icons, use these to color code your buttons. These are just simple colors that would go behind some text on your button. 

Color coding your buttons will make them more intuitive to use as you can make mental notes of which buttons to press. Once you associate an action with a color, it will feel like second nature! 

The Palette icon pack has over 1800 colors to choose from! I can’t even fit all the color icons they give you on my screen! 

Palette Color Icon Pack

Backup Your Profile

The last tip here is to back up your profile. This is great in case something goes wrong or if an Elgato update resets your Stream Deck. I’ve heard of this happening. I would hate to have to reprogram all my buttons. 

Ideally, you should update after you have a stable set of icons that you are done changing up. 

Here are the steps to backup your Stream Deck profile:

  • Open the Stream Deck software
  • Click on “Default Profile” at the top left, and select edit profiles. 
  • Right-click the “Default Profile”, select export
  • Save to a safe location, such as cloud-backed storage. 
Back Up Profile Stream Deck
Back Up Profile Stream Deck 2

Done! Now you are covered if anything goes wrong with your Stream Deck. 

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I'm a big time workspace enthusiast who is constantly experimenting with my setup. Sharing along the way to help people make their own desk setups more functional and inviting, whether it be for productivity or play!