FCP X: Trimming The Edit

Did you know that Final Cut Pro X supports real-time trimming? Or that you can select and trim audio separately from the video using the keyboard? Or, how about trimming a clip to a selection range?

Well, you can. This article showcases some trimming techniques that you may not know.

NOTE: There are two additional trimming techniques: slip and slide. I cover them in a separate article. Read it here.


Trimming is the process of adjusting where two clips touch. That “touch-point” is called the edit point and it has three sides:

In past versions, specifically in Final Cut Pro 7, we used different trimming tools when trimming one side of an edit (the Ripple tool) versus both sides of an edit (the Roll tool). FCP X changed this. Now, the Arrow (Selection) tool does all single-sided trims, while the Trim tool handles double-sided trims.

Trimming where two clips touch is critical for several reasons. First, it gets rid of audio or video portions of a clip that we don’t want. Second, it helps to match the action between two shots. Third, it helps the action flow smoothly from one shot to another, which is not the same as matching the action. Fourth, and both important and not obvious, the timing of an edit changes the emotional response of the viewer.

NOTE: Discussing trimming to alter emotions is worthy of its own article; in fact, probably a book. For this article, I will concentrate on “how” to do trimming and save the “why” until later.


(Footage courtesy:  John Putch “Route 30, Too!” – www.route30trilogy.com)

I love the Precision Editor, which is a new feature in Final Cut Pro X. Not because it is great at trimming, because it isn’t. But because it enables new editors to understand what trimming is doing. I find it an incredibly useful teaching tool. However, many experienced editors see the Precision Editor and reject it for its limitations, rather than applaud it for explaining an incredibly difficult subject very easily.

To open the Precision Editor, double-click any edit point (or type: Control+E).

If you are new to the Precision Editor, the out-going clip is on the top. That portion of the clip that is bright is included in the Timeline. That which is dark are called “handles,” which is extra video after the Out and, on the lower level, before the In. Handles are essential for trimming and transitions.

The edge at the border between the bright and dark portions at the top level is the Out (the end of the first clip). The edge at the border of the bottom layer is the In (the beginning of the second clip).

You can adjust the Out or the In by dragging the yellow edge; this is called a “Ripple trim” because it only affects one side of the edit.

You can adjust both the In and the Out by dragging the thumb between the two clips; this called a “Roll trim.”

NOTE: If an edge turns red, it means that there are no more handles at that end of the clip. A lack of handles means you can make a clip shorter, but can’t make it longer.

To close the Precision Editor, press the Return or Enter key. While the Precision Editor is great for teaching trimming, it is less helpful in the hurly-burly of trimming real-life projects.


You can trim one side of an edit point by dragging an edge with the Arrow tool.

NOTE: Don’t click directly on the edit point, just really, really close to it. (You won’t hurt anything if you do, but you may not select the edge you want.)

NOTE: No clips to the left of an edit point are affected by trimming. Only the edit point itself and any clips to the right are moved.

To trim both the In and the Out at the same time, use the Trim tool.

Trimming via dragging works great and most of us use it a lot. But, sometimes, you need something faster, or more specialized. Here are a variety of other techniques that you can use to speed your trimming.

There are only three edges we can adjust during trimming: the In, the Out or both. That doesn’t change. What does change are the techniques we use to adjust them.


Let’s see how we can use the keyboard to trim, instead of the mouse.

NOTE: You don’t need to select the clip prior to trimming, just the edit point you want to adjust.

When I am in a hurry and need to trim something in small amounts, I find myself using comma/period a lot. When I want to make big adjustments, I’ll use timecode, which I will explain shortly.

NOTE: You can always select an edit point using the mouse, but this section was talking about keyboard shortcuts.


When you are in a hurry, and who isn’t?, here’s a very fast way to trim the top and tail of a clip.

You do NOT need to select the clip prior to trimming, simply put the playhead inside the clip at the location you want.

NOTE: If the skimmer is turned on, all trimming will be set to the position of the skimmer. If the skimmer is turned off, all trimming is set to the position of the playhead. Because I never remember to check the skimmer position in the Timeline, I always turn skimming off when trimming.

You can also use the Range tool (type R) to select a range within a single clip (not across multiple clips).

Then, type Option + to trim to the selection.

UPDATE – Sept. 22, 2014

A reader sent me the following, which makes a good point.

There is one big benefit to using the skimmer: Trimming the start and end of a clip. Using Trim Start and Trim End with the skimmer is a really fast way to edit under pressure. Getting used to the skimmer takes some practice and doesn’t really have an exact match in any other NLE — some come close, but are not as fast and fluid — so it is really worth the effort to learn. I think this is one of the reasons many internationally-well-known news teams like Final Cut Pro X so much.

You are right that when you are playing the clip and just hit Stop, the playhead provides a very concrete way to find the trim. But if you are cutting visually, like to the beginning or end of an action or soundbite, then the skimmer is the way to go.

Larry adds: I have a love/hate relationship with the skimmer: I love it in the Browser but hate it in the Timeline. However, my editing doesn’t generally involve trimming the heads and tails of a clip. This approach is much faster than using the playhead.


All trimming starts by selecting the edit point we want to adjust. Whether you select the edit point using the mouse or the keyboard, choose the In, Out, or both.

Then, using either the keypad or the numbers on your keyboard type:

Plus followed by a number moves the selected edit point that many frames to the right. Minus followed by a number moves the selected edit point that many frames to the left.

NOTE: You don’t need to use punctuation. Type “10” moves the selected edit point ten frames. Type “110” moves it one second and ten frames. Type “10110” moves it one minute one second and ten frames.

Also, FCP can do the math for you. If your project is 30 frames per second, typing “40” moves the selected edit point one second and ten frames. If your project is 60 frames per second, typing “40” moves it 40 frames.


So far, all the trimming we’ve been doing trims both the video and audio equally. But, many times, we want to trim audio and video different amounts. We can and here’s how.

To separate the audio from the video, either double-click the audio waveforms in the Timeline or select the clips you want to separate and type Control + S (or choose Clip > Expand Audio / Video).

Just as you can drag the combined audio and video edit point, you can drag either the audio or video edit point individually. It works the same way.

Just as you can use keyboard shortcuts to select and trim an edit point, you can use different keyboard shortcuts to select the audio and video sides of an edit point:

NOTE: If the two audio edges are not touching when you type Shift + , FCP selects one audio edge and the opposite video edge to enable the Roll trim.

Once you have the appropriate edge selected (audio, video or both), you trim using the same keyboard shortcuts we covered earlier: variations on comma/period or timecode.


Another very cool feature is the ability to trim in real-time; that is, while watching playback.

NOTE: You can also do this by stopping playback and positioning the playhead and it works great. But doing it in real-time is more fun and, many times, yields smoother results in action sequences.

Again, this starts by selecting the edit point you want to trim.

NOTE: I find I am more accurate trimming audio by watching waveforms and trimming by dragging while watching waveforms. This allows me to take advantage of sub-frame trimming in FCP X. While I get smoother video edits during action by trimming in real-time using the technique I am describing here.

Begin playback and, when you reach the point you want to edit, type Shift + X. This instantly jumps the selected edit point to the position of the playhead. This keyboard shortcut works whether you are playing the project or have positioned the playhead exactly where you want the new edit to be placed.

NOTE: In Final Cut Pro 7, we could only use an Extend Edit (which is what this technique is called) when doing a Roll trim. In FCP X, we can do an Extend Edit on any selected edit point: audio, video or both; ripple or roll trim. I find myself using this technique a lot.


Trimming in real-time is even better if you choose View > Playback > Loop Playback (shortcut: Cmd+L).  This will continuously loop playback of your project.

Next, select the edit point you want to trim in real-time and choose View > Playback > Play Around (shortcut: Shift+?)

This starts a continuous playback around your selected edit point. You can now watch, and listen, to your edit, while using Shift+X to trim the selected edit point in real-time. No worrying about frames, or dragging; just you and the edit.

Very cool.


Trimming is essential to creating a smooth story. And Final Cut Pro X provides a variety of ways to trim our clips accurately and quickly. If I missed a favorite of yours, please let me know in the comments below.

Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to FCP X: Trimming The Edit

  1. Chris Anson says:

    When I run it in continuous mode Shift X doesn’t seem to do anything. What might I be doing wrong?

    thanks, Chris

    Great article! Thanks

  2. Pavel says:

    Thanks, Larry!
    What you say about selecting edges in case of J or L cut with expand audio/video view? I found that I don’t can select both video and audio edges simultaneously.
    If I collapse audio/video, then select edge, then expand audio/video (I want to see what happens with my cuts) – I can trim both edges in L,J cut, but I don’t see yellow cut edges – is it a bag? I would to have an option that I can select audio and video edges simultaneously in expanded mode view.

    • LarryJ says:


      An interesting question – so I just tested this.

      When the audio and video are collapsed, selecting an edge of the edit point selects both audio and video.

      When the audio and video are expanded, you can only select the video or the audio edge, but not both. And an asynchronous edit (selecting the audio edge of one clip and the video edge of the other clip) are not supported.

      This means that if you want to see waveforms and trim both audio and video together, you need to adjust the display settings of clips in the Timeline using the “Clip Switch” icon in the lower right corner.


  3. alberto says:

    ciao Harry, if import in FCPX at 720p 100fps which is the best video properties to create a new project and editing all the frames?

    • LarryJ says:


      Assuming you want the 100 fps video to run in slow motion. Create a 720p project – or simply use the Automatic settings – then select the clip you want to run in slowmo and choose Clip > Retime > Automatic speed.


  4. Kit Laughlin says:

    Larry, you wrote:

    “Type [ to select the Out — type ] to select the In — or type to select both”

    I’ve only had one coffee – but *what* do we type to select both?

    Cheers, KL

    • Larry Jordan says:


      OK, well, yeah. Its somewhat obtuse.

      According to the Final Cut > Preferences panel:

      [ selects the left edge
      ] selects the right edge
      \ selects both

      However, they don’t work on my system. Your results may vary.


      Option + [ trims the left edge to the position of the playhead / skimmer
      Option + ] trims the right edge to the position of the playhead / skimmer
      Option + \ trims to the selected range.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Larry Recommends:

FCPX Complete

NEW & Updated!

Edit smarter with Larry’s latest training, all available in our store.

Access over 1,900 on-demand video editing courses. Become a member of our Video Training Library today!


Subscribe to Larry's FREE weekly newsletter and save 10%
on your first purchase.