Creating actions in Photoshop is a great way to expedite your workflow. You may find that you often perform the same, monotonous task over and over on multiple images when retouching. Instead of taking the time out of your busy day to add each and every individual adjustment or tweak your layers to the inth degree, why not perform all of those individual steps with the press of a single button? That’s the thought process that drives Photoshop’s Actions feature.
Actions allow Photoshop users to record a string of Photoshop edits that can be performed in a specific order. While the default Photoshop actions leave much to be desired, creating your own actions (that meet your specific Photoshop needs) is as easy as pressing a button.
Creating An Action In Photoshop
To create a Photoshop action, you first must open the Actions panel. All panels can be found in the Windows menu at the top of the screen. If your Photoshop workspace doesn’t already display the Actions panel (which looks like a play symbol when docked to its icon), click on the Window menu and select “Actions.”
At the bottom of the Actions panel, you will want to first create a folder for your new set of actions. This will help you to keep your actions organized and easy to find, export, or rearrange.
- Click on the “Create new set” icon at the bottom of the Actions panel and then name your set. Photoshop refers to folders/groups of actions as “sets.” You are now ready to begin creating your first action.
- Click on the “Create new action” icon at the bottom of the Actions panel. The “New Action” window will pop up and allow you to give your action a name, function key, or even assign it a color.
- After pressing “Record,” Photoshop will record every adjustment, movement or selection that you create.
- Perform all of the steps necessary to achieve the desired result you are looking for with your action.
- When finished, click on the “Stop playing/recording” button at the bottom of the Actions panel.
If you find that your action needs some fine-tuning after recording, you can still adjust it.
For example, if there is a step in your action that doesn’t always work, click on the carot next to the name of your action to display all of the individual steps contained within.
Find the step that is causing problems (a good way to do this is to click “stop” on the pop-up message that displays when an action has an error), select it and click on the “Delete” button at the bottom of the Actions panel. If you need to add something to an action at a specific point, click on one of the individual action steps and press the “Begin recording” button. Photoshop will begin recording your new steps and place them after the step you had selected before pressing the “Begin recording” button.
There are a few best practices when it comes to creating actions to ensure that your action performs smoothly:
- Record and play actions on flattened images with just a background layer. Actions need layer names in order to work correctly, and the only way to make sure that two images will have the same layer names throughout an action is to both record and play actions on flattened images. Alternatively, if you don’t want to record an action on a flattened image, you can perform your steps by using the Layer and Select menus to create and adjust layers instead of clicking on layers in the Layers panel.
- Only perform adjustments that affect the entirety of a layer. Functions that only affect a portion of a layer (i.e. brush strokes, cropping, etc…) will most likely be incorrect when played on an image other than the file you originally recorded the action with.
- Plan ahead. Know what you are going to do with your action (and how you are going to do it) before you go about recording your action.
- Test it. After recording your action, play it on a variety of images to see how it performs. If you find that your action doesn’t play nice with a specific type of image, you can adjust it using the method outlined earlier in this article.
Using Third Party Actions
In addition to recording your own, Photoshop users can also install and use actions created by others. There are many websites online that sell high-quality actions that can accomplish tasks that would otherwise take hours of work in Photoshop. There are two different ways to install third party actions: the easy way and the hard way. The simplest way to install a Photoshop action is to download the .atn file and double click it. After double-clicking the file, the actions are automatically installed in Photoshop. If that method doesn’t work for whatever reason, you can also install actions through the Actions panel. To do this, first click on the fly-out menu (in the upper-right hand corner of the Actions panel), select the “Load Actions” option, and select the action file.
Not sure what to create with your newfound knowledge of Photoshop actions? Here are a couple of our most used actions just to get your creative juices flowing:
- Skin Softening
- Saving for Facebook without Compression
- High Pass Sharpening
- Film Emulation