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Jan 28

Creating a Photoshop Action

2008 at 11.28 am posted by Veerle Pieters

Are you in the mood for some Action? I’m talking Photoshop Actions :) They are the perfect solution to handle tasks with one click. An Action is a recording of several Photoshop operations and commands. Once the Action is created, one click is all it takes and the task will be excecuted. It’s very powerful, can save you heaps of time and it’s actually not that hard to create. Oh and before someone asks, this tutorial is written for version CS3. Certain things might be different in previous Photoshop versions.

In my previous article I talked about how you can apply a vintage look on a photo. Someone pointed out, "Wonderful technique. I stumbled across something sort of similar a while ago but it’s too time consuming to keep on applying" Yes, good point of course. I have to confess, I have this effect recorded in an Action, but my tutorial was all about the process on how to create this effect. The surprise that people didn't know about Actions gave me the idea for today's tutorial: how to create an Action for this effect, or better how to record an Action. We'll also look at a few options you can do or add to your Action and how to save it.

Creating an Action

Step 1 : Create New Action

Open a photo where you want to apply the vintage effect on. First make sure the image is on a separate layer on top of the background layer. You could use command/control + j to duplicate it in a new layer. Open up the Actions palette. If it's not visible on your screen, go to Window > Actions. First click the folder icon Create New Set at the bottom of the palette to create your own set of Actions. Name the Set My Actions or any other name you think is better. Now click the Create New Action icon at the bottom of the palette. Name the Action Vintage Effect and hit Record.

Creating a Photoshop Action

Step 2 : Record the Action

Notice that the red record button in the Action palette is pushed or being active. Every Photoshop handling is now recorded into the Action. Now execute all handlings explained in the Phototshop Vintage Effect article. While doing this, take your time, there is no need to rush. Photoshop only records your actions and commands. The speed in how you perform this doesn't matter. When you're done click the Stop button in the Action palette. The Action is now stored in the palette in the 'My Actions' Set.

Record a Photoshop Action

Adding a Pause to an Action

What if there is one command in the action that you've recorded that is different for each individual image? For instance you need to make a selection and for each image this selection is different. This is something you can add after the Action is recorded. For example if I want to add a pause for applying the Curves, then I need to toggle the dialogue function on next to the Curves 'Make adjustement layer' action (see picture below).

Adding a Pause to a Photoshop Action

If you play the action now, it'll pause on the Curves Ajustement Layer. The settings will already be executed, but you'll get the option to tweak this if needed. After you hit the OK button, the other commands will be executed till the end. Of course this is not a perfect example to build a pause, because you'll be able to edit the Curves afterwards anyway. It's an Adjustemet Layer after all. This function can be handy if you need to crop or resize an image and this differs from image to image. In other words, tasks that are impossible to make them fully automated.

Adding a dialogue box

Another feature for certain tasks that can't be automated is the Insert Menu Item option. This action feature is pretty handy in case you want to insert for example an Open > File dialogue box or if you want to change the Canvas Size and you need to enter the size manually because it's different for each image.

Adding a dialogue box to a Photoshop Action

During recording, you go to the Action palette's Menu Options (at the top right) and choose Insert Menu Item. You'll get a dialogue box telling you to select a menu item using the mouse. Go to File > Open or Image > Canvas Size. You now see Menu Item: File:Open or Menu Item: Image:Canvas Sizeappearing in the dialogue box. Click OK. When you play the Action you'll get the Open or Canvas Size dialogue box where you can open a file or change the Canvas Size to your liking.

Saving Actions as files

By default your Actions are saved in the Action palette. Which means they're not permanently saved on your HD. If you accidentally delecte them then they are gone permanently. Therefor it's always best to save your Actions. This way it's also possible to share your Actions with other people. To save an Action you need to select the Action Set (folder icon), go to the Menu Options and select Save Actions.... When you want to use this Action again you go the Menu Options again and choose Load Actions... browse to the Actions file and click OK. Now the Action Set appears in the palette and you are good to go.

Saving Photoshop Actions as files

I've used Actions a couple of times for the Features & Activity projects I worked on for The Learning Page for The Library of Congress. The group of people I worked with used my Photoshop files to create graphical updates. To ease the task for them and because they only know the basics of Photoshop, I simply recorded a set of Actions for them to use. This gave them more independency for website updates where some Photoshop work was involved.

Want to learn more?

VECTORTUTS+ Vector Tutorials and More A good and not expensive source to learn more about Illustrator, Photoshop, or web design is by joining the Tuts+ sites. You get access to the source files for just $9 a month. So your ONE membership gives you access to members-only content for ALL the Plus sites. I've written a tutorial for the Vector Tuts section.




permalink this comment Gordon Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 12.04 pm

Ain’t the internet great!

Many MANY thanks for this, I’m still getting to grips with PhotoShop (had it for years and only really now starting to see how powerful it is).

The time you’ve taken to share your knowledge is very much appreciated.



permalink this comment Christopher Hill Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 12.45 pm

Nice article.

I always find actions very useful when doing repetitive tasks; such as changing the co-ordinates of elements by a wee bit so it creates a gradually moving effect.



permalink this comment tobolka Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 12.45 pm

Oh my god this is fantastic, I never knew it, thanks, you are great!



permalink this comment Morty Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 01.57 pm

Action are a great tool, I didn’t know about the toggle dialog, that’s useful. I use it a lot when I’m optimizing some large folders of photos for web. I just make automatic level, resize and also save for web (all have the same quality, tha same folder - but don’t change the name - let it be!) and finaly close. So then I can open 10 photos in a row and with just easy cliking on play save them optimized. That saves time a lot. I just need two actions - for portrait & landscape.



permalink this comment Damjan Mozetič Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 03.43 pm

Of course the power of actions is so much greater when you use them with the File->Automate->Batch… command to repeat the action N times.

Nice article, like always.



permalink this comment Ben Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 05.22 pm

Isn’t there a way to create a “droplet” icon where you can drag an image or multiple images onto the icon and have it perform these actions as well? Seems to me I did that a while ago, but I’ve forgotten how.



permalink this comment Tyrus Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 05.27 pm

I’m curious why you didn’t go one step further and simply create the droplet as that is why the action pallet is there in the first place?

BTW, great links page - how long did it take to compile that list of bookmarks the hard way?



permalink this comment Haree Tue Jan 29, 2008 at 07.34 am

Thank you very much. I used Actions panel many times, created a few actions for special purposes as well. But I never tried to insert menu items. Now I will try.



permalink this comment Lauree Wed Jan 30, 2008 at 01.30 pm

what photoshop version do you use?



permalink this comment Niels Goos Wed Jan 30, 2008 at 01.45 pm

Nice tutorial about Photoshop actions. Cool that you actually can edit the actions. Thanks for this tip.



permalink this comment Jo Thu Jan 31, 2008 at 12.38 am

Wow, this is cool! I didn´t know this feature but it will save me a lot of time in the future! Thanks!



permalink this comment firewalker Thu Jan 31, 2008 at 04.19 am

This is great, Veerle. Do you share your action files too?



permalink this comment Veerle Thu Jan 31, 2008 at 09.08 am

Lauree said:

what photoshop version do you use?

it’s in the article “Oh and before someone asks, this tutorial is written for version CS3”

firewalker said:

Do you share your action files too?

The whole point is to create your own. I see no reason in sharing if you don’t understand what’s behind it. It’s better to learn first. Just downloading is for lazy people :)



permalink this comment Nick Sat Feb 2, 2008 at 09.37 pm

When saving files in actions, is it possible to make de filenames ‘variable’.

e.g.: test1.jpg, test2.jpg,... or similar

I use batches often but I really mis such a feature.




permalink this comment Veerle Sun Feb 3, 2008 at 01.29 pm

Nick said:

When saving files in actions, is it possible to make de filenames ‘variable’.

Unless I am missing something I really don’t see the point of doing this when saving the action. If you want that behavior you’re better off with file > automate > batch because there you have the filenames variable and all the options.



permalink this comment anna Tue Feb 19, 2008 at 01.21 am

Nice tutorial.
Unfortunately, I understand the instructions not quite right because my English. Not very good, but I will probably have to try it.

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