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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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?
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.