How to use Photoshop Actions (Just the
This Tip is intended to be a very basic introduction for people wanting to learn
how to use actions in Photoshop.
Using Photoshop actions can make your life easier and help you edit your photos
more quickly. Basically, actions are nothing more than a series of normal
Photoshop operations recorded so you can run them in sequence quickly, without
having to remember just what steps to do, and in what order.
|Here's what the Actions Window looks like. If you don't see it when
you have Photoshop open, you can make it visible by choosing
Window/Actions from the main Photoshop menu.
In most cases, you don't want to click either
the checkmark or the rectangle on the left side of the window
(see Checkmarks and Rectangles below)
|Actually, there is one other way the Actions Window can appear, if
you are using "Button Mode."
In this mode, all the actions appear as buttons. You can switch between
modes using the menu that pops up when you click the little right-arrow
in the upper-right corner.
|To turn Button Mode on or off, just click "Button Mode" in the menu
to check or uncheck it.
Let's assume that we want to run one of the frame actions from
|One easy way to load an action is to use drag-and-drop
with your mouse:
- Open Photoshop and open the folder that contains the Photoshop
action that you want to load, and position the two windows
- Click the action file (the one ending in ".atn") and while
holding down the mouse button, drag the action to the Photoshop
- Release the mouse button. You will now find the action in the
|Another way to load an action is to use the menu in the actions
window. To open the menu, click the arrow in the upper right corner.
|Then select "Load Actions..." and browse to the location on your
hard disk where the action resides. The default directory for Photoshop
actions varies depending on the version and where you installed it, but
on my system it is
C:\Program Files\Adobe\Photoshop CS\Presets\Photoshop Actions
You may have a different default directory, or you may have saved
actions in a directory other than the default directory -- just browse
to wherever they are.
First, if the action set is closed, as it is in this screen shot, you
need to click the arrow to the left of the action set name to open the
|Now that the set is open, you select the action you want to run by
clicking on the name of the action, for example
"FramedChiseledMedMatte," which will highlight the name. Then click the
"Play Selection" button at the bottom of the Actions window (it's a
The action will run, and your photo will be framed.
You can see that all of the actions above have checkmarks, and a few of
them have icons in the rectangles to the right of the checkmarks. What
do these mean?
- A checkmark to the left of a step in an action means that the
step will execute when the action is run.
- A black checkmark to the left of an action name or an action set
name means that all steps inside
- A red checkmark to the left of an action name or an action set
name means that only some steps
inside will execute.
- An icon in the rectangle to the left of a step in an action
means that the step will stop for your input when the action is run.
- A black icon in the rectangle to the left of an action name or
an action set name means that all
steps inside will stop for your input.
- A red icon in the rectangle to the left of an action name or an
action set name means that only some
steps inside will stop for your input.
|Again, in most cases, you don't click the
checkmarks or the rectangles. We'll see when and how to use them
when we record our own action below.
If you inadvertently click the rectangle beside the name of an action or
action set, it will add or remove the icons from every step inside, and
usually that is not a good thing. If you do that, and you have a good
copy on disk, you can always reload the action from disk.
If you want to "turn off" a step in an action, you can uncheck it. If
you uncheck an action set or action instead of a step, it turns off
everything inside -- again, that's usually not a good thing.
|Toggling Dialogs On and Off
If you want to manually control input to a single step in an action, you
can toggle on the dialog by clicking the blank rectangle beside the name
of the step:
When a dialog is toggled on, the action will stop for your input when it
gets to that step.
|If you have a series of steps you perform often, you might want to
record your own action. To do that, first decide if you want to put it
in an existing action set or if you need to create a new set. To create
a new set, open the Actions Window menu, and select "New Set."
|To record an action, open the Actions Window menu and select "New
Action," specify a name and select the Action Set you want to place it
in, and then click the "Record" button. Notice that the small circle at
the bottom of the Actions Window is now red. Now perform all the steps
you want to record, and when you are done, click the square to the left
of the red circle to stop recording.
Re-recording a Step
The easiest way to re-record a step in the action is to first turn on the dialog
for the step (see Toggling Dialogs On and Off), and then
run the action until it stops at that step to show a dialog box.
When the action shows the dialog box, click "Cancel," and then select "Record
again" from the Actions window menu.
Once you have the step recorded the way you want it, you can turn off the dialog
A Simple Example
For a (very) simple example, let's assume that you want to record an action that
will resize a landscape-oriented photo for the web and sharpen it. Let's assume
that you always want your photos to be 600 pixels wide, but that you want to
control the amount of sharpening for each photo.
- First, open a photo to work on.
- If you don't want to put this action in an existing action set, create a
new one (in this case, "PrepareForWeb").
- Start recording your action (in this case, "LandscapePhotos").
- From the main menu, use "Image/Image Size" to resize the photo and then
use "Filter/Sharpen/Unsharp Mask" to sharpen it.
- Stop recording.
|Your action now looks like this. Unfortunately, it always sharpens
the same amount, and you wanted to be able to control the amount of
sharpening for each photo. Here's where that rectangle to the left of
the Unsharp Mask step will help.
|Click the rectangle to the left of the Unsharp Mask step to put an
icon in it, and the next time you run the action, it will show you the
Unsharp Mask dialog, where you can set the amount of sharpening.
Notice that clicking the rectangle put a dark-framed icon beside the
Unsharp Mask step, and it also put red-framed icons beside the action
name and the action set name. A red-framed icon means that some, but not
all, of the steps inside an action or action set will stop for user