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Intro to Actions

Photoshop is packed full of features that any designer would love. One of my favorite things about Photoshop is the fact that it has huge time savers built right in. One of the most amazing features in Photoshop is the ability to record and reuse Actions. The concept is fairly simple. If you do a set of steps repeatedly, you can record them, save them, and later you can recall them with just a click of a button.

Recording Actions

You can download the example image below, found here. We will apply a few effects to this image, recording our steps as an action, and then I will show you how easy it is to apply an action to other images. First, we need to bring up the Actions Panel. If it isn’t already visible, go to Window> Actions.


The Actions Panel is made up of a few important sections that you’ll need to understand before you can record or use an action. The main section lists the different sets of actions. You can organize and categorize your actions, placing them in different sets and even giving them their own names. this works much like the layers Panel, with each line being an action. When you click the arrow button, the steps that make up the action are broken down, and stacked in order, much like layers. At the bottom, You have buttons to control the recording of actions. You have Stop, Record, Play/Pause, Create New Set, Create New Actions and the Trash icon.


To play any of the actions above, simply click the action name in the list to highlight it, then click the play button to apply that action to your image. The action will run the steps on its own until they are all done. Photoshop will stop the action and display a dialog box if something goes wrong. Below is an example of image with the Sepia Action performed on it.


Reverting back to our original image, you can create your own custom action by clicking the new layer style icon in the Actions Panel. A dialog box will come up, asking you what you’d like to name your action. If you have multiple folders with different Actions sets, you can select which folder that action will go into. Next, you can decide if you want to set hot keys to this action, so it can be performed with just a few key strokes. One thing that is really handy is that if you have hotkeys set up for certain actions that you use all the time, you don’t need to have the Actions Panel open in order to use them. You can also assign a color to an action to make it easy to find. Once you have set everything up, click Record to start recording your action.


As soon as you click that button, Photoshop will be recording everything that you do. If you resize the image, Photoshop records it. If you run a filter, Photoshop records it. if you add a new layer, or a new adjustment layer, Photoshop records it. While Photoshop is recording, add a new adjustment layer. I chose Photofilter and set it to a warming filter at 75% density. Leave Preserve Luminosity checked.


Next, we’ll add a couple of extra steps (you’ll see why in just a minute). Add a new layer, then delete that layer. Next, add a new Adjustment Layer and choose Exposure. Set the Exposure to -.06, the offset to +0.0084, and the Gamma Correction to 0.81. After doing all of this, click on the stop button in the Actions Panel.


I named the Action “Sunny” and you’ll find it at the bottom of the Actions Panel. You can delete parts of actions at anytime by selection the actions that you want to remove, and clicking on the Trash Can icon. If you hit delete, you’ll most likely delete the current layer in your Layers Panel. Select the Make Layer and Delete Current Layer Action Layers and click the trash can. Since they essentially did nothing, you can remove these actions without consequence. This is great, because if you make a mistake recording, you ca edit the action and remove unnecessary steps.


Saving an Action

To Save an Action, you can’t select the action you just created and save it. That won’t work. If you are creating multiple actions, save them as a new set, which places them in a folder, or within an existing set if you want to add to a set that you already have. Click on the parent folder that contains your new actions, and click the flyout menu. Choose Save Actions from the list.


A dialog box will come up, allowing to you save your Action file in the proper format. By default, Photoshop leads you to the Actions Folder found within the Presets folder in Photoshop itself. With this format, you can share your Actions with others and they can load the in their own version of Photoshop. To Load an action, click the same flyout menu that you used to save your Action. Click Load Actions and select the action file that you wish to load.

Run Your very Own Actions

Download the 2nd sample file from here. Open it in Photoshop. Running a custom Action is as simple as running a preset Action. It is actually the same. With the image open in Photoshop, go to the Actions Panel, click on the Action you want to run, and click the Play button. Photoshop will perform the action and when it is finished, the same settings you used when you recorded the action will be applied to this image. I applied the “Sunny” Action to this image and the results are shown below:


Advanced Actions in Photoshop

Of course you can run more complex actions, I am just using this as an example. You can combine a lot of steps into one action and apply it to an image. The great this is that once you create an Action, you can apply it to multiple files by running a batch. A batch is where you take a folder of images and apply the same Action to all of them. To run a batch, go to File> Automate> Batch. From there, you can select the folder where all of your source images will come from. Then, you can select which folder they will be exported to once the batch has been applied. You can also determine how to name the file once completed, as well as which Action will be applied to each image.



Actions are essential time savers that should be used my anyone that wants to save time from doing repetitive tasks. The ability to create custom actions that run filters, resize images, and more enable us to be more productive. Actions allow us to spend less time on production and more time on being creative. Imagine the time you could save by processing an entire folder full of hundreds of images just by clicking a few buttons and walking away.

Do you use Photoshop Actions? Have they saved you a lot of time? Share your experiences with Actions with us in the comments section below.