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photoshop ACTIONS

How to use and write Actions for batch processing and

for use in the Photoshop Workflow.
Intermediate/advanced level tutorial Gry Garness 2005-08


Actions are a delight for those who want computers to behave the way we always dreamed they would.
A sequence of events can be set in motion by hitting a single button. An Action can be applied to a whole
batch of images while you take a coffee-break.

Some Actions require your attention, but you cant beat automation for speed and efficiency. A whole
image workflow can be recorded as an Action, which pushes events fast-forward. Actions also speed up the
actual processing, because in accelerated mode it doesnt have to wait for screen redraws. Some Photoshop
users think that Actions are only useful when batch processing. I would say they are even more useful for
the trivial 5-step tasks you do10-20 times per hour. Tools can be inserted in Actions, and you can specify
brush sizes and colour if you use tool Presets. Its also possible to record a step back or forwards in the
History palette, allowing for use of the History Brush. You can even make new documents as part of an
Action, and copy between documents. If an image workflow is repeated again and again, it makes sense to
record the whole thing, setting access to dialogue boxes along the way, so the only thing you do is to make
decisions on the actual image processing. If a client workflow has to be repeated on more than 3 images, I
write an action for it, knowing it will save me lots of time and save me from total boredom.

Initially, there is a bit of a learning curve when it comes to Actions. The main pointers are covered in this
tutorial, yet the more complex use of Actions is only covered in my individual training sessions, where I also THE TWO DIFFERENT VIEWS OF THE ACTIONS PALETTE
write custom Actions for my training clients. The List Mode (right) is the only view where you can record
and edit Actions. In this view you can get a detailed list of the
contents of the Actions, down to the precise details of any
given command, or the numerical formula for a colour. Here
WHAT ARE ACTIONS? THE DEFAULT PHOTOSHOP ACTIONS you can also load and save sets of Actions.
Photoshop Actions can be long or short Photoshop comes with a set of Default Actions. Some are useful,
automated tasks containing single recorded but the best Actions are the ones we custom-build ourselves. You The Button View (left) is very simple. Its designed so you can
steps that can be played/applied to other can use the default Actions to explore how they work, bearing just press a button to play. The Action will run just as in List
images. Those Actions that dont need in mind that some of them are image-specific and designed for Mode, but you cant see the progression of the steps here. It
attention from the user can also be run in Adobes Classroom in a Book. To be honest, I usually start fresh, works best if youre a frequent user of Actions but not one
several images in a Batch Process. Some by unloading these Actions, looking at the individual needs of who tinkers too much with them. To switch between the List
other Applications have similar automated the Photoshop user, and designing some Actions that will suit view and the Button view, go to the Actions Palette submenu
functions, called Macros. their workflow. and then choose Button Mode.
gry garness 2007 All rights reserved. No unauthorized copying or reproduction of this tutorial or its content.
Theres a Play arrow which will also
let you pause. Theres the familiar If youve been given a set
square Stop button which can arrest of Actions, you should place
both playing or recording. This mode them in the Photoshop
is very useful when you have to abort Actions folder, and load
an action and resume it at a particular them through the Actions
step. This can happen by accident or Palette submenu. Actions youve written yourself arent actually saved until you save them. You
by design, so even if youre just a cant save an individual Action only a SET of Actions. My sets are typically SIMPLE ACTIONS,
casual user of Buttons, you should RETOUCHING ACTIONS, BATCH ACTIONS, CLIENT ACTIONS... you get the jist. Its usually best
be aware of the possibility. Its also to save them in the Photoshop Actions folder.
possible to turn off one or more step
by unticking it. If you have a defined BATCH PROCESSING
sharpening Action but you find you You can apply an action to the
need access to the dialogue box, you contents of a folder or selected
can click in the Modal Control field. files chosen in Adobe Bridge. Go to
File>Automate>Batch and choose
PLAYING AN ACTION IN BUTTON A the Set, and then an Action to
MODE is simple. For Actions that use. Choose the folder you want
demand your attention, it will open to apply it to. Remember that the
up dialogue boxes, just as when B Action youre using must not contain
playing in List Mode. If an Action steps where you need to open up
has a built-in Stop, or you arrest the To the left of A is an indicator that the dialog boxes or work on individual
Action yourself, the button will turn images. Batch Actions can contain a
Action contains Modal Controls.
red. This is to remind you to resume built-in Save command. This relies
B is a Modal Control box.
at the step where it left off. on the condition that the folder
that its assigned to save images
USING HOTKEYS for Actions means to actually exists, and is in exactly
you dont even need to have the the same place on the computer as
Actions Palette visible. The hotkeys when it was written.
use the function keys. A typical
hotkey would be F2 or F3+Shift or Destination: None leaves the
even F6+Command+Shift. Does it images open unless youve included CONDITIONS
sound complicated? It really isnt. a Save in the action. If youve recorded an Open step into
You assign one hotkey at a time, for Save and Close overwrites the file the Action (which is usually pointless)
an Action you use often, and then in its original folder. you must tick Override Action Open.
learn to work with it until it becomes Folder lets you browse to a Otherwise the same file opens again and
second nature. You gradually add destination folder. again! Include All Subfolders is a no-
hotkeys to more oft-used Actions. You brainer. Suppress File Open Dialogs will
can also consider assigning a Shift or ignore the RAW Converter dialogue box
Command variation of a hotkey to a and use default values for all. Suppress
variation of the Action, as seen in the Colour Profile Warnings will ignore all
examples here (on the Buttons). profile conflicts.

gry garness 2007 All rights reserved. No unauthorized copying or reproduction of this tutorial or its content.
1. We are going to record a flexible
Photoshop can record the selecting of Healing Brushes,
Action. Make sure you have an Brush/Pencil, Clone Stamp, Red-Eye, Color
RGB image open, and the Actions When recording, theres no need to rush, as the recording of Actions is Replacement, History Brush, Eraser, Blur/Sharpen/
Palette displayed in List Mode. not time sensitive. Many steps can be recorded by executing the actual Smudge and Dodge/Burn/Sponge Tools. It wont record
Also make sure that the Layers command, such as flatten image But if a command contains specific values,
a tool as an action step if its already active. Make a habit
Palette is displayed, as were its better to insert it as a Menu Item. Recording Actions is like going
of having the neutral Hand Tool active before you start
going to use it for this Action. Im through the motions. Dont always expect to get the finished result on the
assuming that you are familiar with recording. If you forget, you can cheat by clicking on the
file youre recording on, but see it as a time-investment. If it takes 5 minutes
Adjustment Layers and Blending to write an Action, itll probably save you half an hour on the rest of the job. Hand Tool and then on the tool you wish to include.
Modes. If not, do a quick brush-up I have to admit I constantly tinker with the Actions, and theyre always
on how to do them, as we will be evolving. If a step doesnt work rewrite the step. RECORDING MENU COMMANDS AS MENU ITEMS
using both here, albeit in a very If you record directly from the Menu, and try to record
basic way. without changing the values of e.g. Image Size, it wont
actually be recorded. Only changes are recorded. For an
2. You can either choose an existing Action to suit all images, use Insert>Menu Item.
set or click on the Create New Set THE FOLLOWING WAYS:
icon at the bottom of the Actions SAVING ACTIONS
palette. Name it BW CONVERT Although the Actions are visible in the Actions Palette,
As Actions from the List View they arent automatically saved. Its not possible to save a
ACTIONS. I generally recommend
naming the sets in UPPER CASE so single Action, but a Set can be saved. In the Standard view
As Buttons mode, highlight the Set you want to save and choose Save
you can clearly see your own sets.
The List Mode always looks quite Actions from the palette sub-menu. Actions are saved in:
Using hotkeys Applications>Adobe Photoshop>Presets>Photoshop Actions.
busy and its not always easy to
distinguish whats what. In File>Automate>Batch EDITING AN ACTION
3. Click on the Create New Action Record Again overwrites the selected steps, while Start
Make Droplets to put on the desktop Recording will let you add steps. Be careful of which one
button and name the action or as a way of giving an action to you choose here. For Start Recording, highlight the previous
Flexible BW Conversion. If you others. step. To overwrite a step, highlight the one you want to
think youll use this Action often,
change. To delete a step, simply drag it to the palette
you can assign a Function Key In the File>Scripts>Image Processor wastebasket.
(this can also be done later). You
can also give it a button colour.
You can use colours to differentiate
When you need an action to pause for some hands-on
between the types of Actions. I use
work, a Stop can be inserted. Use Allow Continue for more
grey for all my SIMPLE ACTIONS.
flexibility. You can put a message or reminder in the Stop.
The colour must be set for each
Press Play again when you want to resume recording, or if
individual Action.
in Button Mode, click the button again.
3. You are now ready to go, and
youll see a red recording button at
is fine, but when youre recording and playing them, make
the bottom of the palette. Make a sure there are no other documents open, as this causes total
Hue Saturation Adjustment Layer confusion.
gry garness 2007 All rights reserved. No unauthorized copying or reproduction of this tutorial or its content.
and drag the Hue to +1. Click OK. Change the USING MODAL CONTROLS
Blending Mode to Color. Make yet another Some Actions are written with fixed values
Hue Saturation Adjustment Layer, and drag for menu commands (such as a particular
the Saturation slider all the way to the left, sharpening or image size) while others need
to desaturate the image. to be controlled on an image-by-image basis.
Access to dialogue boxes through Modal
4. Go to the first (lowest) H/S layer and Control can be set in the Actions Palette,
double-click it, changing the Hue to 0 (zero). even when an Action has been recorded with
Click OK. Tick the Modal Control box of this a particular value. Click in the square field
step (the empty box to the left of the step) in between the action step and the tick-box
the Actiona Palette. and a grey modal control box appears. Youll
notice that a box appears beside the name of
5. Click the square STOP button to finish. the Action, indicating that the Action contains
at least one step that requires your attention.
6. The Action can now be tested on a different An action used for batch processing must
RGB image, by highlighting the Action and not rely on any such steps at all. If the box is
pressing the PLAY button in the standard list red, it indicates that an action contains some
mode. Its good practice to always test out an modal commands but also some steps where
Action on another image, preferably one you the modal control box is not enabled.
can afford to make mistakes on!
The way this Action is written In the first Action we wrote here you wont
opens up the Hue/Sat dialog, see the opening and value changes of the two
so you can play with the adjustment layers. It happens so fast that you
Hue slider. Using the Hue wont see it. Turning the modal control on for
slider on a colorful image the re-setting (double-clicking) of the lowest
will give you a sliding scale adjustment layer is why it opens ready for
of different interpretations you to play around with.
of the image in BW. This is
a very useful Action which RECORDING ADJUSTMENT LAYERS You
often gives great results. may have noticed that we made just a small
change to the first adjustment layer, and
then re-set it back to zero when double-
clicking it. If we hadnt put in any values in
the first adjustment layer, it simply wouldnt
have recorded, because it doesnt see any
actual changes. This is a typical Actions quirk.
You get past it by cheating - in this instance
putting in a small value. When the before-
value needs to be neutral (as in normal Levels
and Curves) you can re-record the step. This
is one of the many small refinements I teach
my 1-1 students. I also show you how to
bypass the dialogue boxes that adjustments
tend to throw at us.
gry garness 2007 All rights reserved. No unauthorized copying or reproduction of this tutorial or its content.
I often divide my workflows into two distinct Insert>Menu Item can be a bit frustrating, as its not actually doing
stages. The first stage includes the colour what youre recording. But just accept that it will run smoothly
adjustments, and leads up to the retouching. once you actually play it. In some cases youll have to stop the
The retouching is usually a longer process
where I tend to use lots of shorter actions to various WAYS OF recording after inserting a Menu Item, perform the actual step,
and then resume recording. Writing an Action can be a bit like
save time. When the retouching is done, and swimming on dry land.
you have saved a Master File, another part
of the workflow comes into play, as there
are several boring steps to do. Well record
a Finishing workflow here. Make sure you
USING ACTIONS I tend to name SETS in upper case and Actions in lower case. It
makes it easier to distinguish the two when using them.
have a saved, layered (and non-precious)
file open, and make sure Actions Palette is CONFLICT
in in List Mode. Highlight the SET where you Function keys can sometimes run into conflict with those of your
want to place the Action, or create a new set. computers own, or even with Photoshops own hotkeys. They are
Mine is called WORKFLOWS. Then press the a handy extra, but by no means a necessary feature.
New Action button and call it Duplicate
Finishing. For the following steps its very RECORDING A TOTAL WORKFLOW
important that you follow the tutorial to the Workflow recordings need to be tested and tweaked on at least
letter, and dont get distracted doing other couple of different images. Alternatively you can record every step
things in-between the steps. as an individual Action, perhaps combining steps that naturally
belong together. This way you can click yourself through a whole
1. In the Menu, go to Image>Duplicate and workflow. Its not as quick, but youll have control. Its amazing how
tick Duplicate Merged Layers Only. This
much time we spend mousing up to the menu to find the correct
will give a copy document. Dont change the
name. command. Bypassing the tedious tasks with a simple click lets you
spend more time on the creative stuff.
2. Click on the layered document, and close it
down. It should have been saved before you ACTION OPTIONS will let you edit the button colour, function key
start, so shouldnt wont ask you to save. and name, even after youve written the Action. Playback Options
lets you choose between accelerated, step by step and pause
3. Back in the new document, go to the
Actions Palette flyout menu (CS2 and play. I really recommend Accelerated, as that makes the steps fly
earlier versions) or (new CS3 interface) by. This is set by default.
and choose Insert Menu Item. A box will
appear, saying that you havent chosen a DROPLETS are icons that you can drag and drop a file on, and it
menu item. Thats correct, so you now need runs and Action. Usually they can sit on the computer desktop. To
to navigate in the menu to Image>Image make a droplet, you must have an Action thats been written and
Size. We do it this way, rather than to record tested. Go to File>Automate> Create Droplet and decide where
the Image Size directly, because we have to
you want the droplet saved.You then pick the appropriate Action.
record it with neutral values.
Note that if you change an Action, the droplet wont update with
the changes. You then need to create a new droplet.
gry garness 2007 All rights reserved. No unauthorized copying or reproduction of this tutorial or its content.
4. Go to File>File Info in the Menu. Scroll from you to skip this step in case you havent got any extra
Unknown to Copyrighted and type a copyright Paths and Channels. If you have saved selections,
symbol and your name in the field. You can also they will be stored in the form of alphacahnnels in
put the current year, and your website URL. Dont the Channels Palette. The action will let you take a
fill in any data about the specific image. Click OK break to go there and delete them. The Paths Palette
stores any paths that may have been made with the
5. Before we sharpen, we need to zoom the image to Pen Tool. See also the Pen Tool/Paths tutorial on www.
100% view. We cant record this directly, as its not
something thats actually applied to the image just a
view. So it needs to be inserted as a Menu Item. Go to 10. To record a Save step without any fixed values,
the Palette submenu and choose Insert Menu Item. go to Insert Menu Item on the palette flyout menu,
Ignore the silly message, and go straight to the menu, and choose File>Save. This will always open up a
choosing View> Actual Pixels, then click OK. new dialogue box, because its a brand new file.

6. Well use the Unsharp Mask for sharpening here, 11. Stop the Action for a moment, by pressing the
but feel free to use any other sharpening method square STOP button at the bottom of the palette,
you can access in Photoshop, if you commonly and save the file on the desktop. Note that the file
use something else. Here well go directly to wasnt actually saved when you inserted the Menu Item.
Filter>Sharpen>Unsharp Mask and set a starting
value. I have a benchmark value of Amount 200, 12. Start the Action recording again, by pressing
Radius 0.6 and Threshold zero. Dial this (or whatever the round RECORD button.
you prefer as your benchmark) and click OK. Dont
worry about whether this amount of sharpening is 13. Finally here comes the last step in the recording.
right for the current image. See also the Sharpening Simply close the image. This actually gets recorded.
tutorial and Sharpening tips on You should not be prompted to save, as you have
downloads.htm already saved just before.

7. Set a Modal Control box left of this item in the 14. Now STOP the recording.
Actions Palette, to gain access to the USM dialogue
box when you play the action later. Can you handle another small refinement? Id like to re-
record a single step within this Action the File Info. I do
8. A small finesse comes next. To prevent the this for two reasons. Firstly, Id like to record this step on
sharpening from changing the hue or saturation of a file that contains no other metadata. Secondly, to show
the pixels, well go to Edit> Fade Unsharp Mask and you how to re-record a step, as follows:
leave it at 100% but scroll the Mode from Normal to Open a totally new blank document with File>New.
Luminosity. Highlight the Set File Info step in the Action list,
and go to the Actions flyout menu to choose Record
9. Now well insert a reminder to self, for something Again. This will automatically take you to File Info,
important but easy to forget. Go to the Actions Palette where you start from scratch. Thats it! This will
flyout menu and choose Insert Stop. Write in the overwrite the previous File Info, and wont include
field: Remove Paths and Alpha-Channels and any camera metadata or other metadata in the Info.
then click the Allow Continue button. This will allow Now.... youre really done!

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