Photoshop Actions allow the user to perform complex or repetitive task at the push of a button, making your workflow move faster. As an educator, Actions allow me to setup a task for someone else who may not be proficient with Photoshop, and share that Action with them. The student can then load the Action onto their computer and Photoshop will perform that task on a kind of “auto pilot”. In the same vein, you can find and download helpful Actions without having to start from scratch. You can use it as is or modify it to suit your specific needs. In any event, Actions are a worthwhile tool for any level of Photoshop user to have in their arsenal of techniques. So let’s start by creating a simple Action in Photoshop.
First, just what are Actions? An Action is a recording of a series of commands performed by Photoshop to do a particular task. They operate much like Macros in Microsoft Office applications. In this article we’ll create a simple two step action for creating a four pixel border around an image we’ll upload to the web. So here we go. First, we have to actually record what we want the Action to do, with all the commands that will be associated with it. Let’s open an image in Photoshop that is 72 ppi (web image resolution). It doesn’t matter what its dimensions are so long as it’s 72 ppi. NOTE: Image resolution determines the visual thickness of the Stroke. Our 4 pixel stroke gets thinner as the image resolution become higher. Next, go to the Action Panel. If it isn’t open already, simply hold the Alt-F9 keys, Option-F9 on the Mac. Next, go to the upper right hand corner of the Action Panel to its drop-down menu and select, New Action. In the dialog box, give your Action a name, like “4 Pixel Border”. For now, use the Default Action Set, and choose a Function Key shortcut. For our example let’s use F3. If there’s a conflict on your system using this key Photoshop will alert you to choose another Function Key. If need be, you can use the Shift and/or Ctrl keys (Shift and/or Cmd on a Mac). You don’t need to use a Function Key but it can come in handy. Choose a Color so it is easy to find that Action in the Action Panel, but this not necessary. Okay, now click on Record, and Photoshop is ready to record the steps of your Action.
Before you start your recording, it’s a good idea to work out the steps you’ll want your Action to preform. Your speed with performing the task isn’t a factor, so you can take your time doing this. Also, if you make a mistake, just start over by clicking the Stop button on the Panel and go back to the drop down menu and select Record Again. If you’re unsure just delete the Action and start over. With our example, start by holding the Ctrl-A (Cmd-A, Mac) keys to Select All and create a marquee around the image’s edge. Next go to the Edit Menu>Stroke. When the Stroke Dialog box opens choose Width as 4 pixels, Color- Black (or any color you want), Location- Inside and click OK. Now deselect the marquee by holding the Ctrl-D (Cmd-D, Mac). Finally, click on the Stop button on the Panel to stop recording. That’s it. Now test you action by opening a new image and click the Play button or by holding the Function Key shortcut. You now have a 4 pixel border around your image.
So, what if you have folder of images and you want to put a border around all of them? The Action you just made will work, but you will have to save and close each image in the folder, which is tedious. If you don’t want to do that work, you’ll need to perform a couple of extra steps when recording this action. First, select your newly created Action in the Action Panel. Next, go to the Panel drop down and select Start Recording, Photoshop will pickup from where it left off recording. Using the image you just ran your Action on, hold Ctrl-S (Cmd-S, Mac) to save the image, and then Ctrl-W (Cmd-W, Mac) to close the image window. Finally, click the Stop button in the Action Panel to stop recording. By adding these two steps, Photoshop will now apply the Stroke Effect, save the file and close it. To apply this action to a folder, in Photoshop, go to File>Automate/Batch. In the Batch dialog, select the Action you want to use. By default Photoshop will select the last Action created. Select a Destination Folder Location, and Run the action. Photoshop will automatically open every file in the folder, run the action, and save the new file to its new folder location. You can also do the same using Bridge. Select the images you want to process, then click Tools>Photoshop/Batch and you’ll be good to go.
This demo has only scratched the surface of what Actions can do for you. Actions can be very complex and allow the user to input unique instructions and commands. You can also create scripts called Droplets that allow you to simply drop the action into a folder and have it perform repetitive tasks. So make Photoshop work for you and experiment with creating a few simple Actions. Also, begin exploring Actions created from other users by visiting the Adobe Photoshop Exchange. You’re only a Function Key away from making your Photoshop workflow smoother and easier.