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August 28, 2007

How to Create Photoshop Actions

Automating Actions in Photoshop

Time for another Photoshop lesson, this time one on how to use Photoshop’s "Actions".

Back in July I posted this tutorial on creating picture frames with Photoshop. Let’s say you have lots of photos that you want to frame. You can do them one by one, and actually, once you remember the steps in my previous lesson, it doesn’t take too long to make the frame around your photo. But why waste precious time when you can automate these steps with Photoshop!

Photoshop has a feature called “Actions” that allows you to record the steps you take while working on a photo; later you can play back the same actions on any other photo. If you’re an expert with Excel and Word you will recognize this feature as a “macro recorder”.

An important step you need to take to successfully use Photoshop Actions for framing your photos is to start out by sizing consistently the photos you are going to run the "framing action set" against otherwise your frames will be all over the place if your photos are different sizes - the play back of the framing steps will work well only if you are playing them back with a photo that is the same size as the one your recorded the steps from.

Since photos are rarely square they will have an orientation of “portrait” or “landscape” so you will need to record two separate action sets; one to take care of photos with a portrait orientation, and another to frame photos with a portrait orientation. I typically prepare my photos for my photoblog from 8x10 photos and then I resize these down to a height of 500px before framing them. I don’t worry about the width since the photo will never be too wide for even the smallest 800 x 600px monitors if the height is constrained to 500px.

Having taken care of sizing your photos first, you can now move on to recording the actions for framing the photos. Here we go…

Here is the picture I am going to use to record the actions. It’s a photo of my friend Karen celebrating her recent birthday. I have sized it at 625px wide x 500px high. I’m ready to start recording.
Photo of Karen

By default, you will be on the History Palette. You need to change to the Actions palette by clicking its tab as illustrated below:
Photoshop History Palette

You’ll notice that there are already some “action sets” in the list under a folder called “Default Actions”. These come delivered with Photoshop. To start recording your own action sets you need to click the icon for “Create New Action” which I have highlighted below in yellow.
Photoshop Actions palette

Give the action a name that is meaningful. I called it “Frame 625x500px.” If you want to be able to run the action set with a shortcut key, choose one of the function keys from the dropdown list. If you do that, you will be able to run the actions by simply typing the function key at the top of your keyboard that you pick here when you have a photo open in Photoshop. I normally don’t assign a function key but it can be a good idea if you will have just a few action sets you will use often.
Photoshop New Action dialog box

Click the Record button to start recording your steps.

When you are in “Record Mode” you will see that the record button turns red . To the left is a rectangular button that will stop the recorder when you are done. (Note: If at any time you mess up badly and wish to start again, click the Stop Playing/Recording Button. Then highlight the Action Set that has the name you assigned it and click the delete icon (the trash can) and start over again. )
Photoshop actions control buttons - Start recording
Now just follow the steps I gave you for creating picture frames with Photoshop in the July post. (Note that there are actually 3 separate posts in the How to Create Frames with Photoshop tutorial: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.) When you finish all the steps click the “Stop Recording” button. Your photo will be framed and your steps in framing it will have been recorded for playback later.
Photoshop Actions control buttons - Stop Recording
That’s it for recording an Action Set in Photoshop. Now you would need to do one for a portrait orientation.

Note there is nothing magical about the size I have used – you can use whatever dimensions you want, but you just need to use a consistent size and orientation to make this work. To run the action set on other photos, size them to the size you used when you recorded the steps first and then run the Action Set.

For example, I sized this photo of Milford Sound to 625 x 500px just like the photo of Karen I used when recording the actions above. Note on the actions palette that the “Frame 625x500px” set I just recorded is expanded so that each individual action is showing in a list.
Photoshop action set expanded

You can close it up by scrolling up to the top of the set and then closing the tree:
Photoshop action set collapsed

Click the triangle and the set will close like this:
Photoshop Action set playback control

To run the Action set on the open photo I just have to click the Play button (make sure the Action set you want to run is selected by clicking it first before clicking the run button – it will be gray when it is selected).
Photoshop action set playback on photo
Hey presto! Framed in about 1 second or less, depending on how fast your computer is.
Framed photo after running recorded Photoshop actions

Note: You can delete any individual steps or change the values for the individual steps in the list by clicking them and typing over the values or clicking delete. Your changes will be applied just to the individual step you have highlighted. It’s pretty easy to learn more about Actions by just playing around with them.

That’s it for my tutorial on how to create action sets in Photoshop. This is a great utility tool that will greatly increase your productivity in Photoshop. You can use if for any sets of actions that are repeatable with the same values.

(c) John Corney 2007

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