Photoshop Actions – The Beginner’s Guide

BY IN Uncategorized, 2.10.2017

Photoshop is an amazing tool. It’s vast and can often be confusing but it’s brilliant.
The sheer number of options can be overwhelming initially but that is it’s power. If you can imagine it the odds are you can create it, it’s just a question of finding the relevant tool.


A feature of Photoshop that isn’t as well-known as it should be is Photoshop Actions. A recent Adobe expert review found that learning to use Photoshop Actions was the top Adobe productivity advice from a group of high level web designers, photographers and creatives.

Let’s dive in and take a look.

What Are Photoshop Actions?

Photoshop Actions is very similar to a macro in Excel. It allows you to record a series of actions in Photoshop within something called an Action. Once you have recorded an Action if you trigger it Photoshop will then carry out exactly the same set of actions automatically.

It is only worth recording an Action for repetitive tasks where it can see a huge amount of time along with your sanity if you need to carry out the same edit on (for example) 60 different images.

In addition to recording your own Actions it is also possible to download / purchase Actions from other people. For example, if you want to create a soft gradient colour layer so that your picture looks as if it was taken on a sunny afternoon, there’s no need to figure it out yourself. Simply download and use the Hazy Afternoon Action.

Generally for speed the best idea is first to check if someone else has created a free Action that does what you want to do. If they have use it. If not then you’ll need to produce your own.

Where Do I Find Other Peoples’ Photoshop Actions?

There are a number of libraries of Photoshop Actions that you can find. A great examples is here, it contains over 3,700 Actions! This one is a slightly smaller at over 500 Actions but only contains free ones.

Inevitably this can be a bit overwhelming.

Unless you are looking for a particularly unusual effect the odds are will already be an Action out there which covers what you’re looking for.

There are lots of articles giving recommendations for, for example, photographers or web designers. The best way to search for these articles and then look through their recommendations.

For example this one is a good example of one for web designers

How Do I Create My Own Photoshop Action?

Creating an Action is very simple.

The basics of creating an Action are as simple as opening the Actions panel, creating and naming a new Action and then recording your Action by clicking the button in the top right of the Actions panel.

Once you have recorded the steps that you want your Action to comprise click the Stop button and you’re done.

Checking that you Action does what you expect it to is also simple. Simply click the icon in the top right of the Actions panel and click Playback Options. This will offer you Accelerated, Step by Step and Pause For.

Confusingly, Accelerated will simply play the Action at normal speed, although this is usually too fast to follow.

Step by Step and Pause For will stop after each step of the Action and are far better for auditing an Action. Pause For obviously allows you to set how long it stops for before resuming whereas Step by Step simply waits until you click before resuming.

Remember not everything can be included in an Action. The paint and toning tools can’t be included as can’t the View and Window commands.

All of the following commands can be used when creating an Action though so it isn’t very restrictive:

Marquee, Move, Polygon, Lasso, Magic Wand, Crop, Slice, Magic Eraser, Gradient, Paint Bucket, Type, Shape, Notes, Eyedropper, Color Sampler

How Do I Create A Great Photoshop Action?

Creating a great Action requires some thought. You are now into the realms of computer programming.

Mainly it simply requires that you are very clear about the specific steps and order of steps that you need carried out each time it is fired.

Two rules to follow are:

  1. Avoid making actions specific

If your Action refers to a specific image or layer then it won’t work on other files. Select Layer 4 won’t work if the new file doesn’t contain a Layer 4.

The best way to get around this is to use relative commands. If your Action moves forward / back by a layer then it will always be able to find a layer

  1. Use Dialogue Boxes If You Are Using Stops

No all tasks can be recorded. This doesn’t have to stop your creating an Action. You simply Insert Stop at the relevant point in your Action to allow the user to carry out the task.

People who haven’t used the Action before won’t know what to do at this point. Make sure that you add a dialogue box at this point to remind the user what they need to do.

There we have it. Photoshop Actions are the productivity tool of choice for Adobe power users. It is worth taking the time to understand and master them. Hopefully this introduction has started you down that path.