What Are Photoshop Actions and Why Are They So Useful?
When you edit an image in Adobe Photoshop, you’ll likely perform a series of steps to get the right look. You may want to resize the photo, increase its contrast, adjust the saturation, use certain photo effects, and so on. It can take a lot of time to play with the settings to get your image looking just how you want it.
But what if you have multiple images that require the same editing process and you want to be as efficient as possible? That’s where Photoshop actions come in!
Last Updated October 2021
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What are Photoshop actions?
Photoshop actions are a series of pre-recorded commands that the software can repeatedly apply to any number of images. This speeds up the editing process because instead of adjusting the same settings one by one for every picture, using a Photoshop action requires a single click — even though the action may contain dozens or even hundreds of commands.
Think of a Photoshop action like a recipe for a tasty cake. You have all the instructions and ingredients, but instead of doing everything yourself, you give Photoshop the recipe (the action), and the program does everything for you. This is how you can get awesome photo effects through a single click, thus saving a lot of time.
How do you install Photoshop actions?
Method 1: You install Photoshop actions by double-clicking files that have a .ATN extension. These can be found anywhere on the web, and they’re usually small in terms of file size.
Please be aware that you won’t receive any notice from Adobe when you install a Photoshop action. To check if the installation was successful, go to the top menu and click “Window.” From here, click on “Actions.” In this new panel, you should see your newly installed action.
Method 2: In case double-clicking the .ATN file doesn’t work, you can open the Actions panel to install Photoshop actions. Start by going to the top menu and clicking on “Window.” Then click on “Actions.” This panel has a menu of its own that you can open by clicking on this icon. From this list, choose “Load Actions,” and you can now select the downloaded .ATN file from your computer.
How do you use Photoshop actions?
Every Photoshop action is different, but most require you to have an active project and an image loaded first. Next, go to the top menu to “Window” and choose “Actions.” The Actions panel will show up, and you’ll see all your available actions. Depending on what you’ve installed, you may see your actions organized into folders.
When you want to run an action, simply click on an entry from the “Actions” panel, and hit the play button. Wait a few seconds, and you’re done!
Please be aware that you have to select an action and not a folder. Notice in the following screenshot, the play button is greyed out – that’s because we have a folder selected and not an action.
How do you create an action?
To record an action, you first have to open up the Actions panel. Go to the top menu to “Window,” and then click on “Actions.”
Here you might have some actions already loaded, but luckily we have folders to keep things tidy. So, you can create a new folder by pressing on the small folder icon near the bottom of the screen, as seen in the screenshot below.
Name your folder whatever you like — I’ll write “Chris Tutorial” in this case. Now that we have this new folder, let’s create a new action by clicking on the icon with a “plus” symbol in the middle.
You’ll get a pop-up window that will ask you to name the action. For my tutorial, I will call this one “black and white” — though you can create any type of photo effect you can think of: sketch effect, instant hipster filters, high contrast effect, and so on.
When we press “record,” Adobe Photoshop will start memorizing our steps and actions. Now you can go through your editing process on the photo you have selected, and Adobe Photoshop will record all the steps you take and save them in this action.
One thing you should know is that the recording isn’t time-dependent. You can spend as much time as you want on your editing process. When Photoshop plays the action in the future, it will run smoothly without any stops or breaks. So feel free to relax and take your time with it.
For our black-and-white effect example, make sure you have an image opened up on your canvas.
Next, go to the bottom of the Layers panel and add an Adjustment layer. Choose “Black and White.”
You can fine-tune the black and white effect from the Properties panel – it’ll lower the Yellows to a negative value. Photoshop will record this step as well.
Finally, I’ll add another Adjustment layer: Brightness and Contrast. I’ll move the Contrast slider to +40.
We could continue to add actions to our recording, but this is enough for this example. Keep in mind that Adobe Photoshop is an extremely powerful program, so don’t shy away from recording loads of steps. Just make sure you organize everything into action sets so it’s easy to navigate.
When you want to stop the recording, click on this icon on the left. And you’re done! You’ve just recorded your own action.
How do you delete an action?
When you’re browsing the web for Adobe Photoshop actions, you’ll likely find a lot of them. To keep the best ones and stay organized, it’s important to delete actions that aren’t to your taste. Here’s how you can do that.
First, open the Actions panel by going to “Window” and selecting “Actions.” Click on an action or a folder that you want to delete.
Next, click on the trash can icon from the bottom of the Actions panel. Photoshop will ask you for a confirmation, and once you click “OK,” you’re done!
Please be aware that the Delete key or the Backspace key won’t help you delete an action.
You can learn more about personalizing the look and organization of your Photoshop program in our How to Customize Your Photoshop Interface tutorial.
How do you export/share an action?
Let’s say you’re really proud of an action you created in Photoshop and you want to share it with the world. How do you share an action? First, go to the top menu to “Window.” From there, choose “Actions” to open up the Actions panel.
Select the folder or the action that you want to share.
From the top right side, click on the menu icon as seen in the screenshot above. Scroll down and choose “Save actions.”
Make sure you chose the right action by checking the file name. This should match the name from the Actions panel. Hit “Save,” and you’ll have a .ATN file that you can share with the world.
It’s that easy.
Other Photoshop users can load it up into their computers, and they won’t have to rely only on Adobe Photoshop presets that come with the program.
Try it out and see what Photoshop actions you can come up with. Be creative — the sky’s the limit!
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