how to use photoshop actions

How to Use Photoshop Actions

In Photoshop Tutorials by Stefano Caioni Leave a Comment

If you are anything like me and want to improve your efficiency and speed when using Photoshop, then Photoshop Actions are what you’re looking for.

Boring, and repetitive tasks, such as resizing hundreds of photos, or applying the same 10-step effect to several images. Steps that you find yourself doing again and again in Photoshop can be automated and save you a ton of time and frustration. The good news is that you don’t have to learn any programming skills to use these life-changing actions, and by the end of this article you’ll learn how to activate, install and use Photoshop Actions like a pro.

So, let’s dive right in, and let’s see how to use Photoshop actions to make your post-processing edits easier!

Related: Editing Photos in Photoshop

Why Use Photoshop Actions

If you’ve been following this blog, you know what I think about post-processing. As much as I love the process of editing and make your photos better, I’m a big advocate of spending the less amount of time as possible in front of your computer and more time actually taking great photos.

For this reason I find tools such as Photoshop actions crucial to make a photographer’s life easier.

By reducing the time spent on repetitive and monotonous tasks you build the habit of focusing more on things like studying photography composition, light, planning, and creating more beautiful shots in general.

For example, if you want to resize a thousand photos, for example to send as previews to a customer or to upload on your website, you would have to open each file one by one and apply the same setting to all of them.

Someone might be thinking that using keyboard shortcuts, would solve the issue, but that’s not true. Even keyboard shortcuts would take hours on a large number of files. By using actions, you can perform the task once, let Photoshop memorize the process, save it as an action, and then let the software apply it to all the other photos for you!

And you can have actions for several types of tasks, even to some most complex editings.

How to Use Photoshop Actions Step-by-Step

Step 1: Enable Photoshop Actions

First of all, you have to enable Photoshop actions. Go to Window on the top menu bar. Then select actions or use Alt + F9 (on PC) or Option + F9 (on Mac). This will activate and open the actions palette to the top right. In the next steps, we’ll see how to either download, install, and use your actions.

Step 2: Install Photoshop Actions

Let’s begin with installing some Photoshop actions that you’ve previously downloaded and unzipped to understand what they can do. You can go to the Photoshop Actions module to the right and select Load Actions. There are .atn and .zxp file formats for Photoshop actions.

ATN files will directly load into the tool itself, while .zxp will go through the Adobe Extension Manager. Using .atn files is easier and is what you must look for when downloading actions.

So find the .atn file in your download folder and load it onto the action panel. The loaded action will appear at the very bottom of the actions list.

Step 3: Save Your Document

Before we see how to use it, just a quick note that not all actions you download from the Internet are 100% safe to use. What I mean is that since you haven’t created the action, you don’t know what effect you’re going to obtain so, always save your file before running an action.

Step 4: Using Actions

Using actions literally means playing them. Select one of the actions from your Actions panel and then click on the play icon to make it run. When you download actions from the Internet they might have instructions included, make sure you quickly read through it to know what you are doing.

You may have to use layer masks and paint in or out the applied effect over sections and perform other adjustments. It’s a bit as if you were using Lightroom presets, when you use actions to apply a desired effect, you might want the effect applied only over a certain area, so in that case play it, and use it as a starting point.

The Action Panel

It’s important to take a deeper look and familiarize yourself with the action panel so that you can be super-efficient when it comes to install, create, and use Photoshop Actions.

The action menu lets you create new sets and new actions, control playback options, and other options we are not going to touch in this tutorial, but we are going to see the action button mode down below because it’s very helpful.

The control section at the bottom of the panel is pretty self-explanatory. From here you can record, play, and stop your action. You can create new sets, new actions, or even delete existing ones.

You’ll then find default actions already installed in Photoshop and actions that you’ve added. All actions have a checkmark on the left, you can activate or deactivate each action and commands within the action by simply unchecking or checking each box.

How to Use Photoshop Actions Video Tutorial

In this short tutorial by Aaron Nace at Phlearn you can learn in under 2 minutes how to create a simple action to batch resize thousands of photos easily.

These are the steps you’ll find in the video:

  • Open the action panel
  • Create a new action set and name it ‘Resize’
  • Create a new action inside the folder
  • Start recording. Now Photoshop will record everything you do into the action
  • Resize the image as needed
  • Save the resized file
  • Hit stop on the action
  • Automate the action
  • Resize multiple images at once with the newly created action

Photoshop Actions Basic Operations

Let’s take a look at some of the basic operations you have available in the actions panel.

  • Reset Actions: This option clears all the actions and also sets the default to the action panel.
  • Clear Actions: All the actions and sets are removed from the Action panel.
  • Replace Actions: You can replace actions and sets with the selected ones. All loading actions are combined in a single step.
  • Save Actions: After creating some actions yourself, you can save them as .atn files.
  • Load Actions: You can load downloaded action sets and actions into your panel.

Actions Button Mode

The Actions panel for Photoshop can be switched over to something called ‘Button Mode’. This makes all the actions clickable like buttons. Click on the Action panel menu on the top right of the panel. The first option in the drop-down will be Button Mode.

In Button Mode, you cannot see the single commands inside the action, but only the name of the action as a clickable button. You can also assign a color to a button to make it more recognizable and easier to find when you have a lot of actions on your list.

Playing a Photoshop Action

When clicking ‘Play’ the action runs and perform tasks on the open and active image file. You can choose to play only part of an action by selecting the step from which you want the action to start running or you can even play a single command from the entire action.

Playback Speed

If you need to make adjustments to a Photoshop action or debug it you can control its playback speed or even pause it. Three are the main options here:

  • Accelerated
  • Step-by-Step
  • Pause for __ Seconds

You can learn the three main playback speed controls and other useful commands from the official Adobe Photoshop guide at this link.

Final Notes

Now that you know how to use Photoshop actions, you can immediately speed up you photo editing workflow.

What are you going to use Photoshop actions for? Are you going to bulk resize thousands of files? Or are you going to apply the same effect to multiple photos to create a consistent look over your work?

Let me know in the comments below, and if you want to support this blog share this article right now!

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