Photoshop Actions are a convenient feature. An “action” is a series of tasks you can save and apply to any file you want to edit. You can use this feature to automate some repetitive workflows and get more consistent results when editing images in batches.
Photoshop comes with some predefined actions, but you can create your own easily. Here is how to create Actions in Photoshop.
How to Create Actions in Photoshop
Recording Actions is a simple process. Here are the steps you need to follow.
Step 1: Open the Actions Panel
Open the image you want to edit. Click on the window and then Actions to open the Actions Panel. This menu gives you access to options for recording new Actions, launching existing Actions with the Play button, or editing them. You can manage your Photoshop Actions and delete the ones you don’t need any more from this menu.
The Actions Panel has another convenient feature. You can import and export Actions files if you download macros created by other photographers or want to share your work.
Step 2: Create an Action Set and Create Your Action
You will find a folder and file icon at the bottom of the Actions Panel. The folder icon will create a new Action Set, and the file icon will create new Action. An Action Set lets you save several Actions from performing more complex workflows.
Make a new Action Set if you need to and click on the file icon to create a new Action. Photoshop will prompt you to choose a name for the new Action.
The next window will let you choose a keyboard shortcut and a color to find your Action in Button mode.
Step 3: Record Your Steps
Once you’re ready to start recording, click on the record button in the Actions Panel. The button will turn red to indicate Photoshop is recording your steps.
Perform the steps you want to record by editing your image.
Step 4: Stop Recording
You can stop the recording with the Esc key. You can also click on Stop Recording in the Actions Panel or click on record Action again.
Step 5: Make a Few Edits
You might need to modify the steps you recorded to get the Action Photoshop to work correctly. Once you stop the recording, Photoshop will show you a summary of the Action with an overview of the different steps.
You can drag and drop these steps to change their order, drag them to the trash can icon if you want to delete a step, or use the checkmark to disable a step.
There is a box next to the checkmark icon for each step. Select this box if you want to enter values for that step.
You don’t have to wait for the end of the recording to make these tweaks. You can pause the recording at any time, delete a step, and start again.
Tips for Recording an Action in Photoshop
You will get better results with the following tips.
Avoid Clicking in the Layers Panel
If you click in the Layers Panel, Photoshop will assume you want to use a specific layer for your Action. It’s not an issue if you run the Action only once.
However, the Action won’t work if you run it a second time since it will try to select the first Layer again.
You can use different Shortkeys to select layers without clicking in the Layers Panel. You can use Ctrl + [ and Ctrl + ] to move your layers up or down. You can select layers with Alt + [ and Alt + ]. If you need to select multiple Layers, use Alt + Shift + [ or Alt + Shift + ].
Use the Layer Menu
You can use an Action to automate the creation of a new layer. You can save time when creating adjustment layers, curves, layers, masks, and even groups.
Click on the Layers menu, select New Adjustment Layer, and choose the option you want. A dialog box will appear to add a name for the new Layer and adjust settings like opacity and blend mode.
Use Stops to Add Instructions
There is an arrow at the top of the Actions Panel. If you click on it, it will add a stop as a new step in the Action you’re editing.
A Stop pauses an Action and displays a paragraph of text. You can use this feature to add some notes, instructions, or reminders. Stops will come in handy when you’re creating Photoshop Actions for complex workflows that require you to complete some manual steps.
Troubleshooting Photoshop Actions
The Actions feature is easy to use, but it’s possible to run into issues. Here are some common problems and how to fix them.
Target an Area of Your Image
Edits that require you to target an area of the image you’re working on typically aren’t good candidates for Photoshop Actions. However, you can create an Action that applies an effect to a zone of the image.
Before you start recording your Action, switch your ruler to percentages. Instead of using a fixed value to target an area, the Action will automate a step that targets a zone in terms of percentages. It’s a useful trick for adding a watermark to your images.
Issues with Layers
You might encounter an error message that says your background layer isn’t available. If you run into this problem, double-check the name of your background layer.
If you’re working with many layers or using a mix of automated and manual edits, the Action might not perform as intended. The best way to address this issue is to save your work, click on Layer, and then Flatten. Flattening your layers will simplify things and ensures that the Action runs appropriately.
The Action Doesn’t Do Anything
In most cases, Photoshop Actions add a new layer on top of your background layer. If you did a few edits before launching an Action, you might have a pixel layer hiding the Layer with the effect of the Action. Check your layers’ order and remove or disable any pixel layers to see Photoshop in Action when you launch a workflow.
Layer Masks and Brushes
Some Actions require you to perform a few manual steps, like using a brush to paint over a layer mask. The Action automates the creation of the layer mask and adjusts the settings, but you need to perform a manual step before seeing the result of the Action.
Some Photoshop features only work in 8-bit mode. If you’re editing 16-bit images, some steps won’t work. You will have to convert your 16-bit images before applying some Actions.
If you’re downloading Action files available online, make sure they work with your version of Photoshop. Creators typically indicate which versions of Photoshop their files are compatible with.
Additional Questions to Answer
Here are a few other things you should know about creating Actions.
How do I create an action in Photoshop CC?
Open the window and click on Actions. You will find a file and folder icon at the bottom of this menu. You can use the file icon to create an Action or click on the folder icon to create a set.
What are actions in Photoshop?
How do you add an action button in Photoshop?
You can switch between List and Button mode when viewing the Actions Panel. The Button mode is more streamlined and uses colors to help you find the Action you want to use.
When you record a new Action, Photoshop will display a dialog box to choose a name for the Action. The next window will let you select a color for the button.