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More on Photoshop Actions

We looked at the basics of Photoshop actions last week. This week we'll go over the more advanced features of actions.

Saving and Loading Actions
Photoshop Action panel menuBy default, any new actions you create are temporary, existing only until you close Photoshop. This is fine for short term needs, but once you learn to create more complicated actions you will undoubtedly want to save them. To do so, click on the menu button in the extreme upper right corner of the Actions panel and select "Save Actions." As much as it would be nice if it did, Photoshop doesn't actually prompt you to save changes to actions, but this menu option is only available if you have any changes that aren't saved yet so you can at least check if have anything pending. It's a good idea to put your own actions in a new set rather than just adding them to Photoshop's "Default Actions" set. When you upgrade Photoshop in the future, Adobe will give you a new set of default actions and I'm betting you won't want to lose your actions when that happens. When you save action sets, Photoshop puts them in files with a file type suffix of "ATN."

You'll also find a "Load Actions" command on the Actions panel menu. There are countless sites on the internet where you can download sets of Photoshop actions from but once you have one it won't automatically appear in the Actions panel. You have to tell Photoshop to load it first. I'm not aware of any limit on how many action sets you can have, but be forewarned that some people end up spending more time on collecting actions (and downloadable filters) than they do actually optimizing images in Photoshop. Don't let this happen to you.

Button Mode
If you want to get rid of all the clutter on the Actions menu so you can get down to business, you can enable what is known as "Button Mode." By selecting that option at the top of the Actions panel menu, the entire panel turns into simply a regular grid of button, one for each action in an open set. Gone are the individual action steps. Just click on a button to run an action. Action sets don't show at all in button mode so if you like the look of this mode, you'll probably want to pay extra attention to how you name your actions so can still tell what's what when presented with row upon row of buttons named only for the action and not the set each came from.

Action Options
Photoshop Action Options dialogActions have a few options that can help make your life easier. When you create a new action a dialog pops up as mentioned last week. In addition to giving actions a name, you can assign them to keyboard shortcuts. This makes running an action simple, assuming you can remember what keystroke combination you assigned to that action. Photoshop already comes with countless keyboard shortcuts, but don't let that deter you from adding a few more. You can also color code actions to make finding them to click on with your mouse simpler when the Action panel is in button mode. Colors have no affect when the Actions panel is in non-button mode. While actions can be color coded, action sets have only a name and no color, something that makes sense given that button mode doesn't display actions by set.

Organizing and Reorganizing Actions
It's as easy as can be to reorganize your actions. By simply clicking on one and dragging it you can move it to a different position within its set or to a different set entirely. Remember to resave your actions if you want to make your changes permanent. You can drag and rearrange whole sets just as easily.

To rename an action or action set, first highlight it in the list by clicking on it. Then go to "Action Options" or "Set Options" on the Actions panel menu.

Playing an Action on Multiple Files
To play an action on a file, that file has to be open in Photoshop. If you only need to do one file at a time, that isn't really an issue, but what if you have a whole folder of files that need the same thing done to them? Located on the File >> Scripts menu is the extremely useful Image Processor. Among its many other talents, the Image Processor will let you run an action on either all open images, all images in a specified folder, or even all images in that folder and all nested subfolders. Fire it up and watch it go.

Debugging Actions
Photoshop Action Options dialogThe Actions panel menu also lets you control the playback speed. By default, actions play back as fast as Photoshop can process successive steps, not really even taking the time to fully keep the screen display up to date. If you're trying to figure out why an action you created doesn't work correctly (or lean how one you downloaded works) it can be helpful to slow things down a bit. By selecting "Playback Options" from the Actions menu you can change the default mode known as "Accelerated" to one of two other speeds. "Step By Step" still goes as fast as possible but does take time to fully render each step on your monitor as it does. If you watch carefully, you may be able to tell what's happening, but sometimes you may want to go with the third option to "Pause For x Seconds" after each step. The action still plays without actually stopping, but the pause does give you time to let each step sink as you watch.

You can also run any given step one at a time in any order by double-clicking on it in the Actions panel listing. Any settings dialogs involved in a step you run this way will display even if it would otherwise not due to the Modal checkbox. This gives you the opportunity to both see and potentially tweak those settings.

There's a lot you can do with Photoshop actions. Clever folks have found ways to make them do all sorts of complex series of steps, but there are limits. Next week we'll take a look at scripting, for when actions can handle what you need to do.

Date posted: May 23, 2010


Copyright © 2010 Bob Johnson, Earthbound Light - all rights reserved.
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Related articles:
Photoshop CS2's Secret Hidden Image Processor
Lights, Camera, ... Photoshop Actions!
Intro to Photoshop Scripting

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