Photoshop actions are a great way to speed up your editing workflow and achieve consistency.
While they’re a little fiddly initially to set up, I find that by using the Action Panel, I can save hours in Photoshop each week.
This guide will explain how to use Photoshop actions, how to create them, and where to find free Actions to download.
What are Photoshop Actions?
A Photoshop action is a sequence of edits saved as a batch that can be added to a photograph without tedious editing.
Actions are one of the best ways to automate repetitive tasks transforming your images in seconds.
They’re a shortcut to smoothly editing photos, saving valuable time, and ensuring consistency across multiple projects.
With a single click, you can sit back and watch the ction play out in your workspace as if a fairy has sprinkled magical editing dust into your computer.
If you’ve set up your Action properly, the finished product should be flawlessly uniform with the same effect applied each time.
5 Examples of Action Uses
Here are a few ways I use Actions to help with repetitive tasks:
1. Resize multiple files to a uniform size.
2. Convert colored photographs to black and white.
3. Apply the same effects to different photos, such as skin retouching or the vignette effect.
4. Insert files into a frame.
5. Perform a sequence of editing commands – resize, add a filter, distort, etc.
What is the difference between Actions and Presets in Photoshop?
Adobe Photoshop actions and presets are similar as they both apply a recorded set of edits to an image but differ in several ways.
Actions are played out in the Adobe Photoshop workspace, in front of your eyes, one edit at a time.
Photoshop Presets are applied instantly behind the scenes in Camera Raw.
Presets can be applied to RAW and JPEG files similarly to Lightroom Presets, but Actions can only be applied to JPEGs.
Presets can save a tool or layer style setting, but Actions cannot.
How to Use Photoshop Actions
Considering the complex tasks actions are capable of, they are surprisingly easy to use.
Step 1. Upload your photograph into Adobe Photoshop and navigate to the top menu select Windows > Actions. The Actions Panel will open.
Step 2. Select the Photoshop Action you wish to apply to your photo, and click the play button at the bottom of the Actions Panel.
Step 3. For more editing control click the four lines in the top right of the Actions Panel.
A drop-down menu will appear, select Playback Options.
The Playback Options pop-up box will appear select Pause For: and enter a value for seconds, then click OK.
Step 4. Only ticked steps will be applied to the photograph.
To pause or stop an Action you can untick the box beside the step you wish to pause at.
Step 5. When the Action has been applied to the photo, close the Actions Panel.
Your photograph is now ready to be saved.
Batch Processing with Actions
Actions are a practical solution for professional photographers who want to speed up their workflow.
One amazing aspect of actions is applying them to multiple files using Photoshop’s batch command and image processor.
Batch processing is the king of time management and priceless when you have hundreds of images to plough through.
When an entire wedding album needs to be resized and have a summer glow filter added use Batch Processing to shortcut editing.
(You can also batch edit in Lightroom.)
Here’s how to Batch Process in Photoshop
1. Place all the photographs you wish to batch process in a folder.
2. Navigate to File > Automate > Batch.
3. In the pop-up Batch box select the action you wish to use in the box beside Action.
Then set Source to Folder and click Choose.
4. Locate the folder of photographs, and hit OK.
5. Photoshops image processor will begin to edit all your photographs.
We are only human and if forced to spend hours repeating an editing task we are likely to make mistakes.
An exhausted editor might accidentally crop an image too small
When using batch processing and actions the potential for errors is eliminated.
Create a batch process to jump to the task finish line with one click to increase workflow efficiency and consistent results.
What Are Conditional Actions in Photoshop?
A Conditional Action is an action capable of performing one of two actions at a given step.
Essentially it is an action with built-in logic.
Conditional actions can perform different operations depending on the criteria you set.
For example, if one of the incorporated editing steps is to resize an image and the action is not conditional, all the images will be resized the same irrespective of their dimensions.
A Conditional Action can adapt an editing step depending on if the photo is portrait or landscape.
How to Create Your Own Photoshop Actions
Creating Actions in Photoshop is straightforward and fun.
Here’s how to create your own.
Step 1. Open your image in Adobe Photoshop and open the Actions Panel.
Navigate to Windows > Actions.
Step 2. Click on the four lines at the top of the Actions Panel, and from the drop-down menu select New Action.
Step 3. A pop-up box will appear, enter the name for the action and hit Record.
Step 4. Edit the open file, add photo effects, resize, or change the color grading.
Photoshop will now record every edit you make in the canvas workspace as an action step.
Each action created will appear in the new Actions folder.
Step 5. When finished, click the square icon and the Action will be saved.
Now give it a test run.
Step 6. If there is a step you would like to delete, select it and hit the trash icon.
To rearrange steps within the actions folder, click and drag them into new positions.
How to Manage Actions in Photoshop
To manage and organize Photoshop Actions open the Actions Panel.
Create Action Sets
To Create a new Action set, click on the four lines at the top of the Actions Panel, and from the drop-down menu select New Set.
Name the New Set in the pop-up window that appears, click ok and it will appear in the Actions Panel.
To add actions to the New Set click and drag them into the New Set folder.
Sets are a great way to keep your actions organized and make them easy to locate.
Rearrange and move actions or steps into folders by dragging them to the new location.
Create new folders by clicking the folder icon at the bottom of the Actions Panel.
Import and Export – Where are my Photoshop Actions Located?
Actions are easy to import and export.
If you’re using a Mac, to export head to Applications/Adobe Photoshop/Presets/Actions
On Windows, you should go to: C:/Usersname/AppData/Roaming/Adobe/Adobe Photoshop/Presets/Actions
Select and duplicate the actions folder, move the new folder to your desktop, and export where you wish.
To import an action, select Load Action from the Actions Panel, locate the action, and upload it.
To delete an action or step, select it and hit the trash icon at the bottom of the Actions Panel.
A pop-up window will appear asking if you want to delete the action, click Ok.
Type “Free Photoshop Actions” into Google and a plethora of options will be presented.
It might look like all your Christmases have come at once, but be careful to ensure they are reputable websites.
Behance and Deviant Art have large online communities sharing their Photoshop actions for free download.
MCP Actions predominantly has actions for sale but also offers some for free.
PanosFX has actions for sale but is a great place to find funky free Photoshop actions.
Compatibility & Troubleshooting Issues
Compatibility issues can arise when using actions due to incompatibility between different Adobe Photoshop versions.
Some edit steps are version-specific, thus the action will not be able to replicate a uniform result.
Some common problems encountered when using actions are easily resolved.
Here are some troubleshooting tips.
Action refuses to play – Check if the layer is a vector file, actions won’t work on RAW files, multiple layers, or Vector files.
Action creates undesired results – Check the Action steps in the Actions Panel to see if a new step has been added or a step has been relocated.
If this doesn’t work you can try deleting the action set and re-install it from the original file.
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