How to Create, Install and Manage Photoshop Actions

If you often find yourself doing repetitive tasks in Adobe Photoshop and wish you could optimize your workflow, you need to know about Actions and understand how they operate. This tutorial is intended to those of you who are not familiar with Actions and would like to learn how to install, create and manage these Actions, as well as perform Batch processing. If you don’t own Photoshop yet, you can get Adobe Photoshop CS6 here.

Actions are essentially macros that follow a pre-determined set of steps, which help the user to optimize the workflow and speed up image processing. An action can be as simple as Image Resize or be extensively complicated, consisting of tens or even hundreds of specific steps. Adobe Photoshop comes pre-installed with several basic Actions, but you can install additional ones, which can be found online or recorded by you. There are tons of Actions that can be found online for free or as paid versions. They can have virtually unlimited variations but as with most things, typically the paid versions will be more elaborate and provide better effects, however, that’s not guaranteed.

Managing Actions

To access Actions in Photoshop, go to Window > Actions on the top navigation panel or hit [Alt]+[F9]. This window will display a list of all loaded Sets (Folders) and Action. Here, if you click on an arrow next to the name of each Action you will see detailed steps they include. Additionally, you can create a new folder to place themed Actions into. You can also rename each Action to your liking. However, you will not be able to rename a specific step, since it is given by the program automatically.

A checkmark next to each step indicates that the step will be performed. You can uncheck it to omit a step, in that case, that step’s checkmark will disappear and the check mark next to Action name will turn red, indicating that some steps in that Action are omitted.

Dialog icon next to an Action indicates that one or more steps in that Action will have a dialog box appear, requiring user’s input. By opening a detailed view of an Action you can see which step will have a dialog box. By clicking on a dialog icon next to individual step you can disable dialogs. This is often useful to minimize your input and streamline the workflow. However, this means that the effect will be less custom, and most importantly if one or more of the dialogs has a message or requires a definite choice, the Action will not complete and will stop on that step.

Actions window in Button Mode

To activate an Action, simply select it and hit Play (triangle icon on the bottom of Actions window). If you find yourself using Actions frequently during your post-processing, you can also activate a Button Mode which will perform an Action by just clicking on its name. To initiate Button Mode, trigger drop down menu on the Actions window by clicking on its top right corner icon and hit Button Mode. This will also turn each Action into its specified color. These colors are to help you manage your Actions better. You can assign color by Action types or any other parameter you choose.

Finally, important thing to remember is that an action will typically have more than one step, performing Undo or [Ctrl]/[Cmd]+[Z] will only go back one step and will not Undo the entire Action. To overcome this, use History window and Snapshot or File>Revert [F12] to go back to the last saved version. Personally, I create a duplicate layer to which I apply Actions, this way I can always go back to original layer or play with opacity to decrease Action’s effect.

Installing Actions

If you have an Action file which you have downloaded from the Internet or just have it on any type of media device, you can easily install it.To do this, simply double click on the .atn file. This will load all the necessary information into Photoshop Actions library. You do not need to keep the original .atn file, since once it is loaded into PS Library it will be stored in Photoshop’s internal Actions panel.psp file. If at a later date you will need to transfer or backup your Actions, you can do so by selecting folder your Action is in, triggering Actions drop down menu and selecting ‘Save Actions.’ Remember, you cannot save an Action, you can only save a Set (folder) in which that Action(s) is in. You can practice installing and running Action on your free Vivid Contrast file:

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Creating Actions

If you often find yourself doing repetitive steps in Photoshop over and over again, it’s time to create an Action and make your life easier. To record an Action, you first need to decide which step you would like to start from, because it and all the consequent steps will be performed on all images you apply that Action to. Sometimes you would want to start before even opening an image, while other time you would only need to record select steps. Once that’s decided and you are ready to start hit ‘Create new action’ icon on the bottom of Actions window. This will prompt you to name the new Action, assign it to a set (folder), give it a quick function key (optional) and assign a specific color (optional). You can always edit these parameters later, by going to Actions drop down menu and selecting ‘Action Options.’ Once you hit ‘Record,’ every step you perform next will be saved into that Action. Red circle on the bottom of Actions window will indicate that your steps are being recorded.

If you would like some text to pop up explaining a certain step, you can do so by placing a Stop. Click on drop down icon in the top right corner and select ‘Insert Stop.’ Write your message and make sure to check ‘Allow Continue’ to make sure the Action will go on playing. This is especially useful if you are creating an Action for someone other than yourself to use. Furthermore, you have an option to adjust any setting during Action playback by selecting ‘Insert Menu Item’ from Actions drop down menu and choosing a specific menu item. However, consider that all of these stops require user input and will interrupt automated process.

Once you have finished recording all your steps hit Square (Stop) button on the bottom of Actions panel. This will finalize the Action creation. You can add or remove steps for each Action by pressing Delete icon to erase or Record circle icon to resume recording. As I mentioned before, all recorded Actions are saved to Actions panel.psp by default and will remain in your Photoshop library. But you can also save a set or individual Actions for back up or sharing. To do so, hit Actions drop down icon and select ‘Save Actions.’ Remember, you can only save Action folders, even if it only has one Action. To use Action, simply hit Triangle (Play) icon on the bottom of Actions window.

Batch Processing

Batch Window. Click on the image to see full view.

Once you have an Action finalized you can apply it to a whole batch of files. All you have to do is specify an Action and tell which files to use and where to save. Photoshop will do the rest. To use Batch Processing, go to File > Automate on the top navigation panel and hit ‘Batch.’ In the Batch window select which set (folder) your Action is in and then which Action you would like to use. In source, select the folder where original images are located. And make sure ‘Override Action “Open” Commands’ option is checked. In Destination, select a folder where you would like Photoshop to save processed files to. Make sure ‘Override Action “Save As” Commands’ is checked and pressed ‘OK.’ At this stage Photoshop will go through with opening, editing and saving each file. Imagine how much longer it would take you to do it manually!


If you are still a little bit confused, you can practice using my example below. One of the most common tasks for a photographer in Photoshop is Image Resize, so that is what I will use as my example.

Actions Drop Down Menu

First of all, make sure all your original files are in a separate folder and then create another folder for resized images. The last thing you want to do is accidentally resize all your images and save over originals. Then follow these steps:

  1. Create new Action
  2. Call it Resize
  3. Hit ‘Record’
  4. Open original image
  5. Go to Image > Image Size
  6. Change image width to 500px and hit ‘OK’
  7. Go to File > Save As and save the file to Resize folder
  8. Close the image
  9. Hit Square icon on the bottom of Actions window to stop recording (notice how all of your steps are listed below your Action name)
  10. Go to File > Automate > Batch
  11. Select your Actions set and then Resize Action
  12. Select Originals folder and check Override box
  13. Select Resize folder and check Override box
  14. Hit ‘OK,’ Photoshop will process images (which might take some time, depending on size of images, their amount and the power of your computer)
  15. Viola! You have a new folder full of resized images


I hope you find this tutorial useful and ask you to please comment if you have questions, additions or have noticed inaccuracies. It will improve the quality of this posting and help more people in the future.

This entry was posted by Alex Gumerov.

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