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How to Create Automated Tasks in Photoshop


About actions


    An action is a series of commands that you play back on a single file or a batch of files. For example, you can create an action that applies an Image Size command to change an image to a specific size in pixels, followed by an Unsharp Mask filter that resharpens the detail, and a Save command that saves the file in the desired format.

    Most commands and tool operations are recordable in actions. Actions can include stops that let you perform tasks that cannot be recorded (for example, using a painting tool). Actions can also include modal controls that let you enter values in a dialog box while playing an action. Actions form the basis for droplets, which are small applications that automatically process all files that are dragged onto their icon.

    Both Photoshop and ImageReady include a number of predefined actions, although Photoshop has significantly more user-recordable functionality than ImageReady. You can use these actions as is, customize them to meet your needs, or create new actions.

Using the Actions palette


    You use the Actions palette to record, play, edit, and delete individual actions. This palette also lets you save and load action files.

    In Photoshop, actions are grouped into sets--you can create new sets to better organize your actions. In ImageReady, you cannot group actions into sets.

    Illustration of Photoshop Actions palette with these callouts: A. Action or set with excluded command B. Action or set with a modal control C. Included command (toggles command on or off) D. Modal control (toggles modal control on or off) E. Excluded command F. Set G. Action H. Recorded commands
    Photoshop Actions palette A. Action or set with excluded command B. Action or set with a modal control C. Included command (toggles command on or off) D. Modal control (toggles modal control on or off) E. Excluded command F. Set G. Action H. Recorded commands

To display the Actions palette:

    Choose Window > Actions and press Alt +F9 (Windows) or Window > Actions (Mac OS), or click the Actions palette tab if the palette is visible but not active.

    By default, the Actions palette displays actions in list mode--you can expand and collapse sets, actions, and commands. In Photoshop, you can also choose to display actions in button mode (as buttons in the Actions palette that play an action with a single mouse click). However, you cannot view individual commands or sets in button mode.

To expand and collapse sets, actions, and commands:

    Click the triangle Triangle angle to the left of the set, action, or command in the Actions palette. Alt-click (Windows) or Option-click (Mac OS) the triangle to expand or collapse all actions in a set or all commands in an action.

To select actions:

    Do one of the following:

    • Click an action name to select a single action.
    • (Photoshop) Shift-click action names to select multiple, contiguous actions.
    • (Photoshop) Ctrl-click (Windows) or Command-click (Mac OS) action names to select multiple, discontiguous actions.

To display actions as buttons (Photoshop):

    Choose Button Mode from the Actions palette menu. Choose Button Mode again to return to list mode.

To create a new set (Photoshop):

  1. Do one of the following:
    • In the Actions palette, click the Create New Set button Create a New Set button .
    • In the Actions palette menu, choose New Set.
  2. Enter the name of the new set.

    Note: If you plan to create a new action and group it in a new set, make sure you create the set first. Then, the new set will appear in the set pop-up menu when you create your new action.


Recording actions


    Keep in mind the following guidelines when recording actions:

    • You can record most--but not all--commands in an action.
    • You can record operations that you perform with the Marquee, Move, Polygon, Lasso, Magic Wand, Crop, Slice, Magic Eraser, Gradient, Paint Bucket, Type, Shape, Notes, Eyedropper, and Color Sampler tools--as well as those that you perform in the History, Swatches, Color, Paths, Channels, Layers, Styles, and Actions palettes.
    • Results depend on file and program setting variables, such as the active layer or the foreground color. For example, a 3-pixel Gaussian blur won't create the same effect on a 72-ppi file as on a 144-ppi file.  Nor will Color Balance work on a grayscale file.
    • When recording actions that include dialog boxes and palettes, the settings recorded will be the ones that are presently in the dialog box and palette at the time of the recording. If you change a setting in a dialog box or palette while recording an action, the resulting value will be the one recorded.

    Note: Most dialog boxes retain the values of their previous settings; when they next appear they may already have values. Be sure to check carefully to see if the values are the ones you want to record.

    • Modal operations and tools--as well as tools that record position--use the units currently specified for the ruler. A modal operation or tool is one that requires you to press Enter or Return to apply its effect, such as the transformation and crop commands. Tools that record position include the Marquee, Slice, Gradient, Magic Wand, Lasso, Shape, Path, Eyedropper, and Notes tools.

    Tip iconIn Photoshop, when recording an action that will be played on files of different sizes, set the ruler units to percent. As a result, the action will always play back in the same relative position in the image.

    • You can record the Play command listed on the Actions palette menu to cause one action to play another.
    • In ImageReady, you can drag a command from the History palette to the action in the Actions palette in which you want the command recorded. Commands in italics are not recordable in an action. You cannot drag italicized commands from the History palette to the Actions palette.
    • Photoshop and ImageReady cannot share actions.
Playing actions


    Playing an action executes the series of commands you recorded in the active document. You can exclude specific commands from an action or play a single command. If the action includes a modal control, you can specify values in a dialog box or use a modal tool when the action pauses.

    Action applied to an image
    Action applied to an image

    Note: In button mode, clicking a button executes the entire action--though commands previously excluded are not executed.

To play an action on a file:

  1. Open the file.
  2. Do one of the following:
    • To play an entire action, select the action name, and click the Play button Play button in the Actions palette, or choose Play from the palette menu.
    • If you assigned a key combination to the action, press that combination to play the action automatically.
    • To play part of an action, select the command from which you want to start playing, and click the Play button in the Actions palette, or choose Play from the palette menu.

To play a single command in an action:

  1. Select the command you want to play.
  2. Do one of the following:
    • Ctrl-click (Windows) or Command-click (Mac OS) the Play button in the Actions palette.
    • Press Ctrl (Windows) or Command (Mac OS), and double-click the command.

To undo an entire action:

    Do one of the following:

    • (Photoshop) Take a snapshot in the History palette before you play an action, and then select the snapshot to undo the action.
    • (ImageReady) Choose Edit > Undo Action Name.
Setting playback options (Photoshop)


    Sometimes a long, complicated action does not play properly, but it is difficult to tell where the problem occurs. The Playback Options command gives you three speeds at which to play actions, so that you can watch each command as it is carried out.

    When working with actions that contain audio annotations, you can specify whether or not the action will pause for audio annotations. This ensures that each audio annotation completes playing before the next step in the action is initiated.

To specify how fast actions should play:

  1. Choose Playback Options from the Actions palette menu.
  2. Specify a speed:
    • Accelerated to play the action at normal speed (the default).
    • Step by Step to complete each command and redraw the image before going on to the next command in the action.
    • Pause For to enter the amount of time Photoshop should pause between carrying out each command in the action.
  3. Select Pause For Audio Annotation to ensure that each audio annotation in an action completes playback before the next step in the action is initiated. Deselect this option if you want an action to continue while an audio annotation is playing.
  4. Click OK.
Editing actions


    After you record an action, you can edit it in a variety of ways. You can rearrange actions and commands in the Actions palette; record additional commands in an action; rerecord, duplicate, and delete commands and actions; and change action options.

Managing actions in the Actions palette


    By default, the Actions palette displays predefined actions (shipped with the application) and any actions you create. You can also load additional actions into the Actions palette.

    Note: Photoshop actions are not compatible with ImageReady, and vice versa.

Using the Batch command (Photoshop)


    The Batch command lets you play an action on a folder of files and subfolders. If you have a digital camera or a scanner with a document feeder, you can also import and process multiple images with a single action. Your scanner or digital camera may need an acquire plug-in module that supports actions. (If the third-party plug-in wasn't written to import multiple documents at a time, it may not work during batch-processing or if used as part of an action. Contact the plug-in's manufacturer for further information.)

    You can also import PDF images from Acrobat Capture or other software programs.

    When batch-processing files, you can leave all the files open, close and save the changes to the original files, or save modified versions of the files to a new location (leaving the originals unchanged). If you are saving the processed files to a new location, you may want to create a new folder for the processed files before starting the batch.

    Tip iconFor better batch performance, reduce the number of saved history states and deselect the Automatically Create First Snapshot option in the History palette.

To batch-process files using the Batch command:

  1. Choose File > Automate > Batch.
  2. For Play, choose the desired set and action from the Set and Action pop-up menus.
  3. For Source, choose a source from the pop-up menu:
    • Folder to play the action on files already stored on your computer. Click Choose to locate and select the folder.
    • Import to import and play the action on images from a digital camera, scanner, or PDF document.
    • Opened Files to play the action on all open files.
    • File Browser to play the action on the selected files in the File Browser.
  4. Select Override Action "Open" Commands if you want Open commands in the action to refer to the batched files, rather than the filenames specified in the action. If you select this option, the action must contain an Open command because the Batch command will not automatically open the source files.

    Deselect Override Action "Open" Commands if the action was recorded to operate on open files or if the action contains Open commands for specific files that are required by the action.

  5. Select Include All Subfolders to process files in subfolders.
  6. Select Suppress File Open Options Dialogs to hide File Open Options dialogs. This is useful when batching actions on camera raw files. The default or previously specified settings will be used. For more information on using the Batch command to open camera raw image files,
  7. Select Suppress Color Profile Warnings to turn off display of color policy messages.
  8. Choose a destination for the processed files from the Destination menu:
    • None to leave the files open without saving changes (unless the action includes a Save command).
    • Save and Close to save the files in their current location, overwriting the original files.

    Note: If you choose the Save and Close option, you can select the Override Action "Save As" Commands option. This option causes the Batch command to override any action Save As commands, and saves the file back to its original filename in its original folder.

    • Folder to save the processed files to another location. Click Choose to specify the destination folder.
  9. Select Override Action "Save As" Commands if you want the Save As instructions from the Batch command instead of the Save As instructions in the action. If you select this option, the action must contain a a Save As command because the Batch command will not automatically save the source files. This is useful for saving documents with options not available in the Batch command (such as JPEG compression or TIFF options, etc.)

    Note: No matter how you've recorded your action's Save As steps (with or without filename specifications), if this option is selected, the file is saved to the folder and the filename in the Batch command.

    Deselect Override Action "Save As" Commands will save the files processed by the Batch command in the location specified as the destination in the Batch dialog box.

    Note: You can record an action that saves with a specified filename and folder. If you've done this, and have Override Action "Save As" Commands off, the same file will be overwritten each time. If you've recorded your Save As step in the action without specifying a filename, the Batch command will save it to the same folder each time, but will use the filename of the document being saved.

  10. If you chose Folder as the destination, specify a file-naming convention and select file compatibility options for the processed files:
    • For File Naming, select elements from the pop-up menus or enter text into the fields to be combined into the default names for all files. The fields let you change the order and formatting of the filename parts. You must include at least one field that is unique for every file (for example, filename, serial number, or serial letter) to prevent files from overwriting each other. Starting serial number specifies the starting number for any serial number fields. Serial letter fields always start with the letter "A" for the first file.
    • For File Name Compatibility, choose Windows, Mac OS, and UNIX to make filenames compatible with Windows, Mac OS, and UNIX operating systems.

    Tip iconSaving files using the Batch command options usually saves the files in the same format as the original files. To create a batch process that saves files in a new format, record the Save As command followed by the Close command as part of your original action. Then choose Override Action "Save In" Commands for the Destination when setting up the batch process.

  11. Select an option for error processing from the Errors pop-up menu:
    • Stop for Errors to suspend the process until you confirm the error message.
    • Log Errors to File to record each error in a file without stopping the process. If errors are logged to a file, a message appears after processing. To review the error file, open with a text editor after the batch command has run.

    Tip iconTo batch-process using multiple actions, create a new action that plays all the other actions, and then batch process that one (you can nest actions within actions). To batch-process multiple folders, create aliases within a folder to the other folders you want to process, and select the Include All Subfolders option.

To batch process files in nested folders into different formats:

  1. Process your folders as you would normally, until the Destination step.
  2. Choose "Save and Close" for the destination. You can select the Override Action "Save As" Commands options to do the following:
    • If the "Save As" step in the action contains a filename, this overrides it with the name of the document being saved; all "Save As" steps are treated as if they were recorded without a filename.
    • The folder you specified in the "Save As" action step is overridden with the document's original folder.

    Note: For this to work properly, you must have a "Save As" step in the action; the Batch command does not automatically save files.

    This procedure lets you, for instance, sharpen, resize and save the images as JPEGs back into their original folders. You create an action that has a sharpen step, a resize step, and then a "Save As JPEG" step. When you batch process this action, you set "Include All Subfolders," make the destination "Save and Close," and you set "Override Action "Save As" Commands" to on.

Using droplets


    A droplet is a small application that applies an action to one or more images that you drag onto the droplet icon Photoshop droplet icon in Photoshop or ImageReady droplet icon in ImageReady. You can save a droplet on the desktop or to another location on disk.

Using the Automate commands (Photoshop)


    The Automate commands simplify complex tasks by combining them into one or more dialog boxes. You can send files directly from the file browser to any of the automation plug-ins that process multiple images.

To use an automated command:

    Choose File > Automate, and then choose any of the commands:

    • PDF slideshow creates a PDF slideshow from multiple documents.
    • Conditional Mode Change changes the color mode of an image to the mode you specify, based on the original mode of the image. Record this command in an action to ensure that images use the correct color mode and avoid generating unwanted error messages.
    • Contact Sheet II produces a series of thumbnail previews on a single sheet from the files in the selected folder.
    • Crop and Straighten (Photoshop) finds, separates and straightens one or more photographs from a single scan.
    • Fit Image fits the current image to the width and height you specify, without changing its aspect ratio.

    Note: This will resample the image, changing the amount of data in the image.

    • Multi-Page PDF to PSD converts each page of a PDF document you select to a separate Photoshop file.
    • Picture Package places multiple copies of a source image on a single page, similar to the photo packages traditionally sold by portrait studios.
    • Web Photo Gallery generates a Web site from a set of images--complete with a thumbnails index page, individual JPEG image pages, and navigable links.
    • Photomerge merges multiple overlapping images into panoramas.
External automation


    Photoshop supports some external automation using OLE Automation (Windows) or AppleScript (Mac OS). Using either of these methods lets you start Adobe Photoshop and execute actions externally.

    Using external automation lets you perform such tasks as:

    • Having another scriptable application generate a series of files, and having Photoshop batch-process them.
    • Having Photoshop batch-process files and save them to your Web site.
    • Writing a script that runs an action and then shuts down your computer late at night after you've gone home.
Creating templates for data-driven graphics (ImageReady)


    Templates for data-driven graphics streamline how designers and developers work together in high-volume publishing environments.

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