How to Create
Automated Tasks in Photoshop
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
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
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
Click the triangle
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
To select actions:
Do one of the following:
- Click an action name to select a
- (Photoshop) Shift-click action
names to select multiple, contiguous actions.
- (Photoshop) Ctrl-click (Windows)
or Command-click (Mac OS) action names to select multiple,
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):
- Do one of the following:
- In the Actions palette, click the
Create New Set button
- In the Actions palette menu,
choose New Set.
- Enter the name of the
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.
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.
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
- You can record the Play command
listed on the Actions palette menu to cause one action to
- 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
- Photoshop and ImageReady cannot
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
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:
- Open the file.
- Do one of the
- To play an entire action, select
the action name, and click the 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
- 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:
- Select the command you
want to play.
- Do one of the
- 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
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:
- Choose Playback Options from the
Actions palette menu.
- 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.
- 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.
- Click OK.
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.
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
- Choose File > Automate
- For Play, choose the
desired set and action from the Set and Action pop-up menus.
- 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
- Opened Files to play the action
on all open files.
- File Browser to play the action
on the selected files in the File Browser.
- 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
- Select Include All
Subfolders to process files in subfolders.
- 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,
- Select Suppress Color
Profile Warnings to turn off display of color policy messages.
- 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 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
- 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.
- 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.
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.
- 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.
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:
- Process your folders as
you would normally, until the Destination step.
- 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
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.
A droplet is a small
application that applies an action to one or more images that you drag onto
the droplet icon
in Photoshop or
in ImageReady. You can save a droplet on the desktop or to another location on
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
- PDF slideshow creates a PDF slideshow from
- 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
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.