Record Your Own Actions in Photoshop CC

The real power of Actions in Photoshop comes to you when you record your own. Sure, the sets of Actions included with Photoshop are great, and the commercial packages of Actions have some good stuff too, but it’s not your stuff. When you record your own Actions, you record the steps that work for your images, your workflow, and your artistic vision.

Actions can’t float free in Photoshop’s Actions panel: Each Action must be part of a set of Actions. Before beginning to record your Action, you can select an existing set or click the fourth button at the bottom of the panel to create a new set. When you have a set selected, you can then click the New Action button (second from right).

Then, in the New Action dialog box that appears (as shown in the figure), assign a name (and color-code for Button Mode and perhaps choose an F-key combination as a keyboard shortcut for playing the Action) and click the Record button.

From that point forward, just about everything you do in Photoshop is recorded as part of the Action until you click the Stop button at the bottom of the Actions panel. No worries, though — you can always delete unwanted steps from a recorded Action by dragging them to the Trash icon at the bottom of the Actions panel.

And if you want to change something in the Action, you can double-click a step and rerecord it.

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You can record most of Photoshop’s commands and tools in an Action, but you can’t control anything outside of Photoshop. (For that you need scripting, introduced later in this chapter.)

You can’t, for example, use an Action to print (controlling the printer’s own print driver), copy a filename from the Mac Finder or Windows Explorer, or open Illustrator and select a path to add to your Photoshop document. Here are some tips about recording your own custom Actions:

  • Open a file first. Open the file in which you’re going to work before you start recording the Action. Otherwise, the Open command becomes part of the Action, and the Action will play on that specific file every time you use it. You can, however, record the Open command within an Action to open a second file — perhaps to copy something from that file.

  • Record the Close command after Save As. When you record the Save As command in an Action, you’re creating a new file on your hard drive. Follow the Save As command with the File→Close command and elect Don’t Save when prompted. That closes and preserves the original image.

  • Use Percent as the unit of measure. If you need an element in your artwork to be in the same relative spot regardless of file size or shape (like a copyright notice in the lower-right corner), change the unit of measure to Percent in Photoshop’s Preferences before recording the Action.

  • Record/insert menu commands. When you use a menu command while recording your Action, the actual values that you enter into the dialog box are recorded, too. If you’d rather select the values appropriate for each individual image (perhaps for the Unsharp Mask filter or the Image Size command), insert the command rather than record it.

    When you reach that specific spot in your process, use the Actions panel menu command Insert Menu Item. With the dialog box open, mouse to and select the appropriate menu command; then click OK to continue recording the Action. In this figure, you see the Insert Menu Item dialog box when first opened (before a command is selected) and after I used the mouse to select the Image Size command from Photoshop’s Image menu.

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  • Record multiple versions of a step, but activate one. Say you want to record an Action that does a lot of stuff to an image, including changing the pixel dimensions with the Image Size command. However, you want to use this Action with a variety of images that require two or three different final sizes.

  • Record Actions inside Actions. While recording an Action, you can select another Action and click the Actions panel’s Play button — the selected Action will be recorded within the new Action.

  • Insert a message or warning. Use the Actions panel menu Insert Stop command to send a message to anyone who plays your Action. The message could be something like “You must have a type layer active in the Layers panel before playing this Action” with buttons for Stop and Continue.

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  • Insert Conditional. New to Photoshop’s Actions is a bit more brain power. If you choose the menu command Insert Conditional while recording an Action, you can choose from a list of situations (as shown to the right in the figure), and select an existing Action to play. If, for example, you need to have a flattened image for a specific situation, first record an Action by choosing Layer→Flatten Image.

    Then, when recording your more complex Action, insert the conditional Document Has Layers and elect to play your Flatten Image Action. If you run the complex Action on an image that’s already flattened, Photoshop will skip the Flatten Image Action specified in the conditional.

    Remember Conditional Mode Change and Fit Image. These two commands in the File→Automate menu are designed to be recorded in an Action that you might later use on a wide variety of images.

    • Conditional Mode Change is very handy when your Action (or final result) depends on the image being in a specific color mode. When you record Conditional Mode Change in an Action, every image, regardless of its original color mode, is converted to the target color mode.

      Say, for example, that you need to apply a certain filter in an Action, but that filter is available only for RGB images. If you record Conditional Mode Change before running the filter, the Action will play properly.

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    • Fit Image specifies a maximum width and height that the image being processed must not exceed, regardless of size or shape — great for batch-processing images for the web. Fit Image maintains your images’ aspect ratios (to avoid distortion) while ensuring that every image processed fits within the parameters you specify.

    Notice the Don’t Enlarge check box in the Fit Image dialog box. If you’re prepping images for a website and reducing them to a specific size to make them download and display faster, you don’t necessarily want to enlarge some of the images, making them download slower. Disable this option when you’re trying to make all the images uniform in size, perhaps for the creation of a PDF presentation (discussed later in this chapter).

  • Always record an Action using a copy of your image. Because the steps that you record in the Action are actually executed on the open file, record your Action using a copy of the original image. That way, if something goes wrong, your original image is protected.

The Actions panel menu also offers the Allow Tool Recording option. This feature enables you to record tools such as the Brush and the Clone Stamp in Actions. However, there are a few limitations. While you can record the tool, you can’t record changing its settings.

If, for example, you recorded the Action using a feathered 40-pixel brush tip, you’ll need to remember to select that brush tip prior to playing the Action. In addition, the data recorded for the tool movement is device-specific.

If you record the Action on one computer and play it back on a computer using a different video card and/or monitor, the results may be slightly different. Do not depend on Actions that record tool movement for precision!

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