ACTIONS: AUTOMATING TASKS IN PHOTOSHOP

While Photoshop has a host of automation tools, the most versatile, and indeed the most powerful, is called an Action. If you know how to use Photoshop, you know most of what you need to create your own action.

Let's say you have 100 Photo CD images that you want to put on the Web: you could load each one, scale it down, color correct it, sharpen it, and then save it as a JPEG. Or, you could write an action to do the dirty work for you while you kick back and relax. And, best of all, you will achieve consistent results in far less time than you could ever have done manually! Actions can shave seconds, minutes, or even hours off production time.

Although you could write an action to do just about anything, some common uses include: repeating tedious or boring tasks; distributing reproducible special effects (usually for type); and batch processing multiple images.

INTRODUCTION TO THE ACTIONS PALETTE
The Actions palette is like a small (yet powerful) action editor: it allows you to (among other things) create, edit, load, save, delete and play actions. To show or hide the Actions palette, use the Window Show Actions command or press F9 on your keyboard. The figure below shows the Actions palette in List View Mode (its default mode).



A. Stop Playing / Recording
Stops an action that it is playing. Also turns off record mode. This button is equivalent to pressing Esc or Ctrl-Period. You may also stop recording by choosing Stop Recording from the Actions palette menu ().

B. Begin Recording
Push the record button to begin recording a new action or to add additional commands to an existing action. If an action itself is selected, new commands are appended to the end of the action. If an action step is selected, new commands are inserted after the current action step. You may also begin recording by choosing Start Recording from the Actions palette menu.

Note: You may re-record the parameters for a command by double-clicking on its associated action step. If available, the command dialog will appear allowing you to enter new values. Choose OK to apply the new settings or Cancel to leave the original settings.

C. Play Selection
If an action is selected, pushing this button plays the entire action. If an action step is chosen, the action will begin playing from the currently selected command (to the end of the action). You may also choose Play from the Actions palette menu.

Note: To play only the current action step, Ctrl-click on the Play button or Ctrl-double-click the desired action step.

D. Create New Set
Click this button to create a new action set. A dialog box will prompt you for the set's name. This button is equivalent to choosing the New Set command from the Actions palette menu.



E. Create New Action
Click this button to add a new action to the selected set. A dialog will prompt you for the action's name, associated set, keyboard shortcut and Button Mode color. This button is equivalent to choosing the New Action command from the Actions palette menu.



Note: Alt-click the New Action button to skip the dialog and simply accept the default name (and settings) for the new action. Drag-and-drop an existing action onto the New Action button to duplicate it. This is equivalent to choosing Duplicate from the Actions palette menu

F. Delete
Deletes the selected set, action or command. A dialog box will appear, allowing you to confirm the operation. Alternatively, you may access the Delete command from the Actions palette menu.

Note: Alt-click the Delete button to delete the selected item without confirmation. This is equivalent to dragging the desired item onto the Delete button. Delete operations performed in the Actions palette are not added to the History, nor are they available via the Edit » Undo command. However, you may undo / redo (only) the last delete operation by pressing Ctrl+Z.

G. Action Set
Sets behave similarly to folders in that they allow you to organize your actions. You may have as many as 24 actions within each set; and you may have as many sets as you like. Double-click on a set (or choose Set Options from the Actions palette menu) to change its name.

H. Action
An action is basically a Photoshop macro containing one or more pre-recorded commands and/or operations that can be replayed on an image (or sequence) by clicking the Play button or by pressing a predefined keyboard shortcut. Playing an action executes the series of commands contained within it. Actions can only be created within a set (i.e. they cannot exist in the Actions palette outside of a set). Double-click on an action (or choose Action Options from the Actions palette menu) to change its name, keyboard shortcut and Button Mode color.

I. Action Step / Command
Quite simply, action steps are pre-recorded Photoshop commands. Actions are comprised of one or more action steps.

Note: Alt-drag-and-drop an existing action step to duplicate it. This is equivalent to choosing Duplicate from the Actions palette menu.

J. Actions Step / Command Details
Expanding an action step (by clicking on its associated triangular icon) reveals the details (or values) that were set for the command at the time it was recorded.

Note: You may change the parameters for a command by double-clicking on its associated action step (or by choosing Record Again from the Actions palette menu). If available, the command dialog will appear, allowing you to enter new values. Choose OK to apply the new settings or Cancel to leave the original settings.

K. Dialog Checkbox
This checkbox is used to enable (or disable) a command's dialog box – the checkbox is only available for commands that have an associated dialog box. If enabled, a small dialog icon will appear to indicate that Photoshop should pause the action at the designated step to prompt the user for the desired values. The default is to not display a dialog box (indicated by an empty checkbox), but instead, to use the values that were recorded for the command when the action was created.

Note: Enabling (or disabling) the dialog checkbox for a set turns on (or off) all dialogs for all actions within the set. Similarly, enabling (or disabling) the dialog checkbox for an action turns on (or off) all dialogs for all applicable commands within the specified action (but does not affect any other actions within the current set). A red dialog icon indicates that one or more (but not all) dialogs have been enabled within an action (or set). A grey (or ghosted) dialog icon indicates one of two things: either the dialog box has been enabled, but the command, action or set has been excluded; or, the command was inserted, without values, via the Insert Menu Item command (see below). In the case of the latter, the user will be prompted for values when the action is executed.

L. Include Checkbox
The include checkbox is used to turn action steps – or even entire actions or sets – on or off. By default, all commands have a small checkmark icon, indicating that the commands are to be included when an action is played. An empty checkbox indicates that the command has been disabled (or excluded), meaning that Photoshop will skip over it when executing the action.

Note: Enabling (or disabling) the include checkbox for a set turns on (or off) all steps for all actions within the set. Similarly, enabling (or disabling) the include checkbox for an action turns on (or off) all steps within the specified action (but does not affect any other actions within the current set). A red checkmark icon indicates that one or more (but not all) steps within an action (or set) have been disabled.

M. Actions Palette Menu
In addition to the many controls discussed above, the Actions palette menu (accessed by clicking the button) also contains several commands that are very useful for creating and editing actions.

Dock to Palette Well
Quite simply, this command stores (or "docks") the Actions palette in the Palette Well (on the right side of the Options palette). This is equivalent to manually dragging the Actions palette into the Palette Well.



Button Mode
By default the Actions palette appears in List View Mode. Button Mode turns each action into a button displaying the name, color and keyboard shortcut assigned to it in the Action Options dialog. Simply click a button to play its corresponding action. Despite how easy Button Mode is to use, its usefulness is limited because you cannot create, edit or modify actions in any way while in this mode.

Insert Menu Item
This command allows you to insert the selected menu item into the current action. Inserted items appear below the active action step. This command is available regardless of whether or not you are in record mode.



Two key uses for this command are: to insert commands that may otherwise be unavailable (or inaccessible) while in record mode (such as showing or hiding palettes); or, to insert a command without values (so as to prompt the user for input when the action is played).

Insert Stop
Despite its name, a stop does not actually stop an action; it simply pauses the action to display a user-defined message box (of up to 200 characters). Typical uses for a stop include: providing instructions or copyright and/or version information to other users; or, to allow the user to perform manual tasks such as painting, or inserting text, prior to resuming the action. By default, Stop dialogs always contain a Stop button: however, an optional Continue button may also be included.

Insert Path
This command is only available when a path (or shape) is selected. Use it to insert the selected path into the selected action (below the active step) as a series of anchor and handle coordinates.

Tip: Set your ruler units to percentage before using this command. This will ensure that the path is sized and positioned relative to the canvas size. Otherwise, the path may appear too large, or completely outside the canvas boundaries.

Set / Action Options
Use this command to rename an action (or set) or to change its function key or Button Mode color. You may also double-click on an action (or set) to access the Options dialog box.

Note: Assigning a keyboard shortcut (or hotkey) allows you to quickly execute an action by pressing the assigned key(s) on the keyboard. You may even wish to assign a keyboard shortcut to frequently used commands that do not already have an associated "hotkey" (such as Image » Crop, or Edit » Stroke).



Playback Options
This command allows you to set the playback speed for actions. Accelerated plays actions as fast as possible (which is desirable for most circumstances), Step by Step allows the screen to refresh between commands (useful for debugging), and Pause For pauses between commands for the defined number of seconds (between 1 and 60). You may also toggle the Wait For Audio Annotation option on or off.

Clear All Actions
As the name implies, this command removes all actions (and sets) from the Actions palette.

Note: Although you cannot undo this operation via the History palette or the Edit » Undo command, you can undo (or redo) the last operation (only) by pressing Ctrl+Z.

Reset Actions
This command removes all actions from the palette and replaces them with the default set.

Note: Selecting this command will result in a warning message that allows you to accept the replacement, cancel it, or append the default set to the existing set(s). Hold down the Alt key when choosing this command to skip the warning. This command can be undone by pressing Ctrl+Z.

Load Actions
Use this command to load an existing action set. Also note that you can quickly load actions by choosing them (by name) from the bottom of the palette menu.

Note: In order for an action to appear in the Actions palette menu, it must be saved in the Photoshop 7.0\Presets\Photoshop Actions\ folder (or subfolder).

Replace Actions
Replaces all actions (and sets) in the Actions palette with the selected set.

Save Actions
Although the contents of the Actions palette are remembered from one session to another, they are not really saved until you save them using this command. In fact, you cannot use either of the above commands (Load Actions and Replace Actions) for a set until it has first been saved. Also, you cannot save individual actions, only sets. If you want to save a single action, it must be placed into its own set. Save your actions in the Photoshop 7.0\Presets\Photoshop Actions\ folder (or subfolder).

Creating simple actions===>