Best practices of using Adobe Photoshop actions to save your time


What are Photoshop Actions?

If you are wondering what are actions made for here is quick explanation.

Adobe Photoshop actions are pre-recorded commands saved in a set which can be “played” with a single-button click.

Let’s say you’ve made a few changes to your image, and spend 1 minute and 20 seconds on all this adjustments:

  1. ┬áChanged it’s size
  2. Added curves layer with some adjustments
  3. Changed color space of your image

And if you have 100 images it will took you 133.3 minutes to repeat all that steps for every picture.

More than 2 hours of work!!!

save time with photoshop actions

Instead, you can spend 3 minutes for creating action with all the steps listed above, and use it as much as you wish in your future editing workflow.

This will save you a lot of time in the long run ­čÖé

Track your time

Examples of using actions:

Possibilities of using actions in Photoshop are almost endless. You can create them for any kind of work you are dealing with: design, general photography, retouching, color correction, or any project inside Adobe Photoshop.

My favorite action sets are:

  1. Basic actions – this is a “pre-production” stage where I prepare images for further retouching. Here I can apply exposure corrections, color temperature adjustments and contrast shifts.
  2. Portrait photography (Retouching actions). Here I often use color correction actions to add extra mood for my photographs, frequency separation action to clean the skin and make face retouching more perfect. Also Dodge&Burn actions are used in every single portrait I’m working on.
  3. Creative actions – double exposure, color toning, cross-processing.
  4. Export actions – they are handy to save images to different file formats, resize them and add extra sharpening.

My favourite actions in Photoshop

You can see more details on the overall process here >>>

Single actions or a complete action sets can be stored in a tiny .atn file, that simply can be transferred between computers and installed in Photoshop in a single click.

4 -Action atn file

This makes them easy to use on different computers, update steps in single action, or add more actions within set.

Which leads us to….



Free actions for Photoshop

Yes, if you are reading this post I bet you’ve already tried to download lots of “free” actions before.

And I’m 99% sure, that 99% of that free actions were useless and you didn’t enjoy to implement them in your photographs.

There is two main reasons for this to happen:

  1. You didn’t create them and have no idea what’s going on after you hit “Play”. (But you SHOULD know what EXACT steps are recorded inside and why you need them)
  2. They are just useless without a complete guide of how to use them all together. Because editing, retouching, color correction and so on are just small steps of overall workflow in between importing raw image and exporting fully finished great picture.

Which leads us to….



Why we need to use actions?

  1. They will save us lots of time on repeating steps
  2. When you use actions you better understand workflow and have a step-by-step guide
  3. Your workflow is fully automated
  4. You can transfer action sets between computers and constantly improve them (add new steps, delete or modify some parts)
  5. Work in Adobe Photoshop the right way


Benefits of using Photoshop actions:

  • They are compatible with most versions of Adobe Photoshop from CS6 to CC2017.
  • Good for both beginners and professional photographers or designers
  • Field of usage is very wide and easily customizible
  • Actions help not only to save time but also prevent editing mistakes
  • If you plan to or already became professional photographer, retoucher or designer it is impossible to achieve high-end results wihtout using actions


But we can also be facing some difficulties:

  • We need to clearly understand how every single action that we use works
  • For that we need to create our own actions or have guidelines (video or text example) on using them


Other methods of automating your workflow:

Actions vs. Presets – to be brief the main difference is that presets are used in Adobe Lightroom, and actions are used in Adobe Photoshop.

Also presets change different parameters simultaneously, completely changing overall look of image, while actions do their job step-by-step, and you can control their playback (you can skip some steps, pause them, adjust parameters in different steps etc.)


Default Actions

When you start clean in Photoshop you have some pre installed default actions.

Just FYI: default actions are $#1t ­čÖé

I don’t know too much people using them. Actually I don’t know no one.

So you can just delete them choosing “Default actions” and hitting the trashcan button on the bottom right.

The same advice is true for 99% of “free” internet actions – in most cases they provide low quality results, are too complicated and use too many steps which slows them down.

Default actions


Creating an action

Let’s create our first action and learn how to record it.

First of all we need to create a folder where actions will be stored. It is named “Create new set”. To do that let’s click on a folder icon in the bottom of actions panel and give it a name.
Create new set
Next we need to click on blank paper icon named “Create new action” to create a new action and give it a name.

Create new action

After we did that we need to start recording all the included steps by clicking the “Begin recording” Button

Record action
To add description to any action we should use “Insert stop” command from the drop down menu on the top right side of actions panel.
Insert STOP
Also I recommend adding a snaphot in the beginning of action to be able to compare the before/after results later.

Create new snapshot
We can also assign color labels and shortcuts to any action by choosing “Action options” drop down menu.

action options

If you added a wrong step into action by mistake you can easily delete it by holding the ALT key and clicking a trash can.

 delete action step

Changing the action

To modify the action you can do next:

  • Turn selective steps on or off with a checkmark on that step
  • Enable or disable a popup windows with a checkmark
  • Add a new step in between others by hitting the REC button

modify actions


Universal actions and solving problems while playing actions

To achieve best results on working with actions you need to be sure that they are universal, compatible with other versions on Photoshop and play smoothly.

First of all you should know that sometimes actions don’t play, or stop with errors. There are few reasons for that:

  • Action was created in outdated version of Photoshop
  • Actions was created in non-English version of Photoshop (action is using some steps, that are in different language)

To solve this you need to check on what step you got an error, and fix that step or all the steps that don’t play.


Saving action

To save actions on your hard drive you need to:

  1. Choose action set
  2. Click “Save actions” from a dropdown menu
  3. Be sure to make backups of actions all the time. Following this rule will help you not to lose some of them if you accidentally delete or modify something

Save action
I highly recomend to create a folder in your Dropbox or Google Drive to backup .ATN files.

google drive and dropbox


Installing Actions

There are two methods:

  1. Simply double click on .ATN file you have on your HDD.
  2. Open that .ATN file from actions palette

Action atn file

HINT! If you reboot your computer sometimes actions installed with method #1 can disappear, so I recommend using the second method instead.

Playing action

To play any action you should just choose it and press the “Play” button.

Play Action

Button mode

To make “Playback” process of actions more visual and easy you can switch to “Button” mode .

This will interpret actions panel to visual representation of actions with colors marks.


Read┬ásecond part of the article “Photoshop Actions 2017: Advanced Techniques. Automation, Batch and Droplets (part 2 of 2)” here >>>


To practice using actions you should download a few of them here>>>

Also I have a step-by-step course on working with actions “Adobe Photoshop: Save Time With Actions (+91 Actions Inside)”

In just 1.5 hours you will learn everything about using actions in design, retouching, color correction, toning and exporting images.

You can check it here >>>


Final words

Start using actions if you hadn’t done it yet! I’m sure that very soon your life will became impossible without them.

Try, experiment, create and have fun Photoshopping ­čśë


Recommended software, programs & services:


Training resources & downloads

New to Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Lightroom? Take a look at the following high quality resources:

Adobe Photoshop: Save Time With Actions (+91 Actions Inside)
Photography Marketing Masterclass: Book Yourself Solid
Lightroom CC: Create Professional Color Correction Easy&Fast
Lightroom CC for Professional Photographers
Lightroom CC: Professional Portrait Retouching

Download my example actions >>>

Watch tutorial how to use them>>>


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