Photoshop Timesavers – Building Actions and Batch Processing

Alex Sailer

Category: Creative


I have a love/hate relationship with Photoshop. Photoshop is the program countless people use in the web design and development industry, all day, everyday. It takes weeks, and often months, to complete a design from start to finish. Saving time in Photoshop can cut back on those countless hours of design. This means less time in front of the computer, and more time enjoying life (or other design media). Over the next few months, we’ll look at a host of ways to be more Photoshop-efficient, but today, I’d like to cover the ins and outs of building Actions and automating Batch Processing.

ACTIONS: What are they?

First, let’s talk about Actions. An Action is a series of commands or events (steps) that automatically change characteristics and details of a file within Photoshop. Actions are great for two reasons: you can apply effects to multiple files, and you can apply those effects without having to remember the settings for each effect. Let’s get into it and run through how to successfully create and run an action in Photoshop.

Locate the Actions Panel by selecting Window > Actions.

Familiarize yourself with the options in the Actions Panel. Immediately, you’ll notice your default Actions are organized into sets. At the bottom of the Actions Panel are two buttons: “Create New Set” and “Create New Action.” At the top right, there is an Options list button that displays all of the options associated with the Actions Panel. Most notable is the Load Actions option. There are dozens upon dozens of Action sets out there on the Internet: find one you like, download it, and load it into the Actions Panel. Using someone else’s Actions set as a starting point will give you an understanding of what exactly you will be creating when you get into making your own Actions.

Creating an Action

Creating a new Action from scratch is a straightforward process. Start by clicking the “Create New Set” button at the bottom of the Actions Panel. This will create a sub-folder in your Actions folder. Stay organized! Be sure to name your set (folder) appropriately. Next, click the “Create New Action” button. At this point, you have the option of assigning your new Action to a set, a function key (f1, f2, etc.), and a color. Remember: these are just options and can be completely left alone.

You are now ready to record your action. Once you’re ready, click “Record.”

This is the easy part: edit your document normally. However, keep in mind that Actions are meant for simple layer adjustments like “Image Size,” “Brightness/Contrast,” “Shadows/Highlights,” etc., and usually anything else in the image adjustment toolkit. You can create Actions for everything except for the tools that depend upon specific hand movements, such as the brush tool.

After completing your Action commands, click the “Stop” button to stop recording commands. Congratulations. You’ve successfully created an Action!

Now it’s time to run your newly created Action on a document. This, my friends, is where the magic happens. With a new pre-edited image open, click the “Play” button on the Actions Panel. Photoshop will now automate all of the commands you’ve recorded in your action. Boom. You’re now ready to save some serious time!

But wait … there’s more.

Batch Processing

It’s time for a little more Automation. In particular, I’m referring to Batch Processing. In Photoshop, there is a trusty menu called “Automate.” Inside that menu is an option called “Batch.” Batch Processing allows you to run Actions on open files or an entire folder. This is perfect for situations involving multiple files that require the same treatment.

To open the Batch dialog, click File > Automate > Batch.

Once inside the Batch dialog, familiarize yourself with all the options. Let’s start from the top. The “Set” dropdown refers to the Action Set that contains the specific action you want to use. The “Action” Dropdown is where you actually select that specific action. The “Source” dropdown is very important: this is where you decide which files you are Batch Processing. Lastly, there is the “Destination” dropdown. This option allows you to decide where your files will end up after Batch Processing.

Start by selecting your “Set” and “Action.” Usually, I select “Folder” in the “Source” dropdown so that I don’t have to open up every single file that I plan to process (another timesaver!). Once you’ve selected the Source, it’s time to pick a destination for your post-processed files. If you haven’t done so already, this is a good time to create a new Folder – I suggest placing it somewhere easily accessible to keep these files well organized. After your destination is set, you’re ready to Batch Process your files. Click OK, then sit back and watch Photoshop do its work.

After all this, you are now ready to use Actions to easily process images and run Batch Processing to apply those Actions to large quantities of files. Total Automation! It feels good to save time, doesn’t it? Now go outside and play.

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