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If you are fairly new to Photoshop CS3 or CS4 and you find yourself using it on a regular basis, you’ll eventually discover that you perform some of the same tasks or procedures over and over when you’re processing photos or creating designs. You may, for example, tire of duplicating layers, recreating the same layer styles over and over, or applying your favorite layer adjustments or filters to each new photo you bring into the program. Well, Adobe, long ago, realized that giving users the ability to automate tasks would help them work faster and more efficiently in Photoshop.

So if you know how to use layers and other basic controls in Photoshop, you’ll want to start learning about Actions. In learning Photoshop automation, a process that takes several clicks to achieve will be done with one click when that process is saved as an action.

Actions can be as simple or as complex as you need to make them. This tutorial will show you how to create an action that will get you started on the road to becoming an automator wizkid in Photoshop. The action involves creating a white layer styles border around a photo. Once you create the action, you will be able to perform the same process in one simple click.

So fire up Photoshop and let’s get started.

Step 1

Open a photo in Photoshop. For this tutorial, you don’t need to make any enhancements to your image. The focus here is to create an action. Head up to the Photoshop menu and click Window>Actions. A panel of default actions will pop up that you can explore later. If your panel is in button mode, click on the little triangle at the top-right of the panel. A drop-down window will appear. Check off the Button Mode if you need to. Once you’re in the list mode rather the Button mode open that same panel again and click on New Set. Name your set “My Actions”. This set is like a folder where you will store your own custom actions.

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photoshop actions tutorial

Step 2

Now again click on the same triangle at the top of the Actions panel, and this time, click New Action. Give the action a name, such as White Border and then click the Record button to the right. At this point, Photoshop will start recording processes you complete in the program. At the bottom of the Actions panel, you should see a little highlighted red button. Don’t worry, it’s not recording every move you make with your mouse, nor is a timer running. You can take much time as you like.  It’s only recording completed actions that you make in the following steps.

Step 3

Go back to your photo and make sure the background layer is selected. It should be the only layer in the Layer’s panel. Duplicate that layer (Layer>Duplicate Background Layer…). After you do this, you’ll notice that the duplication process you just performed is recorded in the Actions panel.

Step 4

Now go to the button of the Layers palette and click on the “fx” (Add a layer style) button. In the pop-up menu, select Stroke. When the window opens up, make the following changes:

Adjust the Size button to say 3-8 px. Click on the Position button, and select Inside rather than Outside. And finally, if you’re working in Photoshop CS3, select the Color button and then select white as the color, which will change the default red color. Click Ok. Note: if you’re working in Photoshop CS4, the default color may already be white.

automate photoshop actions

Step 5

Go back to the Actions panel and click on the little square next to the highlighted red button at the bottom of the Actions panel. Clicking the square will stop the recording. You have now recorded a seven-click process.

photoshopaction_92

Step 6

Go to Edit>Undo in the menu bar, and undo all the steps you just completed, because now you’re going see Actions in action. Select the title of the action you just created in the Actions panel. At the bottom of the panel, click on the little triangle. It will turn green when you put the cursor on it. Click that triangle and watch Photoshop, in a blink of an eye, add the border back to your photo.

Step 7 – Important: Save your action

If you want to keep that action, you must save it. Photoshop will not save it for you. So go back to the Actions panel. Select the My Actions set you created (don’t select the action itself.)  Next, click again the little triangle at the top-right of the panel, and select Save Actions in the list of menu items. You will probably want to save all your sets of actions in the default Photoshop folder (Photoshop>Presets>Actions), located in your Applications folder.

Now this action created and saved. Whenever you bring a new photo into Photoshop and you want to add that same border around it, all you have to do is open your Actions panel, select the action, and click on the Play triangle to run it.

You can create long and short actions like this for nearly every process you do in Photoshop. You can even search for free developed actions on the Internet that you can try out and use in the program.

If you’re interested in finding out more about automations in Photoshop, get a copy of Matt Kloskowski’s The Photoshop CS2 Speed Clinic. Even if you’re working in CS3 or CS4, this book will be helpful.

Do you use Actions in Photoshop? What is the most useful action that you know/use most frequently? Let us know in the comments.

  1. HK
    May 15, 2016 at 3:36 pm

    How photoshop action to print a psd certificate as pdf with different names of participants?

  2. Bakari
    October 19, 2009 at 2:05 pm

    V.C., can you give me an example of what you mean? Actions can only do what you tell them to do.

  3. V.C
    October 19, 2009 at 4:24 am

    Action is a good idea to automate every step in photoshop.
    But sometimes it makes photos look worse.
    I think we should do step by step, don't try to do it quickly.

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