Automate the Mundane - Basic Action Writing in Photoshop

Repeating the same steps over and over and over again can be, well… repetitive. Thankfully, the wonderful programmers at Adobe think so too, and thus have given us the ability to write Actions within the program to help with those annoying tasks. Here is a quick guide to writing a basic action in Photoshop.

1. Decide exactly what you would like to do. Once you start recording it is a pain to have to step backwards. Consider writing your steps down on paper so that you don’t miss anything.

2. In this tutorial we will be writing a basic action to create a black and white copy of our original image. Start by opening up a photograph, as seen below.

3. Next, open your Action panel. In the default view of Photoshop it is already open on the right. If not, you can go to Window > Actions or hit Alt+F9. Your actions panel should look something like this:

4. If you would like, you can create a new folder for your custom actions. As you can see above I have a folder titled “Tutorials” for this specific instance. You may name yours whatever you’d like. Once you have a folder, go ahead and click on the “Create New Action” icon at the bottom of your actions panel.

5. A new window pops up asking for information about your action. Title your action “Black and White” and select the folder (again mine is “Tutorials”) where you would like the action to be saved. Here you can also create a keyboard shortcut for your action and color code it. These are optional steps. For the purpose of this tutorial, just leave them blank. Click “Record.”

6. While recording, right click on the background layer and select “Duplicate Layer…” from the menu. Click OK when the option screen comes up.

7. From the Layers Panel, select the “Create new fill or adjustment layer” and then select “Black and White”

8. DO NOT edit the black and white layer. Here we are going to add a stop so that in the future you can pick whatever adjustments are necessary. You’ll see why in a moment. While still recording, click on the dropdown menu in the Actions panel and select “Insert Stop…”

9. When the stop menu comes up, type in text such as “Adjust Black and White layer as needed and then click Play to continue” then click OK.

10. While still recording, go to your layers panel and Shift+Click to select both the Black and White adjustment layer and your background copy. Right click and select “Merge Layers”

11. In the adjustments panel, click on the stop button (pictured below). This will complete your recording of the action.

12. Your final image will look something like mine below. Notice the two layers in your layers panel. I have tested my action on this same image and tweaked the default Black and White setting to get the image you see below.

I have also tested my action on another image, below is the result.

Once your action is done recording, you will see in your layers panel that there are two layers: the original file and a black and white copy of the background layer. We did this so that in the case of an accidental action, you’ve not edited your original image. Also, you remember that we added a stop. This is NOT a necessary part of the action however it is a great part to know. In the future when writing more complex actions, you may need to add a stop so that you can personally adjust layers, colors, sizes etc. and now you know how to do that.

I encourage you to test your action before assuming it works properly! Open another image file and click “Play” while having the action title selected. It should work fine. If you have any questions on this tutorial, feel free to post them below and I’ll respond as often as possible.

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