Photoshop Top 40
Illustration by John Hersey

30. Actions


Photoshop Top 40

with Deke McClelland

Video: 30. Actions

(Music playing) Deke's Photoshop? Deke's Photoshop? Top 40! There are two varieties of animation in Photoshop, the kind that Photoshop does for you and the kind that you do for yourself. The former is magical but the latter is more effective. Actions is an example of the latter. From the Actions palette you can record virtually anything and play it back on another image. That saves you from the hassle of manually redoing tedious steps over and over again, plus Actions playback at break neck speed, there's no way you can redo the operation that fast.

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Watch the Online Video Course Photoshop Top 40
7h 13m Intermediate Dec 21, 2009

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There's nothing people love more than lists, and Photoshop Top 40 offers a great one, highlighting the best features in Photoshop. Deke McClelland counts down to #1 with a new video each week, detailing one great feature after another in this popular digital imaging application. The videos cover tools, commands, and concepts, emphasizing what's really important in Photoshop.

This is an ongoing course that will be updated monthly.

For the newest updates please go to our blog entry for Deke's Photoshop Top 40.

Topics include:
  • Assembling multiple pieces of artwork with layer comps
  • Creating a black-and-white image from a color photograph
  • Merging multiple channels to create an alpha channel with calculations
  • Selecting images with the Pen tool
  • Masking images using the Brush tool
Design Photography
Deke McClelland

30. Actions

(Music playing) Deke's Photoshop? Deke's Photoshop? Top 40! There are two varieties of animation in Photoshop, the kind that Photoshop does for you and the kind that you do for yourself. The former is magical but the latter is more effective. Actions is an example of the latter. From the Actions palette you can record virtually anything and play it back on another image. That saves you from the hassle of manually redoing tedious steps over and over again, plus Actions playback at break neck speed, there's no way you can redo the operation that fast.

So less work, faster results, what are you waiting for? In this movie I'm going to show you feature #30 Actions which allow you to record and playback repetitive toilsome operations inside of Photoshop, but not only that, you can also use them to build up special effects and share them with others and that's what we're going to do. Now, I want you to understand there's no way in a short video here that I'm going to be able to convey everything that's going on with Actions. So I want you just to sit back and relax and just bask in the glory that is Actions inside of Photoshop.

Now, I have opened this image called Wood grain.jpg. It comes to me from Glue Stock but you can start with any texture image because what we're going to do is add synthetic water droplets and you're not going to believe how great this looks. So, I've brought up the Actions palette. And we're going to start off. I'm just going to show you the basis for this action. We'll just record a few steps in the larger operation and then I'll bring in the big guns. We'll see how everything falls together in the end. So, I've got my Actions palette up. You can get to the Actions palette by going to the Window menu and choosing the Actions command.

The next thing that you need to do is you need to create an action set to house your Action. Now, by default you'll see these default actions. They're no good. You want to create your own. You'll create much better actions and ship with Photoshop, I'm going to guarantee you that. I'm going to drop-down here to this little Folder icon and I'm going to click on it to create a new Actions set and I'll call it My Droplets because we're going to be generating water droplets and I'll click OK. Then after you've done that, that just creates a folder full of respective actions. Now let's actually generate an action by dropping down to this little Page icon and clicking on it to make a new action inside of Photoshop.

And I'm going to call this Our Droplets because we're going to be working together on this, and then I'll click on the Record button. Now, notice down here at the bottom of the Actions palette, you can see this red Record button that's showing us that we're in the middle of recording this action and that Photoshop is going to pay attention to every significant operation we apply. So, things like zooms aren't going to get recorded, things like interface modifications aren't going to get recorded, but changes to the actual image file will get recorded. For starters here, I'm going to press Ctrl+Shift+N or Command+Shift+N on the Mac to make a new layer, and I'm going to go ahead and call this layer Droplet because it's going to contain our droplets, and then I'll click OK and you can see this new Droplet layer right there.

Next, what I want to do, I want to define the droplets as black against the white background. This is very important for later selecting them and that means that I need to establish my default colors of black as foreground and white as background. Now, that's already going on inside of my version of Photoshop, inside this session right now. However, that might not be the case when somebody else places this back. So it's very important that we establish those default colors by pressing the D key and you can see that gets recorded right here inside the Actions palette. So we've made a new layer that's called Droplet and we've reset the swatches. Great! Next, what I'm going to do is I'm going to fill the entire layer with white by pressing Ctrl+Backspace.

That would be Command+Delete on the Mac. You can see that Fill Operation has been recorded. Now I'll go up to the Filter menu and I'll choose Noise, and I'll choose Add Noise. Now the great thing about the Add Noise command is it adds random pixel variations inside of your image, and we'll use those random pixel variations to build our liquid effect. So choose Add Noise. These are the settings that I want you to apply, an amount of 50%, uniform for Distribution and Monochromatic turned on, then click OK. Now that doesn't look much like droplets. We need to gum the random noise together and we can do that by going up to the Filter menu and choosing Blur, and then choose Gaussian Blur, and I'm going to raise that Blur value to 28 pixels.

Now, that doesn't look like droplets. It looks like this gray mess in the background, light gray mess, all be it. However, if your visual acuity was sufficient, you would be able to differentiate the neighboring luminance values, and you would see droplets on screen right now. We just need to bring them out. So I'll click OK in order to accept that effect. Now to differentiate the luminance levels of neighboring pixels, I want you to press the Alt key or the Option key on the Mac. Click this little Black/White icon down here at the bottom of the Layers palette, and then choose Threshold.

And because you have Alt or Option down, that's going to invoke the New Layer dialog box. I'm going to go ahead and call this layer Drop Maker like so, and I'm going to turn on Use Previous Layer to Create Clipping Mask, so that we're affecting the Droplet layer and only the Droplet layer. Click OK. Now, it doesn't look like anything better. It just looks white. That's because we need to move the slider triangle underneath the big spike to about here, 223 is probably going to do you. If not, it's going to be 222 or 224. Thanks to the random variation of the Add Noise command.

But 223 is a good medium setting for our effect. That's saying that your droplets are either going to appear black or white and that's it. And you can now see them appear just manifest out of our otherwise grey image, and they don't look so much like droplets as cow spots at this point but we'll make them look like droplets later. All right! Having done that, we now need to collect everything on a new layer and we're going to do that by pressing Ctrl+Shift+Alt+E, that would be Command+Shift+Option+E on the Mac, and we're using this wacky keyboard shortcut because that's really the only way to work.

So you press Ctrl+Shift+Alt+E or Command+Shift+Option+E. You'll make a merged copy, notice this new layer here of everything that we were seeing all the visible stuff inside the image so far and you can see that the action, the step that is, is called Merge Visible here inside of our Action as it's being recorded. I'll go ahead and double-click on the layer name and I'll change the name to Soft Blur because we are going to be applying a soft blur right now. The reason is if I zoom in on my image, we can see that all of the drops so far are jagged. So we have jagged blacks against jagged whites.

We need to soften those transitions. You do that by going to the Filter menu, choosing Blur and then choosing Gaussian Blur. Once again, let's set the Radius value to something more reasonable such as 6 pixels. Click OK. Now everything looks blurry. We need to increase the sharpness of our droplets at this point, and you can do that using the Levels command. So you press and hold the Alt key or the Option key on a Mac once again, click the Black/White icon and choose Levels. Thanks to the fact you had all of our option, down you'll see the New Layer dialog box. Let's go ahead and change the name of this layer to Sharpener because that is the purpose it'll serve and turn on Use Previous Layer to Create Clipping Mask, click OK.

And I want you to change the values either here inside the Adjustments palette or inside your dialog box depending on which version of Photoshop you're using. I'll go-ahead and click inside this black point value, the first value there and change it to 120, Tab, Tab. That is press the Tab key twice to advance to the white point value and change it to 145 and you will now get these nice smooth transitions between black and white. Doesn't that look great? All right! Go ahead and press the Enter key or the Return key on the Mac to invoke that modification. Now, we need to create yet another layer in which we select the droplets and deselect the area around the droplets.

So select the black, deselect the white, and you can do that by using the entire image as a kind of mask. So I'll hide the Adjustments palette, I will go ahead and switch over to the Channels palette, and I'll press the Ctrl key or the Command key on the Mac and click on RGB right there in order to convert the entire image to a selection outline. Now we've selected white and deselected black, we want the reverse. So go up to the Select menu and choose the Inverse command in order to select the blacks and deselect the whites. Now go back to the Layers palette and of course in case you're wondering well how in a world would you predict this as the way to approach Droplets? This is something you will learn from me as I'm showing it to you but also there's all kinds of droplet techniques out there that have refined down to these steps here. All right! At this point I'm going to Shift+Click on the Droplet layer in order to select this entire range and that's okay to do.

You'll hear people say don't go click in on specific layers when you're recording an action, and that's generally good advice unless you created that layer during the action process. So during this action we created that Droplet layer, we know it's there, so we can safely Shift+Click on it to select this range. Now, I'm going to go up to the Layers palette menu and I'm going to choose New Group from Layers because we don't let these layers anymore. We're just going to group them together and turn them off. When I choose a command, I will get the chance to name these layers, I'll go ahead and call these Drop steps like so, and then click OK in order to create the new group and I'll turn it off.

Now then, let's go ahead and zoom out a little, so we can see what we're doing, and I'll create a new layer to house the Drops by pressing Ctrl+Shift+N or Command+Shift+N on the Mac. Let's go ahead and call this Final drops, and then I'll click OK, and now I'll press Alt+Backspace or Option+Delete to fill that selection with black and I'll press Ctrl+D or Command+D on the Mac in order to deselect the image and we now have these black drops against the wood grain background. Now, at this point you might figure well that's not exactly what we're looking for.

We need some layer effects, we need some other stuff going on in order to really sell the droplets, and rather than showing you how I recorded all that stuff because we'd be here for another half an hour. Is this right? I'm going to go ahead and Twirl Close my new action that I just recorded and if you want to, you could test it out. By the way, you need to stop recording, this is very important. I always forget this step. Stop recording when you're done. It seems so obvious, but it's so easy to forget. All right! I'll go ahead and revert the image by going to the File menu and choosing the Revert command and then I can click on Our droplets right there, the action I just recorded and I could play it back and notice how insanely quickly it plays back.

It plays as fast as Photoshop can possibly play the operations. All right! Let's see some other stuff that I've done in advance for you. I'm going to go up to the Actions palette menu. I'm going to choose Load Actions, and by the way if you want to save your actions to protect them or share them with others, all you do is you select the set and then you choose the Save Actions command. Currently, I can't choose it because my action is selected as opposed to my actions set. You need the folder to be selected if you went to choose that command. I'm going to choose however Load Actions, and I've gone ahead and created this guy right here Water droplets.atn.

We're going to make that available to you at either or, your choice. You can download this file if you like. I'm going to go ahead and load it on up because it's just a little guy and by the way it's cross-platform. You can load it on the Mac or the PC and the action we just recorded Our droplets, that's available to you with some layer effects as basic droplet steps. You can go ahead and play that back. I've also got this more complicated guy right there Water on image that has a few stops built into it, which you can add incidentally using this command right there Insert Stop that allows you to insert a dialog box, little bit of a worrying with the Continue button, and so on, and it actually plays back this little subroutine.

So you can get very fancy indeed with Actions if you like. Let's go ahead and see how this Water on image action works, by going up to the File menu, choosing Revert once again and now this time what I want you to do is click on Water on image if you're working along with me, if you've actually loaded this Actions set. You can click on Water on image, go ahead and open any old image with any old texture in the background. It can even be a person's face or what have you and then what I want you to do is click on this Play button in order to play that action back. Now, every once in a while you're going to get a message, and these are the stops I was telling you about.

In this case it's telling me to use the Up and Down Arrow keys to define the size of my droplet. So I have control over how my droplets appear after all they are completely random, so sometimes they're going to be bigger and sometimes they're going to be smaller. I'll click Continue, and then I will press the Up Arrow key in order to make the droplets bigger or the Down Arrow key to make them smaller. I'll click OK. At this point it's saying hey, do you like the effect you're seeing? If so, just go ahead and click on Continue. If you don't, then what you want to do is click Stop and click the Play button again to try the effect over again because we've got the subroutine right here that is going to replay, which is a really great effect. All right! I'm going to click Stop because I hate my droplets, and what I want to do is drop down to the bottom of the Actions palette and just click Play.

Again, don't click anywhere inside your Action, just click Play in order to re-invoke that subroutine, then it's going to tell you, you need to press the Up and Down Arrow keys once again, try that out. If you like it, great! If you don't, I'm going to click OK. I'm going to click Stop again because I don't like what I'm seeing. I'll click Play once again to replay this operation. Click OK and at this point I like it at 224. At least I like it a lot better than I was before. I'll click OK. I'll click Continue this time in order to demonstrate that I like things. Then I will get this warning here, and notice we've now applied by the way all these layer effects and you can check out the layer effects just by double-clicking on them, see what's going on.

It's Bevel and Emboss that really makes things work incidentally. That makes what was formerly just a bunch of black pixels, look like wonderfully rendered liquid and then it's telling me hey, to simulate the effect of water droplets refracting light, click Continue. Notice that the Wood grain is just moving right through that liquid. If we want to refract the Wood grain a little bit, make it appear to bulge outward, then click Continue. It'll happen automatically for you. You can check out those steps to see what's going on, and now at this point it's saying hey, the next step is to remove the bad edges.

Just to show you what I'm talking about, I'll click on the Stop button and I'll drag upward a little bit and you can see if I scroll up here that we've got these chopped off horizontal and vertical edges that don't look right at all. In order to get rid of those, just click the Play button in order to continue to play that action and that get cropped away and now I see this nice little announcement that gives me credit. This is something you can add with the Stop. You can add a Stop at the end of your action to give yourself credit, to add a URL, and provide other information as well. I'll just go ahead and click Continue in order to accept the final effect.

I'll press Shift+Tab in order to get rid of those palettes, and zoom-in a little bit, and this is our final Water droplet effect recorded and played back again using Actions inside Photoshop.

Find answers to the most frequently asked questions about Photoshop Top 40 .

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Q: Is there a way to batch convert an entire folder of photos from the RBG color mode to the CMYK color mode without having to open and convert each individual image?
A: In the Actions panel in Photoshop, create an action that converts an image from RGB to CMYK. Then link to that action from File > Automate > Batch inside Photoshop.
Next, in the Bridge, select a folder of images. Choose Tools > Photoshop > Batch. Select the action inside the ensuing dialog box.
Or, in Photoshop, select File > Automate > Batch, and select the action and the folder inside the dialog box.
See also: Photoshop CS2 Actions & Automation, Chapter 2 “Action Essentials.”
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