If you're a regular Photoshop user, you perform certain tasks over and over again- tasks like resizing, adjusting color and brightness, and creating drop shadows. If this sounds familiar, Photoshop actions can save you time. An action is really a macro, a script that performs a sequence of commands. Photoshop comes with numerous predefined actions; if you do a Web search for "Photoshop actions," you'll find many sites offering more actions to download.
Nevertheless, you'll get the most customized actions by creating them yourself. It requires practice for proficiency. This month we show you how to build a simple one.
The purpose of our sample action will be to resize, edit, and save a photo to fit a specific Web page. You will need several oversized photos, larger than 300 pixels wide, to practice with. Be sure to have copies as backups. Open one now.
Open the Actions palette by selecting Windows/Show Actions. To begin, click on the small arrow on the upper right of the palette and select New Action. Name the action "resize." Photoshop will save the action in the Default Actions folder within the Actions palette. Now, to create an action, you will record the commands you want to include, step by step. To start, click Record.
First we want to reduce the image size to 300 pixels wide. Select Image/Image Size, type in a width of 300, and click OK. (Make sure the Constrain Proportions box is checked.) In this sample scenario, resizing to an absolute pixel width is important because our original photos are quite large and our Web images all need to be 300 pixels wide.
Next we want to sharpen the image. Select Filter/Sharpen/Unsharp Mask. Sharpen the photo, then click OK.
Most of the image edits we execute, including the Unsharp Mask, are what Adobe calls modal controls, meaning they require the user to specify values, such as more or less brightness, Gaussian blur, or some other range of information. Keep this in mind when recording actions. To truly save time, use modal values that can remain uniform across a particular set of images.
Next we want to optimize our smaller, sharper file for use on the Web. Select File/Save For Web. We want to save this, and future Web graphics created with this action, as medium-quality JPEG (Joint Photographic Experts Group) files. Change the settings accordingly using the drop-down boxes to the right. Also, click the Progressive checkbox. We want the images to be progressive JPEGs, which means they download in phases and therefore appear slightly faster in Web browsers. Click OK.
When saving files in an action, it is important not to rename the file. If you change a file's name while recording an action, all future images edited with the action will have that same name. On the other hand, if you leave the image name alone, the graphics will keep their original names.
Now, do not forget to stop recording the action. (This is surprisingly easy to do.) At the very bottom of the Actions palette, click on the square Stop Playing/Recording button.
To test the action, open another image. In the Actions palette, click to highlight the action you want to use. In the checkboxes immediately to the left of the action, make sure the check is showing and the dialog icon is not showing. Then click on the triangular Play Selection button at the bottom of the palette. In a matter of seconds the image is resized, sharpened, and saved for the Web.
You can regain manual control over modal commands, such as the Unsharp Mask, by checking the dialog box icon next to the command. (That is, the dialog box icon should be showing.) This causes the action to pause for you to manually sharpen the image.
Actions are fun to play with, but they're most useful when you have a group of similar photos you need to use in a particular way. In our example, the images are all quite large, and we need to resize and optimize them to fit on a specific Web page. But if the original images range in size and you want to use them in various ways, it's more practical to edit them one by one.