About actions

An action is a series of tasks that you play back on a single file or a batch of files—menu commands, panel options, tool actions, and so on. For example, you can create an action that changes the size of an image, applies an effect to the image, and then saves the file in the desired format.

Actions can include steps that let you perform tasks that cannot be recorded (for example, using a painting tool). Actions can also include modal controls that let you enter values in a dialog box while playing an action.

In Photoshop, actions are the basis for droplets, which are small applications that automatically process all files that are dragged onto their icon.

Photoshop and Illustrator come with predefined actions installed that help you perform common tasks. You can use these actions as is, customize them to meet your needs, or create new actions. Actions are stored in sets to help you organize them.

You can record, edit, customize, and batch-process actions, and you can manage groups of actions by working with action sets.

Actions panel overview

You use the Actions panel (Window > Actions) to record, play, edit, and delete individual actions. This panel also lets you save and load action files.

Photoshop Actions panel
Photoshop Actions panel

A. Action set B. Action C. Recorded commands D. Included command E. Modal control (toggles on or off) 

Expand and collapse sets, actions, and commands

  • Click the triangle to the left of the set, action, or command in the Actions panel. Alt-click (Windows) or Option-click (Mac OS) the triangle to expand or collapse all actions in a set or all commands in an action.

View actions by name only

  • Choose Button Mode from the Actions panel menu. Choose Button Mode again to return to list mode.

    Note:

    You can’t view individual commands or sets in Button mode.

Select actions in the Actions panel

  • Click an action name. Shift-click action names to select multiple, contiguous actions, and Ctrl-click (Windows) or Command-click (Mac OS) action names to select multiple, discontiguous actions.

Play an action on a file

Playing an action executes the action’s recorded commands in the active document. (Some actions require that you make a selection before playing; some can be executed on an entire file.) You can exclude specific commands from an action or play only a single command. If the action includes a modal control, you can specify values or use tools in a dialog box when the action pauses.

Note:

In Button mode, clicking a button executes the entire action—although commands previously excluded are not executed.

  1. If necessary, select objects on which to play the action, or open a file.
  2. Do one of the following:
    • (Illustrator) To play a set of actions, select the set name, and click the Play button  in the Actions panel, or choose Play from the panel menu.

    • To play an entire single action, select the action name, and click the Play button in the Actions panel, or choose Play from the panel menu.

    • If you assigned a key combination to the action, press that combination to play the action automatically.

    • To play only a part of an action, select the command from which you want to start playing, and click the Play button in the Actions panel, or choose Play from the panel menu.

    • To play a single command, select the command, and then Ctrl-click (Windows) or Command-click (Mac OS) the Play button in the Actions panel. You can also press Ctrl (Windows) or Command (Mac OS), and double-click the command.

Tip: In Photoshop, to undo an action, take a snapshot in the History panel before you play an action, and then select the snapshot to undo the action.

Record an action

When you create a new action, the commands and tools you use are added to the action until you stop recording.

Tip: To guard against mistakes, work in a copy: at the beginning of the action before applying other commands, record the File > Save A Copy command (Illustrator) or record the File > Save As command and select As A Copy (Photoshop). Alternatively, in Photoshop you can click the New Snapshot button on the History panel to make a snapshot of the image before recording the action.

  1. Open a file.
  2. In the Actions panel, click the Create New Action button , or choose New Action from the Actions panel menu.
  3. Enter an action name, select an action set, and set additional options:

    Function Key

    Assigns a keyboard shortcut to the action. You can choose any combination of a function key, the Ctrl key (Windows) or Command key (Mac OS), and the Shift key (for example, Ctrl+Shift+F3), with these exceptions: In Windows, you cannot use the F1 key, nor can you use F4 or F6 with the Ctrl key.

    note: If you assign an action the same shortcut that is used for a command, the shortcut will apply the action rather than the command.

    Color

    Assigns a color for display in Button mode.

  4. Click Begin Recording. The Begin Recording button in the Actions panel turns red .

    Note:

    When recording the Save As command, do not change the filename. If you enter a new filename, that new name is recorded and used each time you run the action. Before saving, if you navigate to a different folder, you can specify a different location without having to specify a filename.

  5. Perform the operations and commands you want to record.

    Not all tasks in actions can be recorded directly; however, you can insert most nonrecordable tasks using commands in the Actions panel menu.

  6. To stop recording, either click the Stop Playing/Recording button, or choose Stop Recording from the Actions panel menu. (In Photoshop, you can also press the Esc key.)

Note:

To resume recording in the same action, choose Start Recording from the Actions panel menu.

Insert nonrecordable tasks into actions

Not all tasks in actions can be recorded directly. For example, you can’t record commands in the Effects and View menus, commands that display or hide panels, and use of the Selection, Pen, Paintbrush, Pencil, Gradient, Mesh, Eyedropper, Live Paint Bucket, and Scissors tools.

To tell which tasks cannot be recorded, watch the Actions panel. If the name of the command or tool doesn’t appear after you perform the task, you may still be able to add the task using commands in the Actions panel menu.

Note:

To insert a nonrecordable task after you create an action, select an item within the action after which you want to insert the task. Then choose the appropriate command from the Actions panel menu.

Insert a nonrecordable menu command

  1. Choose Insert Menu Item from the Actions panel menu.

  2. Select the command from its menu, or begin typing the command name in the text box, and click Find. Then click OK.

Insert a path

  • Select the path, and choose Insert Select Path from the Actions panel menu.

Insert selection of an object

  1. Enter a name for the object in the Note box of the Attributes panel before you start recording. (Select Show Note from the Attributes panel menu to display the Note box.)

  2. When you record the action, choose Select Object from the Actions panel menu.

  3. Enter the name of the object, and click OK.

Record optimization options for multiple slices in the Save For Web dialog box

  • Set the slice optimization options before you start recording the action. Then press Alt (Windows) or Option (Mac OS) and click Remember in the Save For Web dialog box.

    When you record the action, Illustrator will remember the settings.

Insert a stop

You can include stops in an action that let you perform a task that cannot be recorded (for example, using a painting tool). After you complete the task, click the Play button in the Actions panel to complete the action.

You can also display a short message when the action reaches the stop as a reminder of what needs to be done before continuing with the action. You can include a Continue button in the message box in case no other task needs to be done.

  1. Choose where to insert the stop by doing one of the following:
    • Select an action’s name to insert a stop at the end of the action.

    • Select a command to insert a stop after the command.

  2. Choose Insert Stop from the Actions panel menu.
  3. Type the message you want to appear.
  4. If you want the option to continue the action without stopping, select Allow Continue.
  5. Click OK.

Note:

You can insert a stop when recording an action or after it has been recorded.

Change settings when playing an action

By default, actions are completed using the values specified when they were originally recorded. If you want to change the settings for a command within an action, you can insert a modal control. A modal control pauses an action so that you can specify values in a dialog box or use a modal tool. (A modal tool requires pressing Enter or Return to apply its effect—once you press Enter or Return, the action resumes its tasks.)

A modal control is indicated by a dialog box icon  to the left of a command, action, or set in the Actions panel. A red dialog box icon  indicates an action or set in which some, but not all, commands are modal. You can’t set a modal control in Button mode.

  • Do one of the following:
    • To enable a modal control for a command within an action, click the box to the left of the command name. Click again to disable the modal control.

    • To enable or disable modal controls for all commands in an action, click the box to the left of the action name.

    • To enable or disable modal controls for all actions in a set, click the box to the left of the set name.

Exclude commands from an action

You can exclude commands that you don’t want to play as part of a recorded action. You can’t exclude commands in Button mode.

  1. If necessary, expand the listing of commands in the action by clicking the triangle to the left of the action name in the Actions panel.
  2. Do one of the following:
    • To exclude a single command, click to clear the check mark to the left of the command name. Click again to include the command.

    • To exclude or include all commands or actions in an action or set, click the check mark to the left of the action or set name.

    • To exclude or include all commands except the selected command, Alt-click (Windows) or Option-click (Mac OS) its check mark.

      To indicate that some of the commands within the action are excluded, in Photoshop the check mark of the parent action turns red; in Illustrator the check mark of the parent action becomes dimmed.

Specify playback speed

You can adjust an action’s playback speed or pause it to help you debug an action.

  1. Choose Playback Options from the Actions panel menu.
  2. Specify a speed, and click OK:

    Accelerated

    Plays the action at normal speed (the default).

    note: When you play an action at accelerated speed, the screen may not update as the action executes—files may be opened, modified, saved, and closed without ever appearing on‑screen, enabling the action to execute more quickly. If you want to see the files on‑screen as the action executes, specify the Step By Step speed instead.

    Step By Step

    Completes each command and redraws the image before going on to the next command in the action.

    Pause For __ Seconds

    Specifies the amount of time the application should pause between carrying out each command in the action.

Edit and rerecord actions

It is easy to edit and customize actions. You can tweak the settings of any specific command within an action, add commands to an existing action, or step through an entire action and change any or all settings.

Add commands to an action

  1. Do one of the following:
    • Select the action name to insert a new command at the end of the action.

    • Select a command in the action to insert a command after it.

  2. Click the Begin Recording button, or choose Start Recording from the Actions panel menu.
  3. Record the additional commands.
  4. When finished, click the Stop Playing/Recording button in the Actions panel or choose Stop Recording from the panel menu.

Rearrange commands within an action

  • In the Actions panel, drag a command to its new location within the same or another action. When the highlighted line appears in the desired position, release the mouse button.

Record an action again

  1. Select an action, and choose Record Again from the Actions panel menu.
  2. If a modal tool appears, use the tool to create a different result, and press Enter or Return, or just press Enter or Return to retain the same settings.
  3. If a dialog box appears, change the settings, and click OK to record them, or click Cancel to retain the same values.

Record a single task again

  1. Select an object of the same type for which you want to rerecord the action. For example, if a task is only available for vector objects, you must have a vector object selected when you rerecord.

  2. In the Actions panel, double-click the command.

  3. Enter the new values and click OK.

Manage action sets

You can create and organize sets of task-related actions that can be saved to disk and transferred to other computers.

Note:

Any actions that you create are automatically listed in the Actions panel, but to truly save an action and not risk losing it if you delete your preferences file (Illustrator) or Actions panel file (Photoshop), you have to save it as part of an action set.

Save a set of actions

  1. Select a set.

    Note:

    If you want to save a single action, first create an action set and move the action to the new set.

  2. Choose Save Actions from the Actions panel menu.
  3. Type a name for the set, choose a location, and click Save.

    You can save the file anywhere. You can save only the entire contents of a set in the Actions panel, not individual actions.

    Note:

    (Photoshop only) If you place the saved action‑set file in the Presets/Actions folder, the set will appear at the bottom of the Actions panel menu after you restart the application.

    Note:

    (Photoshop only) Press Ctrl+Alt (Windows) or Command+Option (Mac OS) when you choose the Save Actions command to save the actions in a text file. You can use this file to review or print the contents of an action. However, you can’t reload the text file back into Photoshop.

Load a set of actions

By default, the Actions panel displays predefined actions (shipped with the application) and any actions you create. You can also load additional actions into the Actions panel.

  • Do one of the following:
    • Choose Load Actions from the Actions panel menu. Locate and select the action set file, and then click Load (Photoshop) or Open (Illustrator).

    • (Photoshop only) Select an action set from the bottom of the Actions panel menu.

    Photoshop action set files have the extension .atn; Illustrator action set files have the extension .aia.

Restore actions to the default set

  1. Choose Reset Actions from the Actions panel menu.
  2. Click OK to replace the current actions in the Actions panel with the default set, or click Append to add the set of default actions to the current actions in the Actions panel.

Organize action sets

To help you organize your actions, you can create sets of actions and save the sets to disk. You can organize sets of actions for different types of work—such as print publishing and online publishing—and transfer sets to other computers.

  • To create a new set of actions, click the Create New Set button  in the Actions panel or choose New Set from the panel menu. Then enter the name of the set, and click OK.

    note: If you plan to create a new action and group it in a new set, make sure you create the set first. Then, the new set will appear in the set popup menu when you create your new action.

  • To move an action to a different set, drag the action to that set. When the highlighted line appears in the desired position, release the mouse button.

  • To rename a set of actions, double-click the name of the set in the Actions panel or choose Set Options from the Actions panel menu. Then enter the new name of the set, and click OK.

  • To replace all actions in the Actions panel with a new set, choose Replace Actions from the Actions panel menu. Select an actions file, and click Load (Photoshop) or Open (Illustrator).

    Note: The Replace Actions command replaces all sets of actions in the current document. Before using the command, make sure that you have already saved a copy of your current set of actions using the Save Actions command.

Play an action on a batch of files

The Batch command lets you play an action on a folder of files and subfolders. You can also use the Batch command to populate a template for data-driven graphics with different sets of data.

  1. Choose Batch from the Actions panel menu.

  2. For Play, select the action you want to play.

  3. For Source, choose the folder on which to play the action. Or select Data Sets to play the action on each data set in the current file.

    If you select a folder, you can set additional options for playing the action.

  4. For Destination, specify what you want to do with the processed files. You can leave the files open without saving the changes (None), save and close the file in their current location (Save And Close), or save the files to a different location (Folder).

    Depending on the Destination option you select, you can set additional options for saving the files.

  5. Specify how you want Illustrator to handle errors during the batch process. If you select Log Errors To File, click Save As, and name the error file.

  6. Click OK.

    Note:

    Saving files using the Batch command options always saves the files in the same format as the original files. To create a batch process that saves files in a new format, record the Save As or Save A Copy command, followed by the Close command, as part of your original action. Then choose None for the Destination when setting up the batch process.

    Note:

    To batch-process using multiple actions, create a new action, and record the Batch command for each action you want to use. This technique also lets you process multiple folders in a single batch. To batch-process multiple folders, create aliases within a folder to the other folders you want to process.

Batch options

If you select Folder for Source, you can set the following options:

Override Action “Open” Commands

Opens the files from the specified folder and ignores any Open commands recorded as part of the original action.

Include All Subdirectories

Processes all files and folders within the specified folder.

If the action contains any save or export commands, you can set the following options:

Override Action “Save” Commands

Saves the processed files in the specified destination folder and not to a location recorded in the action. Click Choose to specify the destination folder.

Override Action “Export” Commands

Exports the processed files to the specified destination folder and not to a location recorded in the action. Click Choose to specify the destination folder.

If you select Data Sets for Source, you can set an option for generating filenames when overriding Save and Export commands:

File + Number

Generates the filename by taking the original document’s filename, removing any extension, and then appending a three‑digit number corresponding to the data set.

File + Data Set Name

Generates the filename by taking the original document’s filename, removing any extension, and then appending an underscore and the name of the data set.

Data Set Name

Generates the filename by taking the name of the data set.

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