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.
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.
A. Action set B. Action C. Recorded commands D. Included command E. Modal control (toggles on or off)
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.
In Button mode, clicking a button executes the entire action—although commands previously excluded are not executed.
(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.
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.
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.
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.
To resume recording in the same action, choose Start Recording from the Actions panel menu.
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.
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.
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.
You can insert a stop when recording an action or after it has been recorded.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
You can create and organize sets of task-related actions that can be saved to disk and transferred to other computers.
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.
You can save the file anywhere. You can save only the entire contents of a set in the Actions panel, not individual actions.
(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.
(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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.