What if I told you that by the end of this article I could drastically boost your Photoshop productivity? Interested? That's actually not an exaggeration if you've never taken advantage of Photoshop's actions and batch processing tools. If you find yourself repeatedly performing the same (often mindless) tasks in Photoshop one step at a time, I'm going to show you a better way to work.

Actions are essentially a way to have Photoshop perform a series of predetermined steps on an image. You create them by first manually performing steps for Photoshop to record. But don't worry, Photoshop isn’t timing you when you record an action. No matter how long you take to perform the steps, once the action is created Photoshop will execute it as quickly as possible, which will always be faster than we mere humans could do it. Most Photoshop commands can be included as part of an action, and I'll show you how you can incorporate those that cannot.  

We'll explore how to:

In this article I'll be using Photoshop CS5. While Photoshop Elements cannot be used to create actions, it can import and run actions created in CS5.

Creating a basic action

Actions live in the Actions panel, available if you go to Window>Actions. Without creating a single action of your own you’ll see the list of default actions that ship with Photoshop. It's important to note that an action must reside in a folder, called an action set. You can name both the Action Set as well as the individual actions. Because Action Sets are the primary means of sorting and finding your actions, I recommend giving them descriptive names that relate to the actions contained within them.

A collection of Photoshop's pre-built
actions can be found in the Default
Actions folder of the Actions panel.
More action sets are available
via the panel's fly-out menu. Click
on one to add its contents to the
Actions panel.

Let's begin by creating a new action set to store our custom actions. Click the folder icon at the bottom of the Actions panel (shown below). A dialog then appears in which you name this new set. In the examples below I typed 'Ellen’s Actions'. This set is where I will store the actions I'll be demonstrating in this article. As you start to create additional actions on your own, however, I recommend that you create several distinct sets that are geared towards specific techniques such as resizing, editing or prepping for output and name them accordingly.

The most common action tasks can be performed by clicking on icons along the bottom of the Actions panel. When you click the New Set icon... ...you're prompted to name the set. I recommend a descriptive name that gives a hint as to the actions contained within it.

In this action we're going to add a copyright watermark to an image. Open an image in Photoshop (the simplest, though not the only way to begin) and then click the New Action icon (shown above). Because we're going to create a white watermark to use on images that are 1280 pixels wide, I name the action accordingly (shown below). 

I've given the action a descriptive name and chosen to house it inside the 'Ellen's Actions' set.

Notice that you can also assign a Fn key to invoke the action, as well as give it a color label.

Press the Record button. To create the watermark perform these steps:

1. Select the Text tool (T) and choose a font, size and color from the Options bar. 2. Create the © symbol by pressing Opt+G on a Mac or hold the Alt key and press 0169 on a PC. Then type your name.
3. Select the Move tool (V) and position the text. 4. Reduce the opacity of the text layer in the Layers Panel as desired.

5. Go to Layer>Flatten Image. 
6. Press the Stop recording icon.
7. Close your image (without saving it).

That's it. You’ve created a watermark action. To test it, open the same image you began with, select your newly created action from the Actions panel and click the Play button.

Before we go any further, you should know that by default the actions sets you create are stored in Photoshop's preferences. Should those get reset or corrupted, you've lost your actions. Fortunately you can save action sets to a more easily accesible location on your hard drive, which I strongly recommend.

With an action set highlighted, clicking on
the panel's fly-out menu lets you save the
it and all of the actions it contains.
Action sets are saved with the '.atn'
extention and can be stored on any shared
drive within your network.

Doing so allows you to export them to another computer, share them with others (including Elements users) and easily bring them into a newer version of Photoshop should you upgrade.

Click here to continue reading our Automating Photoshop article...