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How to Create an Action in Photoshop

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Alright, so here’s the scenario: you use pre-made actions already and are convinced of their benefit to save time with redundant tasks, but now you’re looking to create your own actions for retouching steps that you perform all the time. This post will cover just how to do that.

In the spirit of saving you time, I’ll keep this short and sweet and get right to it. For this example, I’ll create a Dodge & Burn Starter action where 2 curve adjustment layers are created to make it easy for you to start dodging and burning.

If you prefer watching a video, I recorded myself explain the steps to create a custom Photoshop action:

Step 1: Open the Actions Panel

Go to Window > Actions to toggle the Actions panel…

Toggle the Actions panel
The Actions panel

…After you’ve toggled it once, you’ll see an icon with a triangle in the side panel on the right, making it easy to get back to the Actions panel.

Step 2: Create an Action Set + Create Your Action

To keep things neatly organized, let’s create a folder for our custom actions. Just click on the folder icon in the Actions panel and give the folder a name:

Creating action set
An action set (folder)

Next just click on the icon that’s just to the right of the folder icon to create a new action.

Step 3: Record Your Steps

Now everything you do in Photoshop is being recorded. Start performing the steps you want your action to have:

Recording a step
A step was recorded to add a Curves Adjustment layer

For the Dodge & Burn starter action here are the steps I recorded:

  1. Create Curves adjustment layer
  2. Rename layer to “Burn”
  3. Move center of the curve slightly down
  4. Invert color on mask of the adjustment layer
  5. Repeat steps 1 to 4 for dodge adjustment layer, expect for this one I moved the center of the curve up
  6. Select both adjustment layers
  7. Hit Cmd + G to place into a group
  8. Rename group to “Dodge & Burn”
  9. Expand the group
  10. Select the burn layer
  11. Select the brush tool
  12. Select white as my foreground color

Step 4: Stop Recording

When you’re done with the steps for your action, just hit the stop icon from the Actions panel and you’re all done!

Now you can just click start on your action and all the steps will be done automatically.

Optional Step 5: Tweaks

By default, once your action is created all the steps will be expanded. You can remove unnecessary steps you took, if any, by dragging a step to the trash can icon in the Actions panel. Or, if you want to deactivate a step without deleting it, you can click on the checkmark icon that’s on the left of a step.

Showing all the action steps
The expanded steps

You can also reorder some steps by dragging/dropping them where you want them for that action.

You’ll also notice that there’s a box next to the checkmark icon that’s on the left of each step. If you click and activate that box, it’ll turn on the dialog for that step. That means that if there’s a step that opens a dialog where values can be selected, the action will stop at that step when the dialog for that step opens to let you enter values that work for the particular image you’re working on. This makes it easy to create actions that are flexible and work for all images.

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