How to Use Photoshop Actions

How to Use Photoshop Actions
Have you ever wanted something to do all the work for you in Photoshop? Then you’ll be interested to hear about Photoshop actions. These addons perform a series of actions to create everything from photo effects to 3D text. In this beginners tutorial, you’ll learn how to use and create your own Photoshop actions.

Step 1 - Installing Your Actions

Before you learn how to create your own Photoshop actions, it’s important for you to try it first and see what they can do. Head over to our Photoshop Actions section and download some actions to try out. You can pick any action but we’ll be using the Instant Hipster actions to demonstrate this tutorial.

ATN vs ZXP files

Sometimes when you download any Photoshop action, you’ll get an ATN file, ZXP file, or both. The difference between the two is that the ATN file will load the actions directly into Photoshop while the ZXP file will install it through Adobe Extension Manager. We recommend using the ATN file because it’s the easiest.

Step 2 - Using ATN files

After you’ve downloaded an action, find the .atn file and double-click it. In Photoshop, open up your Actions panel (Window > Actions).
If you don’t see the actions, you can load it manually by clicking on the panel menu and selecting Load Actions.

Step 3 - Using ZXP files

The ZXP file isn’t always included but if it does, you can choose to install the action using Adobe Extension Manager. It’s a good idea to use Adobe Extension Manager if you plan on installing a lot of addons because you can manage them all in one place.
The number one problem people run into with Adobe Extension Manager is that they can’t find their actions. This is because you need to load them first in your Actions panel menu. In the menu, select the action that you want to load.

Step 4 - Safety Precaution

Not all Photoshop actions are safe to use! Before you use any action that you’re not familiar with, save your document. Many actions will fill your history with so many operations that you can’t undo back to your original document. There are even some actions that purposely merge your layers as a way to make it harder for you to reverse engineer their actions.

Step 5 - Playing an Action

Using the actions is easy. Simply select an action from your Actions panel then click the play button on the bottom. You’ll see the action play – let it run and you’re done! The action we used below was able to generate an exact copy of an Instagram look with just one click. Depending on the action you’re using, they sometimes have their own instructions.
Some actions like these skin retouching actions require you to paint over the skin after playing the action. With these actions, there are usually popups that give you further instructions.

Step 6 - Using Button Mode

You can switch your Actions panel to “Button Mode” which makes your actions clickable buttons. You can switch to this mode by clicking on the Actions panel menu and selecting “Button Mode”.

Additional Panel Options

There are a lot more features in the Actions panel that you can adjust. Have a look at the graphic we created below for all the details.

Final Words

Photoshop actions are great tools whether you're an absolute beginner or an experienced professional. I highly recommend you trying some actions out - there are actions that do everything for you! For starters, check out our Photoshop actions section. If you want more, DeviantART has the most but be careful because some actions will merge your layers and flood your history with unnecessary steps.

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Create Dot Grid Art in 1 Click

Turn any photo into a dot grid artwork with these Photoshop actions. You'll get great results with dots that change size. They get larger in brighter areas and smaller in darker areas. Free download available.

12 comments on “How to Use Photoshop Actions”

  1. […] After downloading the action, double-click the ATN file to load the actions. The actions will appear in your Actions panel. For more details, read our guide on how to use Photoshop actions. […]

  2. […] There are a lot of fantastic retouching techniques and effects you can learn but a lot of times, it's just too much work. This is where Photoshop actions come in handy. They enable you to retouch your photos without spending an hour learning. You can apply film looks, airbrush skin, add light leaks, and more in less than a minute. When we were doing our research for this list, we noticed that a lot of Photoshop actions merged your layers so that you can't undo it. If you didn't save your file ahead of time, then you're pretty much screwed. This is completely unnecessary and most actions were excluded for that. With that said, you can be sure that the actions listed below are the best-quality actions that will leave your layers alone. If you've never used Photoshop actions before, check out our guide on how to use Photoshop actions. […]

  3. The information which is given in this tutorial that will helpful for the learner to understand each and every thing easily.

  4. Hi,

    When i'm using Action panel and I click on the play icon, the action doesn't play alone : I need to accept every adjustment that are made in the action..

    Do you know how can I restore the original Action panel so the action can run alone without my agreement ?

    Thanks !

  5. Do you know how I can load an action that is not a zxp file into extension manager? I want everything to go through extension manager.

    1. You have to make the ZXP yourself with Adobe Exchange Packager that you can download at after logging in. If you just want it to show up in your Actions panel menu, then you can copy it to your Photoshop/Presets/Actions folder but it won't show up in Adobe Extension Manager.

  6. Hey Denny,

    I've always been a PhotoShop newbie, but I think that my wife might finds this quite useful, so I'll be forwarding it to her. (mind you, she only started learning PhotoShop few weeks ago)

    Thank you,

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