Skip to main content

How to make and install Photoshop actions to speed up your editing workflow

Photoshop actions are an easy way to turn complex, multi-step edits into a one-click process. Actions record your exact steps and allow you to replay them to repeat the same edit across other photos. Photoshop pros often make their actions available to download, but you can also easily create your own.

Actions work best for edits that don’t vary between images. For example, a Photoshop action to correct white balance will only work on images that start with the same exact white balance settings, while wreaking havoc on others. The same idea applies to local edits — local adjustments don’t work for actions unless you want the same effect in the same exact location on subsequent photos.

Despite the limitations, Photoshop actions still have a number of different uses, from easily resizing images to creating a cartoon effect quickly. Here’s how to speed up your tedious Photoshop work by installing Photoshop actions or creating your own.

How to install Photoshop actions

Image used with permission by copyright holder

1. Access the actions panel menu.

Inside Photoshop, find the actions panel. If it’s not already open, go to Window > Actions from the menu bar. Then, click on the actions panel menu in the upper right corner (the icon looks like four horizontal lines). In this menu, click on “load actions.”

2. Find and upload the .atn file.

In the pop-up window, locate the Photoshop action file with a .atn suffix and select it. Click okay.

3. Use your actions.

The new actions will be added to a folder in the actions panel, which usually has the same name as the .atn file. Select the action and click the play icon to run it.

If you want to run only part of the action, click the drop-down arrow next its name to see all the steps included in the action. Click the step from which you want to start, then click the play button.

How to create your own Photoshop actions

Image used with permission by copyright holder

While downloading Photoshop actions offers access to some fun effects easily, creating your own Photoshop actions isn’t hard to do. Photoshop actions work great for building in effects, as well as speeding up frequently used editing processes.

1. Get your image to the starting point.

Once you create an action, Photoshop will record your every move. If there are any steps that you don’t want included in the action and applied to every image, get those out of the way first, or save them for after you stop recording the action. For example, you may not want to crop every photo, or you may want to fix flaws like underexposure before getting started.

2. Create a Photoshop action in the actions panel.

In the actions panel (Windows > Actions, if it’s not already open), click the plus icon at the bottom. In the pop-up window, name your action. You can also use the set option to choose a folder for the action, the function key drop-down menu to create a keyboard shortcut, and the color option to make the action easy to find in the actions panel. Once finished, hit record.

Image used with permission by copyright holder

3. Edit the image.

Photoshop is now recording your every move inside that action. Go through the steps that you want to record on the image. Remember, everything — from creating new layers to using the paintbrush to even save and export commands — is recorded.

4. Hit the stop button to finish (or pause).

Once you’ve finished with all the steps that you want to record, hit the stop button. If you want to add more steps after you’ve stopped recording the action, select the action again in the panel, and click the record button at the bottom of the panel.

You can delete an unwanted step in the action by dragging it to the trash can at the bottom of the action panel. Entire actions can be deleted the same way.

To use your action, select it in the actions panel and click the play button.

When and why to use Photoshop actions

The obvious use of Photoshop actions is for editing a batch of photos you’d like to have a similar look. Maybe you’ve put a lot of effort into creating your own personal style that you want to easily apply to future photos, or maybe you’re working on a project where every image needs to fit a specific mood.

But actions can also be used in a decidedly less creative, but still important, manner. For example, after editing a photo, maybe you generally export it multiple times for different platforms: a full-size version for Flickr, a 1080-pixel-wide version for Instagram, and maybe a specific size for your website. You might also need different crops for each one, such as 4×5 for Instagram. Without using actions, you would have to crop and export the image three different times.

Instead, you could record an action that will do all of this work for you and give you your three finished exported images in just a single click.

Photoshop actions sound complex if you haven’t used them before, but they can actually simplify the editing process greatly. So don’t be afraid to experiment with them to discover how they can best work for you.

Editors' Recommendations

Hillary K. Grigonis
Hillary never planned on becoming a photographer—and then she was handed a camera at her first writing job and she's been…
Image Editing 101: How to crop and straighten an image in Photoshop
Close up of Adobe Photoshop app icon being chosen from among other Adobe apps on a laptop screen.

Adobe Photoshop is full of advanced editing tools that let you do everything from change the color of an object to remove the background from an image, but the seemingly humble crop tool is among the most important.

Photoshop offers a couple of ways to crop an image, but the crop tool offers more control, with options to straighten, set a specific aspect ratio, correct perspective distortion, and even fill in missing areas using artificial intelligence. Here's how to get the most out of this simple yet powerful tool in the world's favorite photo-editing program.
Cropping an image in Photoshop

Read more
How much is Adobe Photoshop?

how much adobe photoshop

A once simple question has grown to include multiple answers after Adobe has switched to a subscription-style service. After the launch of Photoshop CC in 2013, Adobe no longer offers a one-time purchase option for its popular photo editing software. Let’s take a look at the different options you have for obtaining Photoshop, and what other options you have if subscription services aren’t your thing.
Signing up for Adobe Creative Cloud

The only way to obtain the latest version of Photoshop is to sign up for Adobe’s Creative Cloud subscription. This service provides creative tools, such as Photoshop and other popular Adobe options, including Illustrator, InDesign, Lightroom, Premiere Pro, Dreamweaver, and more. Depending on the package you select, and whether you are an individual, a business, or a student, there are a few subscription options available.

Read more
How to instal Photoshop brushes (and where to find them for free)
how to install photoshop brushes tutorial featured

Digital artists shouldn’t be limited to a single on-screen cursor any more than physical painters should be restricted to a single paintbrush. Photoshop brushes open up endless possibilities for both photo editing and digital art, from adding texture to creating a digital watercolor from a blank canvas.

Adobe has hundreds of Photoshop brushes that are included with a Creative Cloud subscription, but most of them don’t come pre-installed. Here's how to find and install Photoshop brushes.
How to find free Photoshop brushes

Read more