Al Ward's PhotoShop Productivity Toolkit: Over 600 Time-Saving Actions


Photoshop actions automate repetitive tasks, reducing the time spent on tedious aspects and allowing more time for creative work. Al Ward's Photoshop Productivity Toolkit is the first of its kind--a complete book/CD package that teaches you how to take advantage of Photoshop's automation features and gives you over 700 productivity-enhancing actions. You can immediately apply these actions to your work, or follow the in-depth tutorials to learn how to modify and create new actions. Written by Al Ward, the man ...
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Photoshop actions automate repetitive tasks, reducing the time spent on tedious aspects and allowing more time for creative work. Al Ward's Photoshop Productivity Toolkit is the first of its kind--a complete book/CD package that teaches you how to take advantage of Photoshop's automation features and gives you over 700 productivity-enhancing actions. You can immediately apply these actions to your work, or follow the in-depth tutorials to learn how to modify and create new actions. Written by Al Ward, the man behind the popular actions site and the actions guru for the National Association of Photoshop Professionals (NAPP), this is a must-have resource for anyone working with Photoshop.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
You’re a Photoshop user. You’re busy. You know Actions save time -- but who’s got time to consistently record and keep track of them? Don’t bother: Al Ward’s done it for you. This book and CD-ROM package contains more than 600 actions you can start using right now. You’ve seen Photoshop tips books before, but with this one, the tips run for you!

Ward covers the waterfront, from simple to complex, photo processing to instant contact sheets. Transforming photos to clip art or newspaper sketches. Equalizing highlights and shadows. Adjusting levels. Warming. Cooling. Adding a new layer-based slice. Resizing. Creating oiled metal type.

Six hundred isn’t enough? Ward, a true Actions evangelist, shows how to record your own. And that, too, is easier than you think. Bill Camarda

Bill Camarda is a consultant, writer, and web/multimedia content developer. His 15 books include Special Edition Using Word 2003 and Upgrading & Fixing Networks for Dummies, Second Edition.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780782143348
  • Publisher: Wiley
  • Publication date: 7/15/2004
  • Edition description: BK&CD-ROM
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 143
  • Product dimensions: 7.46 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.41 (d)

Meet the Author

Al Ward is a prominent author and member of the Photoshop community. His website,, supplies Photoshop users with treasured actions and information. He has authored and contributed to many Photoshop books and has written for Photoshop User Magazine and websites such as Planet Photoshop and Photoshop Café. Al serves as the official actions guru for the National Association of Photoshop Professionals (NAPP).
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Read an Excerpt

Al Ward's Photoshop Productivity Toolkit

By Al Ward

John Wiley & Sons

ISBN: 0-7821-4334-2

Chapter One

What Actions Are Made Of

Chapter Contents

Why Automate? The Actions Palette Batch Processing and Droplets

Doesn't it always seem as if there are more tasks to perform during the day than the hours will allow? I find myself in this situation regularly. Such is the life I've chosen; if I'm not in front of my computer, the bills don't get paid. If there were a way to automate day-to-day tasks, I could focus on the important work or be off enjoying my family. Fortunately, Adobe created actions, which allow busy Photoshop and ImageReady users to record the steps of a task for replay later. Complete a task successfully once, and the software can duplicate those steps on another image or group of images. Now that's what I call living!

Why Automate?

Why should you automate? The primary reason comes down to the old axiom from Poor Richard's Almanac (written by Benjamin Franklin, for those keeping score): time is money. Say you have 1500 photos that need a simple levels adjustment or batch resizing to thumbnails. Tackling such a task could take days, regardless of how simple the process: the sheer volume of photos needing processing requires hours upon hours of valuable time. A Photoshop action, on the other hand, can take care of the process in hours, and you need not be present during the work.

I will be covering the Actions palette in depth later in this chapter. Let me say this up front: actions are far more useful than they have been given credit for. I've been a champion of these little scripts for years, and in these pages I'll demonstrate why actions are not only cool to play with, but are powerhouses of production that will save both time and money for the actions-savvy photographer.

What Is an Action Anyway?

I recently looked up the word action in the dictionary, and, as is usually the case with English words, action renders at least eight separate definitions. Nearly all the definitions imply an act or movement that leads to or ends in a desired result. That being the case, the word action is appropriate when applied to Photoshop's ability to record steps taken within the software.

An action is, in its simplest form, a small file created by Photoshop (with input from the user) to which the software assigns a particular extension. This extension (.atn) simply tells Photoshop that the file is an action that the software can read and repeat. Programmers familiar with macros will grasp the similarity right away. When you load a prerecorded action into the Actions palette and play it, every command in that action is carried out in the same sequence in which it was originally recorded.

An action works just like a recording. When you create an action, every Photoshop function you perform is added to the "tape" until you stop the recording process, and it can then be played back and repeated without the need for the user to go through every step again. The icons on the bottom of the Actions palette when in List mode reflect the recording idea, as shown in Figure 1.1.

Above all else, actions are time- and money-savers that, when recorded and implemented properly, help you increase production and give you more time to pursue other avenues or aspects of your work. They may seem intimidating to those unfamiliar with them, but actions are easy once you get a handle on them. When you begin to see the power of these little recordings, I'm sure you will wonder how you ever lived without them.

How Will Actions Help My Work?

Actions can help in a number of ways. It doesn't matter if you are a photographer who wants the best resolution for your portraits or a web designer looking for continuity in your website graphics; actions will increase your productivity. Remember, time is money.

Actions can be customized to fit particular workloads. For instance, a print house could hire a Photoshop guru to create an entire set of Photoshop actions specific to the needs of their business. These actions will allow the print house to batch process groups of images to meet the preprint requirements for specific magazines and periodicals. As the requirements change and develop, the actions can be edited accordingly. Even actions not originally developed to the printer's specifications (for example, third-party actions found online or elsewhere) can be edited, customized, and resaved with the new settings.

Actions are also useful because they can be shared with others. Say you have a friend who has developed a process in Photoshop that turns every photo it is applied to into a Picasso. If that friend records the technique as an action, he can then give it to you. You load it into the Actions palette on your computer, and, barring any system or software compatibility issues, you can duplicate the effect on your own photos with a click of a button. (See Chapter 4 for information on compatibility.)

I find one other thing about actions incredibly useful. An action is, in effect, a text file. With the .atn extension, it cannot be viewed by a text editor; however, Adobe has incorporated a way in which to convert an action or a group of actions to a text format. As a result, you can make a hard copy of the entire process: every setting, every command, every filter used to make a certain effect or adjustment can be saved as a text file, opened in text-editing software such as Notepad, and then printed as a hard-copy tutorial for you to use at your leisure. Keep in mind that, in order to use the actions in Photoshop, you must save them as normal .atn files: the text files serve as informational documents only and cannot be loaded back into the program once saved as text. Granted, you may not need this feature for actions you create yourself, except as a reminder of how you organized the commands. But when it comes to actions you've gathered from other sources, this is a powerful feature, because it allows you to view all the commands and settings used. This is an excellent learning tool that will be covered in Chapter 4. Once you have the process down, you can save any action on the CD included with this book as a text file and print it for your training library. Talk about double the bang for your buck!

What Can an Action Record?

Actions are extremely versatile in that they allow you to record almost everything-I repeat, almost. Not all settings, commands, and tools can be recorded, but you can work around these limitations. Actions are so versatile, in fact, that you can record steps into actions in many ways. You can use the menus, or, if you are savvy with keyboard shortcuts, you can record with these.

Table 1.1 is a neat list of which tools can and cannot be recorded with actions.

Basically, any tool that requires you to paint, manually select, erase, or alter the image/layer with the mouse cannot be recorded; you must still perform most of these functions manually.

That said, in one situation you can apply paint with the action. If, for instance, you create a path or a path from a selection, you can stroke the path with a Paintbrush so that the paint is applied along the path. As mentioned, there is usually a workaround for things that "can't" be done with actions: you may need to use a little intuition to find it. An action is only as intelligent or complex as the creator makes it: the firmer your grasp on how the software works, the more functionality you can squeeze from actions.

You can record most operations and filters in actions, as well as settings and commands from within palettes. For instance, while recording an action, you can select another action to be played; I'll cover this topic in Chapter 3.

For those commands that cannot be recorded (painting and toning, option settings for tools, view and window commands), you can use the Insert Menu Item command. In effect, this stops the action and lets you perform the nonrecordable function. Spell-check is a good example of this; user input is required in this instance, and Photoshop won't know which version of there, their, or they're you want. Again, this will be covered in depth later.

One other item will help you when developing actions: a Stop. A Stop lets you insert messages into the action so that while the action is replaying, you can tell the user to perform certain functions that are otherwise nonrecordable, tell them to change or apply text, or simply give them information about the action. You can even advertise your website, leave your e-mail, or give out any other information you would like. Another excellent use for a Stop is a personal note to help you remember what you were doing at a certain point.

What Would I Automate? Why Should I Automate?

Since Photoshop allows you to automate nearly every function in the software, this is a difficult question to answer. Repetitive tasks that you perform frequently without adjustment to settings are clear candidates for actions. Resizing, image quality techniques, preparing items for display online or in print, creating text styles for watermarks, cropping, rotating, and applying filters are all good contenders.

Ultimately, the question of what you should or should not automate is up to you. You know better than I which commands you use frequently and at what setting. Some people record actions for the simplest functions; some create them for techniques that are extremely advanced and time-consuming.

For instance, let's take a quick look at keyboard shortcut combinations. Keyboard shortcuts let you select and apply/reapply tools or settings and are intended to be easy, correct? The problem is that there are so many keyboard shortcuts it is difficult to remember a fraction of them! You recall the ones you use frequently, but those you use less frequently are long forgotten or hard to track down.

Case in point: let's say you want to rerun the Transform command with duplicate data from the original layer. The Windows shortcut keys are Ctrl+Shift+Alt+T; on a Mac, they are Command+Shift+Option+T. It is almost more difficult to use the shortcut than it is to simply run the desired process from the Edit menu. In some cases, the shortcut combinations are so complex my fingers have a hard time reaching all the keys.

In Photoshop CS, you can now change and customize your keyboard shortcuts, and this is great, provided no other commands are already assigned to that shortcut. With so many keyboard combinations already assigned, this is difficult to say the least. With an action, however, you can record the setting and assign a new shortcut key combination. You can then either click Play and run the action or press the new key combination. You can assign a shortcut to an action that simply attaches it to a function key (F1, F2, and so on) or combines a function key with Shift, Command/Ctrl, or both, allowing for 60 keyboard shortcuts that can be assigned to actions.

What should you automate and why? Anything that will save you time in the long run, whether tool shortcuts or extended image-processing techniques. After a while you will know what works best for your situation and what will benefit your work most. Actions are for your benefit; use them to your advantage.

The Actions Palette

You control and manage Photoshop actions using the Actions palette (see Figure 1.2). You use this palette to play, record, edit, and delete individual actions, as well as load saved action sets.

You can access the Actions palette in two ways: choose Window > Actions, or use the Windows shortcut key combination Alt+F9. If the palette is visible but not active (docked with other palettes or resident in the Palette Well), simply click the Actions tab to bring it to the foreground.

After an overview of palette modes and the Actions palette menu, this chapter will move into the body of the Actions palette itself, breaking down and describing each item in the palette while in List mode.

Actions Palette Modes

The Actions palette has two modes or states: Button and List. This chapter primarily focuses on List mode, as you can do a lot more when the palette is in that state. Before getting into List mode, Button mode warrants a glance.

Button mode displays all the actions loaded into the palette as color-coded buttons; the colors are assigned by the action's creator. In Button mode, you cannot edit the action; you are given the option of running the action only by clicking the button. Figure 1.3 shows the Actions palette in Button mode, with Adobe's default actions loaded.

In Button mode, you can add prerecorded actions to the palette using the Actions palette menu. This is discussed in more detail shortly.

I mentioned color coding the actions. When creating an action, you can assign three items to it, which are then visible when the palette is in Button mode: color coding, shortcut key assignment, and, of course, the action's name. Figure 1.4 again shows the Actions palette in Button mode with the default actions loaded. The difference here is that I've assigned a shortcut key combination to the Vignette action at the top of the palette. In Windows, you can now run the action by pressing Ctrl+F2.

There is really not much else to say about Button mode; your options are fairly limited when using the palette in this mode. Button mode is there for your benefit, however; finding and playing actions in List mode can be frustrating, as all commands are listed. When many actions are loaded into the palette and their lists expanded, tracking down the action you want to play can become confusing. Button mode displays the action as a button only; just click and watch Photoshop go to work.

You use the Actions palette menu to change the Actions palette from Button to List mode and vice versa. To access the Actions palette menu, click the small button in the upper-right corner of the Actions palette (see the arrow in Figure 1.4).

With the menu open, you can change between Button and List modes by selecting Button Mode from the list. To change the mode, simply select Button Mode again. When checked, Button mode is on; when unchecked, the palette switches to List mode (see Figure 1.5).

Button mode is there for your convenience; later, you will learn (while creating actions) how to color code your buttons for organization as well as assign shortcut keys.

The Actions Palette Menu

When you get into actually creating actions, the Actions palette menu is going to be your best friend. It is here that you have the most control over the actions and action sets you create.

The palette menu (see Figure 1.6) is sectioned into groups of commands. I'll break them down into small manageable bites; if you are already familiar with the operation of actions, this discussion will be a good refresher.


Excerpted from Al Ward's Photoshop Productivity Toolkit by Al Ward Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


Chapter 1 What Actions Are Made Of.

Chapter 2 Actions in Action.

Chapter 3 Creating and Using Actions.

Chapter 4 Other Action Tidbits.

Appendix Guide to the Toolkit CD.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 14, 2004

    Good Book for well versed Photoshop users

    This 143 page book is all about auctions. I thought from the name that it would be about short cut keys or how-to tips on the use of Photoshop. I was wrong. It¿s all about actions ¿ or in other words ¿ Macros. I think macros are a good idea but this book was beyond my ability to ¿get it¿. I got lost in the very first chapter and from there it was down hill. For those more versed in Photoshop, I feel certain that this book would be a useful tool in learning how to create those actions ¿ thus shortcuts ¿ and saving time from doing repetitious keystrokes. For anyone in a time crunch situation, this will be a welcome tool. By following the steps in Chapters 2 and 3, you will learn how to load, save, play, edit and record actions to use. Chapter 4 discusses how actions interreact, in case you were thinking of sharing your actions with other team members who might have different versions of Photoshop or operating systems. There is a CD included which has all 600 actions the author has so generously created and is willing to share with the reader. All in all, this is a book for Photoshop users who pretty well know their way around the program. If you are one of those people, grab a copy and learn how to save yourself time.

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