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ATPM 4.09
September 1998




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Art Department

by Jamal Ghandour,

Photoshop Actions

Okay, okay...I was wrong. It seems, that 70% of ATPM’s readers (that responded) think that Photoshop’s newest version deserves the “5.0", however (to my relief) the majority also agreed that this version was disappointing in some respects. I guess it is either nowadays we expect too much from Photoshop or that it still has a lot of room for improvement. Whichever way you see it, this application is great!

Even with the introduction of version 5.0, there is a large user-base still using Photoshop 4.0. With that in mind, I am going to discuss Actions done in this older version.

What are Actions?

[a1 graphic]Actions in Photoshop can be simply described as pre-saved commands that can be executed at any given time to any image. Anyone familiar with Microsoft Excel’s macros will get a quick idea of what Photoshop’s actions are all about. Basically, it means that anyone can save his “steps” of an operation for later use. Sounds simple enough, so why all the hype? On a more down-to-earth note, it means that any power user can save his “steps” for producing special effects ,then give them to a novice to “replay.” The catch is that this replay isn’t like a movie, rather it applies the effects on the novice’s current image giving complex effects in seconds. Now that sounds very nice, but where are we going find a professional that is ready to share his best secrets? Luckily for us, there are many good souls on this earth ready to share their expertise (and actions :- ) with the rest of us. One such person is Joe Cheng, responsible for “The Action Xchange” Website where you can find many cool action for various uses. Joe not only hosts the Website but also makes some wacky actions himself. You can visit the site at and download any special effect you like.

[a2 graphic]
The above effects are courtesy of “The Action Xchange 2.0"

Actions have a multitude of uses including shortcuts, type effects, textures, and even adding special effects to images. They have become so popular that even third-party companies like MetaTools have released commercial versions of their action sets. Of course, these cost money but they are more than worth it. For those interested, MetaTools named its action set “KPT Actions” (I bet you would have never guessed that “KPT” would be thrown in there somewhere :P )

How to Make Actions

  1. Open a file.
  2. Do one of the following:
    • In the Actions palette, click the New Action button.
    • Choose New Action from the Actions palette menu.
  3. Name the action, assign it to a Function Key or Shift-Function key combination, and choose a color for its display in button view of the Actions palette.
  4. Click Record. The Record button in the Actions palette turns red.
  5. Choose commands as you want them recorded. If the command you choose opens a dialog box, clicking OK records the command, clicking Cancel does not record it. If a chosen command is not recorded, it must be inserted in the action.
  6. Stop recording by clicking the Stop button.
  7. Save the action.

Important: When recording the Save As or Save a Copy commands, do not enter a filename. If you enter a filename, Photoshop records the filename and will use that filename each time you run the action. You can specify a different location, however, without having to specify a filename.

[a3 graphic]
The above effects are courtesy of “The Action Xchange 2.0"

How to Play Actions

When you play an action, Photoshop executes the series of commands as you recorded them. You can start from any command, not just the first command in the action. You can exclude commands you don’t want executed before playing an action and you can play a single command in an action. If an action includes a command with a dialog box, you can pause the action when it reaches that command during playback, so that you can specify values. This is called a break point. If you do not use a break point, Photoshop executes the command using the original values that you specified when you first recorded the action (and the dialog box does not appear).

To execute part of an action, exclude commands, and set break points, the Actions palette must be in list view. When it is in button view, clicking a button executes the entire action. Commands that were previously excluded are not executed. Note that you can also set break points and exclude commands when recording an action.

ATPM in Action

Now, that you know what are actions, you might be curious about trying some effects yourself. Take a look in the “ATPM Extras” folder next to this issue of ATPM to find the Explosive Type action. The file is also available from this link.

(Thanks to Joe again for generously letting ATPM distribute the effects.)

Instruction for using them are as follows:

  1. Open Photoshop and show the Actions palette.
  2. Load the action “ explosiv.atn” from the Action palette’s menu.
  3. Create a new layer with some text.
  4. Select the layer. If you’re using Photoshop 5, render the layer.
  5. Run the Explosive action.
  6. Try not to open your mouth in awe of the effect. :-)

[apple graphic] Copyright © 1998 Jamal Ghandour, Jamal Ghandour is currently the Executive Manager at SwiftAd international. His motivation for completing his masters degree in computer science was to research a device to clone many Guy Kawasakis! The research continues...

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Reader Comments (2)

Ike Free · June 18, 2007 - 15:01 EST #1
there is an error to
ATPM Staff · June 18, 2007 - 17:18 EST #2
Ike - well, no surprise. This article is nine years old, after all.

Just Google "free photoshop actions" and you should turn up plenty of other possibilities. looks to be a good one.

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