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Photoshop Tip: Automating the Marquee

Recording selection transformations as Actions in PS 7 By Dave Nagel
At some point you're going to run into a situation that requires you to create effects requiring multiple selections and apply these to multiple images. Maybe you want to break up a bunch of images into pieces for use in a collage. Maybe you want to create border effects on a range of images automatically. Maybe you want to create selection-based actions for generating title-safety guides. Whatever the reason, it's a horrifying prospect for the sheer volume of repetitive work. But the process can be automated in Adobe Photoshop using Actions.

Before you get started, you should know that this is a time-intensive process. But it's easily worth it if you need to repeat these steps on multiple images. Let's assume, for the purposes of this tutorial, that you want to chop your image into a 4 x 4 grid, which involves 65 basic steps (a starting step plus four steps per rectangle in our 4 x 4 grid). I'm not going to show every single step, but just the basic techniques needed for you to produce your own selection-based numeric transformations. If this isn't what you want to do, well, at least you'll learn the principles involved. At the end of this article, I'll provide you with some pre-recorded Actions for generating title and action safeties using this method and also for chopping up an image into 16 parts, which you can examine and attempt to dissect at your leisure.

Setting up your Action
If you're unfamiliar with Photoshop Actions, they're designed to allow you to automate repetitive tasks by recording your steps on one image and then being able to apply these steps to subsequent images. It's likely in many cases that you'll need to create multiple versions of your Actions to accommodate different file types. (For example, you may need to create separate Actions for images containing backgrounds versus standard layers.) You won't need to re-record the Action in its entirety to do this, but you will need to duplicate your Action and then modify it. We'll get to that at the end of this tutorial.

To begin, open up a base image that's somewhat representative of they types of images to which you'll later be applying your Action.

Then open up your Actions palette. Click the New Action Set button at the bottom of the palette to create a new Action set, and then click the New Action button to create your first Action. When you do this, the little Record button will become activated automatically. (Note that if you're not ready to start recording your Action, you can click the Stop button to stop recording at any time without adversely affecting the outcome.)

Now you're ready to start recording your Action.

As a preliminary Action step, open up your Layers palette, select your background layer (or Layer 1, if it's not a background layer), and rename it with a unique name, such as "xxxyyyzzz." Depending on what kind of image you're working with, this step will be recorded as either "Set current layer" or "Set Background."

This is important because, in our recorded Action, we're going to have to switch back to our starting layer frequently, and, in order to make this work, the starting layer needs an identifiable name.

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