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Photoshop Tips for Beginners 4

Recording actions to automate repetitive tasks By Dave Nagel
One of the things you'll come to appreciate the more you work in Adobe Photoshop is automation. Typically you'll get into a groove in design where you'll need to perform the same (or similar) tasks over and over on multiple images, and that can get tedious. But Photoshop can alleviate that tedium through Actions.

Now, there are two primary ways that Actions can be used in Photoshop. One is simply to take care of some aspect of image editing/design that you do over and over--say loading an alpha channel and clearing out the background. Another is batch processing, which can let you, for example, save out multiple copies of a folder full of images to a variety of formats--JPEG, TIFF or whatever--all at the same time without any interaction from you.

We'll look at both of these types of automation. But I thought I'd start with the first type so that I can acquaint you with Actions in general before we move on to the next stage, batch processing, which we'll get to in the next installment in this tutorial series.

In this tutorial, we'll look at a method for automating a particular sequence of functions in Photoshop. You may not be interested in this particular automation, but you should be able to use the information to create your own Actions that will save you time and spare you the tedium of doing the same thing over and over. For this example, we'll create an action for preparing images for further editing/compositing--images that have been imported from another program or a clipart/stock art collection.

It's common for images imported from other programs or from stock libraries to come into Photoshop as flat files with no transparency. When these images contain alpha channels, you can use those channels to clear away the background color so that you're left with an object over transparency, rather than an object over white or black.

Here's an example.

This image on the left, below, comes from a stock collection, and, as you can see, it's flat. There's no transparency. The image on the right shows the same object with the background cleared away, ready to be used in whatever compositing project I need it for.

That's what we'll automate here. We'll create an Action that will strip out the background of any image that has an alpha channel embedded in it.

Creating a new Action
So, to begin, I'm assuming you've never created an Action before. So let me walk you through the basic preparatory phases.

1. Start by opening up the Actions palette (Window > Actions). You'll see something like this. (My Actions palette will contain more Actions than yours, but you get the idea.)

2. Now, whenever you create an Action, it will go into one of the folders listed in the palette. If you don't want it to go into one of the existing folders, you can create a new one by clicking on the folder icon at the bottom of the palette. I'll do that now. And, in the dialog that pops up, I'll call the folder "Background Strip."

The reason you want to create a new folder is that it allows you to organize your actions better and also allows you to export this Action by itself later on, making it easy to share with other computers. (You can, by the way, share actions between Mac and Windows systems--and even different versions of Photoshop--with no problem.)

3. Now, to create a new Action within my new folder, I'll hit the "Create new action" button at the bottom of the palette. This Action will be added in my new folder, since I had it selected at the time I created the new Action.

In the dialog that pops up, I'll call the Action "Strip with Alpha." In this same dialog, I can also assign a function key to this Action, which would let me apply the Action with a single keystroke. But I won't assign a key right now.

When I have it named, I'll click the Record button to start creating the Action.

4. But I'm not actually ready yet to start recording, so I'll stop the recording by hitting the Stop button at the bottom of the Actions palette before doing anything else.

Adding the necessary Action steps
Now, in order to create this Action properly, I need to have an image open BEFORE I record the steps in the Action. Otherwise the act of opening an image will be added to the Action steps, and I don't want that. I want to be able to use this Action on images I already have open.

So I'll open up my image and make sure it's in the foreground (in front of any other image windows I have open at the time).

Then I'll click the Record button in the Actions palette to start recording my steps. Here are those steps.

1. Double-click the background layer in the Layers palette. Let the new layer be named "Layer 0," which is the default. (If you wish, you can give it a new name, but that name will be recorded in the Action step. This can be useful for some types of Actions, but it makes no difference in this case.)

Once I do that, I have a new Action step recorded in my Actions palette called "Set Background."

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Related Keywords:photoshop tips for beginners, actions, automate, automation, alpha channel, selection, batch processing

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