Creating your own actions in PhotoShop is a time-saving way of applying the same effects to multiple layers/images, and there are many tutorials around the Internet to teach you how to do that.
This is a list of actions that have been created for you. It is not so much time-saving to use someone else’s action, it is a way to achieve an effect that you may not be able to create for yourself (and how frustrating can that be!). You can also learn a lot from these actions – just open the file in the Actions dock in PhotoShop and you can see how the end result is achieved.
Some actions just run through from beginning to end with no messages and no input required from the user. Some, on the other hand, require a lot of input from the user – these ones often end up being trial and error to get the settings right – but if it is the effect you are after, it is worth it.
I have used all of the actions listed here, and the images are my results. Clicking on the image of the action will take you to the download area where you will be able to see the results the creator achieved.
Running an Action
Alt + F9 opens the actions palette. If the action has been installed in the PhotoShop presets file, click on the small down-pointing arrowhead in the top right corner of the palette and you will find the required action in the list. Clicking on it will put the action at the bottom of the palette.
If you have downloaded but not installed the action, click on the small down-pointing arrowhead in the top right corner of the palette and select 'Load Actions…'.
Find the required action in the actions palette and click on the arrowhead to the left of the name – this will place the file at the bottom of the actions palette.
Click on the first item and click the run button – the right-pointing arrowhead at the bottom of the palette.
Hand-Colored Vintage Action
This is an easy to use action – just follow along with the instructions. I think the result is superb.
Black White Sepia Action
This is one of those actions that just goes through the steps with no user input required and no messages.
This action gives a retro black and white effect and also softens the image a little – very easy to use.
The instructions for this action are very concise. The user is asked to make a selection to be the in-focus part of the image, then it is explained that by painting black on the layer mask you can reduce the blur in required areas.
This action gives a beautiful soft glow with a nice back-lighting effect. If your computer is running in any language other than Spanish, you will get the message that Layer 'Fondo' is not available. The English translation of Fondo is Background. Stop the action and duplicate the background layer, then rename it Fondo and continue the action – it should now complete all steps.
This action brightens up nature pictures, but does awful things to portraits! It makes this picture look like it was taken on a sunnier day.
Old Photo Effect
This action creates a very old, grainy photo effect. It is very easy – it just carries out the steps with no user input. It is better to apply this action to the image at the size you want it – resizing doesn’t work too well with this effect.
This action changes the color and sharpness of the image. It runs through the steps with no user input required.
The effect created here is a very dark sepia-type color. The action runs through each step requiring no input from the user, and the final image is flattened into one layer.
This is a faux HDR effect to brighten photos. It runs through without input from the user.
Lightens and slightly blurs the image. During this action you may get the message 'The command Merge Visible is not currently available'. Having looked through the steps of the action I think this command is in there by mistake as there are no layers to merge at that time – so just click Continue.
The end result of this action is very good, but a lot of user input is required. First, you have to select the eye or eyes – which is something the action doesn’t tell you. You should copy and paste the selection and it is necessary to ensure the layer is named Layer 1. You will need to adjust the Curves to your liking, then the Replace Color fuzziness, Color Balance, Gaussian Blur, Blending Mode (twice).
If you haven’t made the copy layer in the name Layer 1 you will now get a message: ‘The object “layer “Layer 1 copy”” is not currently available’. This is not the end of the world! You can either stop the action to rename the eye layer and then continue the action, or just stop the action and merge the layers yourself.
For my example I kept all of the author’s settings.
Dim & Jade
A soft vintage effect. This action runs requiring no user input.
This action gives a very dark black and white effect. It runs requiring no user input.
An aged sepia effect. This action runs requiring no user input.
Skin Glow Enhancement
This action softens, smooths and lightens skin tones. It runs requiring no user input.
PFx Rainy Day
This is a very in-depth action resulting in a lovely raindrops effect. The messages are very concise and informative throughout the execution of the action. The user will be offered to move the lightness slider to make the image look moody. You then have the option of adjusting the glass filter settings. The next user input is the option to increase the amount of raindrops by slightly increasing the Gaussian blur amount. The next Gaussian blur input offers the opportunity to reduce the size of the raindrops.
When the main action is completed, you are invited to add small drops and condensation. The small drops action runs requiring no user input. The condensation action offers the user to adjust the threshold levels to reduce or increase the condensation areas.
My example below does not have small drops added, but does have condensation.
To create a comic-strip-style image from a photograph. This action offers the user to change the Color Halftone max radius; you will be asked to put the same value on each of the 3 stops – this means the first value in each of the 3 following option boxes. You are then able to change the smart blur settings, followed by the levels settings.
Turn a photo into a pencil sketch. This action was created in Spanish and will be in your actions list as ‘dibujo’. The user will be offered to adjust the Gaussian blur. Now you will be informed ‘The object “layer “Capa 1”” is not currently available’. Stop the action and rename the ‘Layer 1’ layer to ‘Capa 1’ and continue the action – it should now complete the action requiring no further user input.
Polaroid Generator V1
Instructions in Word format are included in the zip file download for this action. The first thing is deciding which format to use. Wide is for photos of landscape orientation (ie the long edge at the top), panel is for photos of portrait orientation. There is the choice of T600 or Time Zero – Time Zero adjusts the color balance of the photograph.
Finally, there is the choice of normal or expired. Expired gives some age to the photograph, although it remains in color. More messages will pop up on the screen throughout the execution of this action, but no user input is required more than clicking continue.
When the action is complete, you have the option to move the picture within the frame. Running the Finisher action flattens the image and adds a bevel to the frame. A green background (Deviant Art color) is added, but this layer can be deleted if not required.
PFx Big Pictures
The commercial version of this action has many different combinations, etc., but the free version has only one ‘curled’ option and that is to have 25 pictures. The user is offered the choice to stop the action with the photos all in line, or press continue so a ‘soft breeze will blow over the photos’. Now there are 2 transformation options – you can click on continue each time to see the result – as the creator points out in messages, you can revert the image back to any of the transformations using the history palette.
This is a fun action that places 3 photos into a filmstrip. Straight or wavy effects are available. Instructions for use are included in the zip file in Word format. You must place the image supplied in C:\PSTEMP. Open 3 pictures in Photoshop and run the action. No user input is required.
This action has a lot of steps, and therefore takes a long time to complete. The user will be asked to click continue if you wish to see a couple of transformations. You can go back via the history palette to your preferred orientation.
Tack It! Mini
This action curls the photo and puts a thumbtack in it. The instructions are in .pdf format. Run the action and you will be asked to open the required photo – then you will be asked to adjust the border size if required, then to adjust the blur amount. In the next user input step, you are asked to open the 'Tack.psd' file that came with the action and drag the layer set into your picture. This is also the time to transform the tack to the required size and move it to the required position.
You will now be asked to adjust the blur for the tack shadow. You are then given the option to change the color of the tack. Finally, you can choose to allow the action to merge all layers for you, or if you are not happy with the placement, etc of the tack, stop the action at this point to make final adjustments and merge the layers yourself.
A nice little action to add a watermark to your photos. When the action is completed, you can move the symbol as required. Also, if you need the watermark to be more defined, click on the top layer and reduce the opacity.
Actions are definitely a good way of using someone else's creativity and PhotoShop abilities on your own work – I think it is great that such talented people are prepared to share their efforts!