An action is a series of tasks that you play back on a single file or a batch of files—menu commands, palette options, tool actions, and so on. For example, you can create an action that changes the size of an image, applies a filter to the image for a particular effect, and then saves the file in the desired format.
Actions can include stops that let you perform tasks that cannot be recorded (for example, using a painting tool). Actions can also include modal controls that let you enter values in a dialog box while playing an action.
In Photoshop, actions are the basis for droplets, which are small applications that automatically process all files that are dragged onto their icon.
Photoshop and Illustrator come with predefined actions installed that help you perform common tasks. You can use these actions as is, customize them to meet your needs, or create new actions. Actions are stored in sets to help you organize them.
You can record, edit, customize, and batch-process actions, and you can manage groups of actions by working with action sets.
Actions palette overview
You use the Actions palette (Window > Actions) to record, play, edit, and delete individual actions. This palette (called the Actions panel in Illustrator) also lets you save and load action files.
Photoshop Actions palette:
A. Action set
C. Recorded commands
D. Included command
E. Modal control (toggles on or off)
Expand and collapse sets, actions, and commands
Click the triangle to the left of the set, action, or command in the Actions palette. Alt-click (Windows) or Option-click (Mac OS) the triangle to expand or collapse all actions in a set or all commands in an action.
View action by name only
Choose Button Mode from the Actions palette menu. Choose Button Mode again to return to list mode.
Select actions in the Actions palette
Click an action name. Shift-click action names to select multiple, contiguous actions, and Ctrl-click (Windows) or Command-click (Mac OS) action names to select multiple, discontiguous actions.
Play an action on a file
Playing an action executes the action’s recorded commands in the active document. (Some actions require that you make a selection before playing; some can be executed on an entire file.) You can exclude specific commands from an action or play only a single command. If the action includes a modal control, you can specify values in a dialog box or use a modal tool when the action pauses.
Note: In Button mode, clicking a button executes the entire action—although commands previously excluded are not executed.
In Photoshop, to undo an action, take a snapshot in the History palette before you play an action, and then select the snapshot to undo the action.