As a producer of royalty-free images, there are a lot of repetitive tasks I am faced with in my day to day work. Every illustration I produce must go through some sort of post processing before I can upload them, which can include things like resizing, keywording, and general retouching of any sections that didn’t render exactly like I had planned. I wish it were as simple as just pressing the “render” button in FormZ (my 3d modeling program of choice) and have the resulting image prepped and ready for upload to Norebbo.com – or any other site that I upload to. If life were easy, that’s exactly how I would envision it to work. But as we all know, life is never that convenient is it?

For the sake of this explanation about Photoshop actions, I’ll discuss one of the most common repetitive tasks that I must do with all of my royalty-free 3d illustrations: batch resizing. I normally need three sizes of every image that I produce: one large version that is 8000px wide (for my own archives), a version that is 5000px wide (for uploading to all of the major microstock websites), and one 4000px version with some minor alterations specific to istockphoto.com‘s strict upload requirements. Of course, if it’s an exclusive image that will only be uploaded to Norebbo.com, I only need two versions for my archives: an 8000px version, and a 1024px version. But no matter what the image will be used for, the same issue applies: I need a quick way to batch resize images, and Adobe’s “Actions” tool in Photoshop can really help with that.

This is how I set up my Photoshop actions to automate my image resizing tasks

First of all, if you aren’t familiar with the actions tool, it can be found in the “Window” menu drop down box in Photoshop’s main toolbar at the top of the screen. Selecting the actions tool will launch a small window in your screen space containing all of the functions and options for setting up your actions.

If the idea of yet another floating window on your screen seems a bit messy, have no fear – you can very easily organize them with Photoshop’s powerful window tools. Did you know that you can combine several windows into one? Yep, it’s true – just click and drag any window into another, and they will “attach” together. The contents of each will be viewable by selecting the associated tabs in the new combo window. Pretty neat, huh? I normally combine my layers, actions, and text windows into one, as they are by far the most useful palettes for my particular workflow. Feel free to arrange things however you prefer.

Step one: Creating a new action from scratch

So now that you’re organized and ready to go, let’s set up an action that will re-size large images down to, say, 2000px. The first thing to do is to open an image that you want to resize. This will be your “template” image, meaning that the actions you apply to and record for this one will be applied equally to any other image you will apply this action to.

Open your actions palette, and you will see a list of default actions already in place. Ignore those for now, as none of them will do what we want to do. So we will need to create a new action from scratch.

Now that the palette is open, you will notice a small “page” icon in the bottom right hand corner of the frame (screenshot shown at right). This is the “new” icon, and it is a common element in all Photoshop palettes. Clicking this icon is a much faster way than manually selecting the “New Action” item from the main menu at the top of the page – so it’s something that you might want to make a habit of. It will make your workflow much more efficient!

Don’t worry about about all those other icons along that bottom menu yet – I’ll explain what each of those do as I go through each individual step. Click this button, and proceed to the next section.

Step two: create a name for your new action

After clicking on the “new” icon, it will launch a dialog window that will allow you to set basic parameters of the action such as a name and color identification (which comes in handy if you’re going to create a lot of actions). Go ahead and name it whatever makes the most sense to you – and you can also set up some keyboard shortcuts if that sort of thing floats your boat. I think it’s a neat feature, but I had difficulty setting it up to work correctly on my Macbook Pro. No matter what Function keys I selected, my Macbook refused to execute the actions. I’m sure there is an easy fix for that, but that’s the topic of another tutorial… Anyway, I will name may action: “norebbo 2000 wide”. I know, I know. Sometimes I astound myself with my own creativity.

Step three: setting the parameters for the action (or, more simply: recording the action)

As you can see in the actions palette to the right, the name of my new Action named “norebbo 2000 wide” is automatically selected. That means that it’s ready to receive recording information. It is very important that you pay attention to what action is selected in your palette before you begin recording! I can’t count the number of times I made the bone-headed move of recording data to an action I had made previously.

With the name of your new action selected, press the red “record” button in the bottom menu of the action palette. The button will appear to be pressed in when you click it, indicating that you are now in a recording mode.

It is very important to understand that from this point forward, with that red “record” button selected, everything you do now will be recorded as part of the action. So this is not the time to experiment with color variations or layer adjustments. You don’t want your actions to be bloated with unnecessary tasks, so be very certain that what you do to your image while you are recording is what you want to do to every image you apply this action to. Filling your actions with a lot of unnecessary steps will increase the time it takes to perform the action, and that can add up if you have a lot of images to process.

So now that you are in a recording mode, you can begin processing your image. In my case, I need to make an action that will scale a large image down to 2000px wide. As I complete that step, everything I do is recorded in the actions palette as a separate list item. As you can see from the screenshot to the left, I have also added one more adjustment in addition to the image size change: a bit of shapening, faded it by 50%. Happy with the way the image looks, I save the image and close it. Notice how the actions palette records every step – even the closing of the image!

Before you do anything else, stop the recording by pressing the gray square “stop” icon at the far left of the tool bar (shown in the diagram to the left). This is the one step that I seemingly forget over and over again, and if the action is still gathering data, it will record everything I do until I press that “stop” button. Don’t forget!

But if you are like me and you do end up forgetting this crucial step, no worries. You can edit your actions even after you’ve stopped recording. Just double-click the item in your action that you wish to change, and you will be able to change the parameters you set while you were recording. Note that you can also change the order of the steps by just clicking and dragging an item, or you can even delete individual steps as well by selecting it and pressing the trash can icon in the far right end of the tool bar. It’s an easy way to fix your action if you are bone-headed like me and forget to press the “stop” button before moving on to other things.

Step four: executing your action on a single image or an entire batch of files

Now that you have created your action, it is time to apply it to other images. You have several options in order to go about doing this. The easiest way is to simply open up another image into Photoshop, select the name of the action you want to execute, and press the gray triangle icon (“play button”) in the toolbar of the actions palette. Photoshop will take care of the rest and process your image quicker than human hands ever could. Voila. It’s that simple!

But what if you need to apply that action to an entire folder of images? No problem – that’s very easy too. Use Photoshop’s built in “Batch” command (found by going to “File > Automate > Batch…”) to set up the parameters for applying actions to large batches of images. This will launch a dialog window crammed full of settings that will require you to select the action you want to use, choose the images you want to apply that action to, and how you want to save them. Personally, I find this dialog box too complicated for simple batch tasks. Luckily, there is one more (easier) way to do it: use Adobe Bridge!

Adobe Bridge is a visual file browser, which lets you see thumbnail images of all your files instead of just text file names. If you have Photoshop, you have Bridge – they are bundled together. Launch Bridge, and go to the directory where you have placed your files that you want to apply your new action to. Select every file that you want to change, and then go to the Bridge menu and select “Tools > Photoshop > Batch…”  This will invoke that same dialog I discussed above, but the added benefit of doing it through Bridge is that the files you want to change are already selected in that dialog. So basically, it eliminates one step. You may prefer to do this directly through Photoshop, but I have found that it’s easier to do it through bridge – try it both ways to see what works best for you.

Conclusion

As you have just read, Photoshop’s actions tool is a great way to automate repetitive tasks. It can be used for very simple one-step processes like renaming files, but it’s also powerful enough to create complex 50-step actions that would take forever to do on an image-by-image basis. And since every step in the actions are fully editable, you can continue to tweak and fine-tune your actions until you get them right. No need to delete and start over if you don’t get it right the first time!

Although setting up and using Photoshop actions may seem complicated, you will quickly discover how much of a valuable asset they are in developing an efficient work flow.

About two years ago I was creating a lot of royalty-free iPhone illustrations – then, all of the major microstock websites started cracking down on anything that they deemed to be copyright-protected material. That put an end to my iPhone image production real quick, but…they seemed to be very popular. I’m still making a lot of them to this day (to give away as freebies), and here are three quick examples:

  • an iPhone 3Gs with a gun sitting on top
  • an iPhone 3Gs with a glowing orange fingerprint on the screen
  • an iPhone 3Gs with a large microphone standing on top

I’ve got a few more of these images lying around that I need to upload, and I’ll get around to that as soon as I can. And I should probably build a 3d model of a 4G iPhone as well…

Most people probably don’t know this, but my bread and butter is website design. That’s what I spend the most of my time doing, and I have a full list of great clients who keep me very busy. And like any other busy web designer, I’ve got my fair share of web templates and website elements that never made it to final production. Case in point: these five website banners. They were part of a large collection of concepts I made for a client a while back, and these are the rejects. Shame to let them go to waste, right?

Feel free to download and use however you wish. They are all fully editable (requires Adobe Photoshop).

I’ve been really busy for the past 10 days or so trying to put the finishing touches on a series of client projects that needed to be wrapped up by March 31st. Combine that with my always busy schedule of creating and keywording new images, and well…I barely had enough time to breath. During this time, a neat little video surfaced on YouTube that set the graphic design and photography worlds on fire: Content Aware Fill from Adobe had been revealed.

I follow a lot of miscellaneous graphic and web design forums on the internet, and this was the one thing that everyone was talking about. To be honest, I didn’t really have the time to sit through a long video demo so I just blew it off and bookmarked it for later viewing. Finally, with all of my client projects complete, I had a few spare moments to have a gander.

Holy crap.

If you’ve ever struggled with stitching images together, or pulled your hair out trying to remove lens flare, you already know that this is the feature that will save us all from those kinds of technical tasks. The YouTube video made it look like magic (hence the reason for so many calling it a hoax), but I am very curious to see how it will work in the real world. There are many times that I just can’t get an image to look right in FormZ (my 3d modeling software of choice), so I’ll just render the basic image and then spice it up in Photoshop. Cloning, cutting, and pasting is something I do very often, and I’m totally geeked about the amount of time this will save me in post-processing my images.

Adobe Photoshop CS6

But is it too good? The only thing about Content Aware Fill that makes me cringe a little is the thought that it might make it easier for image thieves to remove watermarks from copyright protected photos. Of course, there are plenty of people doing that now (manually) so it isn’t like this will spark a new wave of image theft – but I think that there is a strong possibility that it will make it easier for those thieves to get away with it. But such is the life on the internet. As a content producer, I know that it is pretty much impossible to keep people from stealing images if they want them badly enough. If there is a will, there is a way.

Watermark-removal aside, I think Adobe hit a home run with this feature. If it will be included in CS5, sign me up for an upgrade.