Making an Action in Photoshop

Learn how to create an Orbital action


Do you ever tire of doing repetitive tasks in Photoshop?  Let me repeat: Do you ever tire of doing repetitive tasks in Photoshop? There is a handy remedy. 

An Action lets you record of a set of keystrokes that you save and can play back any time. Here’s how to set up a Photoshop Action:

If the Actions palette / panel is not open, go to Window > Actions.

If you haven’t made an Action before, click the flyout menu in the upper right of the Actions palette / panel (circled in red below).


Choose New Set.



Name it something like My Actions.


This lets you keep your own actions in a separate folder from the ones that come with Photoshop so you can transfer them to your next version of Photoshop.  (How to transfer them is covered in my tutorial “Setting up a New Version of Photoshop.”)

When you are ready to record an action, click the same flyout menu and choose New Action.


Name the action, specify the Set you created for your actions, and click Record.  


You will see a red button appear at the bottom of the Actions Palette.  Every keystroke is now being recorded.  To stop recording click the blue button to the left of the red one:


The Stop button will end the action.  Depending on what you are doing, you might want to include a Save and Close the image as the last steps before you hit Stop.

To play back an action, highlight it in the list and hit the Play button:


Don’t mess with the boxes in the left two columns.

I recently made an action for a fun effect called Orbitals.  I had seen it years ago and forgotten about it, but recently was reminded of it by Carol Leigh ( so I’ve attributed it to her in the name of my action.


Here are the steps for an orbital:

•    Crop to a square or distort to a square if you want a circle; otherwise you'll get an ellipse.  (You can vary the results by using slightly different crops of your original image.)  The easy way to crop to a square is to go to Image > Canvas Size and enter the size for the shorter side in the box for the longer size.  You can distort to a square by going to Image > Image Size, un-check Constrain Proportions and enter the same size for Height and Width.  (Be sure to re-check Constrain Proportions the next time you use the dialog; you usually want it checked.)

•    Flatten your image.

•    To distort, go to Image > Image Size, uncheck Constrain Proportions and put in the same dimensions for Height and Width.

•    If your image is in 16 bits, go to Image > Mode > 8 Bits/Channel.  (As of this writing, Photoshop CS5, the Distort filter won’t work on a 16 bit image.)

•    Go to Filter > Distort > Polar Coordinates and check Polar to Rectangular. (You'll think I've made a mistake at this point.)

•    Go to Image > Image Rotation and choose 180 degrees.

•    Go to Filter > Distort > Polar Coordinates and check Rectangular to Polar this time.  But sit down first.

The easiest way to do the Action is to start with the Flatten step.  Once you have the Action and you can quickly try the effect on many different images.  It’s great fun!



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