How to Save Time with Simple Actions in Photoshop CC 2014

How to Save Time with Simple Actions in Photoshop CC 2014

In this post I will focus on how to record time saving actions for web designers who are creating wireframes, mockups and visual designs in Photoshop. Although explanation in this tutorial is toward web designers, you can use the same techniques for just any project which does have repetitive tasks or elements. I will use Creative Cloud Market as source for files but you can use any other source.

What is all about

As you already know most of files with design elements (icons, UI packs...) you can download/buy as a single PSD file. Other times you will get SVG or EPS/AI files. Although you can open/place EPS and AI files in Photoshop, it is recommended to have Adobe Illustrator installed. Most important is that you can fully automate process of placing elements in the open/working document. You just need to know how to record simple actions. And there are some tips how to set-up things for flexibility. Another way to automate tasks is to record (again very simple) actions which will draw elements in Photoshop.

Note: I will cover only simple actions in this tutorial. Level of complexity when recording actions does not have limitation (actions do have some limitations).

How to record actions to place ready-made elements

We will cover first how to use ready-made elements which you can buy or download for free from the internet or in this case from Creative Cloud Market. Lets say you have a Combination UI Pack in your Market Downloads folder and you like Facebook and Twitter buttons.
Creative Cloud Market Downloads folder

Since buttons are layered and vector based you can easily change and adopt them for multiple (and various) projects.

Instead of opening Combination UI Pack each and every time you want to use some elements in your project, you can extract and save elements as PSD files and record action to place them in open document in the blink of an eye. I am talking about 2 elements (buttons in this case) but it can be any number.

You can record action which will place any number of files with a single click. I am talking about different files for each project. All you need for this convenience are files in specific folder with exact same names as recorded in action step (command). This can be done in 2 ways and I will explain you that as we proceed. Lets see how to record actions to place ready-made files.

Recording actions to place specific files in open document

To follow instructions first prepare 2 PSD files and place them in any folder you want.

For this tutorial I will use twitter and Facebook buttons saved in PSD file format, but you can use really any other buttons, icons and so on. Files can be in any format like JPG, PNG, GIF, TIFF, just keep in mind following:

  • To reuse actions in some other project with the same or different elements you will need files with exact same names and exact same file format in the exact same folder. This is easy to manage, especially when we take in account Adobe Bridge capabilities. You can copy, move and rename any number of files in Bridge in one single pass.
  • In case you have files in some other format of recorded in action use Image Processor Pro which also have capabilities to rename files along with file format conversion capabilities.

I admit: too many lines of text above for a very simple thing. I must provide all necessary information for anyone who is reading this post.

No more additional explanations, lets do it! Create a blank new document and follow instructions.

Step 1 Start recording action Place buttons
First step is to click on the Page icon at the bottom of the Actions panel (choose set from Set: drop-down list in the New Action dialog) and to give a name to new action. I will suggest you to name it Place buttons.
Create Place buttons action

Step 2 Record Place command
We will use Place Embedded command. While you are in recording mode, go to File > Place Embedded and navigate to file on your hard drive (twitter.psd in my case) double click on it and Photoshop will place it in the open document. Confirm file placement with Enter/Return.
Navigate to file in Place dialog

Step 3 record more Place Embedded commands
After recording first place command or step you will need to record a couple more. In this case I am going to record only one more step Place but you can continue recording as many as you want. This time I will navigate to facebook.psd file.

What we have done and how to use recorded action
We have recorded action which will place 2 files in any open document. All you have to do is to run Place buttons action.
Run Place buttons action

Here is one note: you must have 2 files with names twitter.psd and facebook.psd (if you are following along) in that specific folder or location. Specific folder or location is one that is recorded in action and you can see that if you expand Place command or step in action.

Now lets talk about flexibility. Action will look for twitter.psd and facebook.psd in specific folder when running it. The action does not have any idea about content or file size and will not take that into account when looking for file to place.

You can delete or move existing twitter.psd and facebook.psd files and place in folder some other twitter.psd and facebook.psd buttons, icons or whatever you want. Important is only that you have twitter.psd and facebook.psd files in folder which name you can see if you expand step Place in your action.

Here is one advice: when recording action name your files with: icon_1, icon_2... or file_1, file_2... Generalized naming convention in sequence will give you flexibility. You can delete or move existing files and to use Bridge or Image Processor Pro to move some other files in the same folder. Both: Bridge and Image Processor Pro have the capabilities to batch rename files with sequential numbering.

Now you may have questions about Layer Comps. Yes, you can use Layer Comps and with Embedded Smart Objects.
Use Layer Comps

Lastly explanation why we are using Place Embedded command instead Place Linked. Reason is because if you move or replace files, then all documents which contains that Linked Smart Objects will display an error message.

How to record actions which will draw elements

Another way to automate tasks is to record actions which will draw icons, buttons, progress bars or whatever else you want. It can be any design element with any level of complexity, by the way.

To record action which will draw a design element as I am going to present in this tutorial, you need path (or paths) in Paths panel. You can also have and Shape layer in the Layers panel.

This method is good and time saver in many ways. First of all you can record an action to draw any shape you have available from the Toolbox or downloaded/saved as a Custom Shape. You do not need that specific shape loaded in Photoshop, action will record path coordinates and will do its thing without any additional resource. The limitation is that action will draw the exact same shape each and every time you play it. To draw some other shape you must record another action what is pretty easy, just 2 steps for simple shapes.

You need paths

You can copy/paste paths from Illustrator and use them in Photoshop to record the action. If you have SVG file, then open it in Illustrator, select path and copy it from Edit > Copy. Create a new path in Photoshop (Paths panel > click on page icon) then just paste the path from Edit > Paste > Path. Resize path to smaller dimensions if needed.
Copy Path in Illustrator

In case you have Shape layer in Photoshop and you want to use its path in action then do one of the following:
  • Select shape using the Path Selection Tool.
Alternatively duplicate Shape layer path:
  • Select Shape layer in Layers panel.
  • Click on Paths panel and drag a shape's path onto the Page icon at the bottom to duplicate it. You can rename duplicated path or leave it as it is because name of path does not play any role when using Insert Path command.

Step 1 Record Insert Path command
I will assume that you have created new action in Actions panel.

  1. First step is to position path where you want to be inserted or drawn when running action. If you plan to use (and you do) actions with various document dimensions, the safe zone is the top left corner of the document.
  2. Set Ruler units to Pixels when recording these actions.
  3. There is no need to be in recording mode, but action must be selected in the Actions panel so Photoshop will know in which action to record data.
  4. Select path in the Paths panel (or select a path using the Path Selection Tool if you have a Shape Layer in Layers panel) and click on Actions panel menu.
  5. Choose Insert Path from the list.
Insert Path command from Actions panel menu

Step 2 Record New Fill Layer command
This step requires that you are in recording mode.

Now that you have Set Work Path step in your action you are going to use Layer > New Fill Layer > Solid Color command. When using this command, it will fill active path and you will get what you want: Shape Layer.
Record step: New Fill Layer

Note: it is recommended that you have path selected while recording this step. Even if you do not have path selected while recording action it will still work with preceding Set Work Path step. Actions are extremely flexible.

Some tips
There is much more you can do using 2 commands mentioned above: Insert Path followed by New Fill Layer. You can record actions to build very complex shapes, to draw multiple shapes on separate layers and to group them, to move drawn and grouped shapes on top of Layers stack or to center them in the document...

We are done for this tutorial

I feel I can write a mini book on this topic because this is only one use of Insert Path command. Anyway we will stop here for this tutorial. You have idea and do not hesitate to leave comment, ask for additional help even through Contact form on this blog.


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