Photoshop actions allow you to record a series of steps that you might do numerous times on other images, and then play back that series automatically on a new image. Photoshop CS4 comes with dozens of actions already created for you. In this article, I’ll give a pictorial and descriptive run-down of Photoshop’s built-in Image Effects actions.
See Related Posts at the end to click through to the other built-in action sets.
To open a non-Default set of built-in actions:
- Window > Actions
- Click on the menu icon at the top-right corner of the Actions panel.
- Look near the bottom of the menu where there is a list of seven sets (such as “Image Effects”).
- Select a set. It will added below the Default Actions set.
- Click the gray triangle to the left of the action set you just added, to open the list.
- Select an action, and click the Play selection button at the bottom of the Actions panel.
You can find more ready-made actions at the Photoshop Exchange.
This effect copies the photo and runs a number of filters and commands on the copy, including Dust & Scratches, Fade, Color Balance, Hue/Saturation and Unsharp Mask. The altered copy is put on a new layer above your original image.
Photoshop adds a layer above the photo which is black with white snowy flurries. The layer is set to Screen blend mode so that only the snow appears.
Photoshop adds a layer above the photo which is black with white rainy streaks. The layer is set to Screen blend mode so that only the rain appears.
This effect results in a lizard skin pattern created on a layer above your image. This layer’s blend mode is set to Overlay. In the third image above, I added a layer mask to this new layer and painted black in the non-skin areas. This hid the lizard skin there and revealed the original photo.
Neon Nights creates a copy of your image with a neon effect applied to it. The effect is created by using the Find Edges filter, inverting, and increasing the contrast with Levels.
This effect is subtle. Photoshop makes a copy of your image and applies a Gaussian blur to it. A new, empty layer is created and set to Darken blend mode at 80% opacity, moved below the copied layer, then merged with it.
Quadrant Colors is pretty self-descriptive. It takes your image and breaks it up into four quadrants of monotone color: red, green, blue and yellow.
Sepia Toning (grayscale)
Unlike Sepia Toning (layer), which is below and uses Desaturate and a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer, this action uses the Channel Mixer to create a warm monotone image.
Sepia Toning (layer)
This action will take the selected layer and apply a sepia monotone to it. It does this by making a duplicate layer and desaturating it. Then it creates a Hue/Adjustment layer at the top which colorizes the entire layer with a muted red-orange hue.
Soft Edge Glow
Another subtle effect, this one works great with skin. It adds some blur then increases the contrast of the most prominent edges.
Soft Flat Color
Also subtle, this one uses the Median filter to knock back highlights and even out skin tones.
This one softens using Gaussian blur on a copy on a new layer, and sets that layer’s blend mode to Lighten.
Neon Edges makes two copies of your image, applies the Glowing Edges filter to the top copy, then sets this layer to Overlay and 60% opacity. Finally, it merges all the layers.
This is a truly lovely effect. A copy of your image is made on a new layer, and a heavy Gaussian blur applied. An empty layer set to Darken is placed below it and they are merged together. Then the upper layer is also set to the Darken blend mode.
Colorful Center (color)
A copy of your image in made on a new layer and desaturated. A layer mask is applied that reveals the central part of the images, with soft edges. The result is a colorful focal point in the middle, and grayscale edges.
Horizontal Color Fade (color)
A copy of your image in made on a new layer and desaturated. A layer mask is applied that slowly reveals the colored image underneath as it moves to the right.
Vertical Color Fade (color)
A copy of your image in made on a new layer and desaturated. A layer mask is applied that slowly reveals the colored image underneath as it moves toward the top edge.
A gradient map uses a gradient of colors to replace the existing colors in an image, based on how light or dark they are. This action adds a Gradient Map adjustment layer above your image. The default gradient is blue-to-red-to-yellow (rainbow), but you can always edit the gradient in the Adjustments panel (CS3 users: double-click on the thumbnail for the Gradient Map adjustment layer to make the gradient editable).
This effect runs through a series of loops involving the Find Edges filter and blend modes. The results can be quite painterly, like the work of Seurat. All visible layers are merged at the end of the action.