Did you see...

Using actions in Photoshop Elements

TSQ Intro_1

If you haven’t used the full version of Photoshop, you might not be familiar with the concept of actions. Essentially, they are sequences of commands designed to quickly reproduce a particular effect on an image. They range from simple enhancements to extremely complex manipulation operations and are designed primarily to save you time by doing all the repetitive parts of a technique at speed.

Although you can’t actually create your own actions from within Elements, you can install and run them; there are many resources on the web specializing in Elements actions, some are free, some cost a few pounds. If you know someone with Photoshop, you could always ask him or her nicely to create you some, too! There are, of course, Tip Squirrel’s very own actions available for a small price and we’ll be using these as our example set.

It is worth pointing out here that not all actions will work properly within Elements, this is usually because they call on a feature that is solely found in Photoshop – although actions can be used to sneak out commands that are present behind the scenes but not available to use in the program by default; as we’ve done with the Tip Squirrel actions to bring out the Curves dialog and layer masks.

Setting up actions in the Effects panel

As of Elements 7 and above there are two ways to use actions. We’ll begin by looking at the method of installing them into the Effects panel (yes, all the photo effects you see there are actually actions!). To do this properly requires a set of three separate files for each action:

TSQ Action files

1. The .atn file is the action itself.

2. Then there is a text file (.metadata.xml) that contains the information to add the action as a category in the Effects dropdown menu.

3. Finally there’s the thumbnail image. This is a 64 pixel square .png file. This is how the action will appear in the Effects panel.

Notice that all three filenames are exactly the same, apart from their suffixes. This is essential as Elements uses the filename to tie them all together.

TSQ XML file

If we examine the .xml file we can see how it’s structured. This is useful to know if you want to start adding your own actions into the panel.

The two lines we are interested in are as follows:

1. This tells Elements what the name of the effect is. The part before the equals sign is the friendly name, the part following is how it will appear as the name under the icon if it’s enabled in preferences, and also as the tooltip: notice the full name is exactly the same as the names of the three files.

2. This tells Elements the effect’s sub-category. This needs to be the same for each effect you want to appear in the category – in this instance it’s the Tip Squirrel Actions category. Again, the part before the equals sign is the friendly name, the part following is the actual name of the new/existing category.

Note: If the xml file and png thumbnail are not present the action will still be available if you select the Show All option on the Effects menu but you’ll need to have names visible or hover the mouse over each one to find the correct effect!

Before we start on we must quit Photoshop Elements. This is important, as the process will not work with the program running. Now follow the instructions below for your operating system – substitute the number (in this case 9.0) in the path name to match your own version of Elements:


Mac OS X

1. Start by opening the archive file containing the Tip Squirrel files in the Finder. Select all the files (Edit > Select all) then select Edit > Copy.

2. Open the Startup Disk in another Finder window. If you’re not sure which disk this is, go to the Apple menu and select About this Mac.

3. Drill down to the following folder: Library/Application Support/Adobe/Photoshop Elements/9.0/Photo Creations/Photo Effects/
Important: this is not the library folder in your home directory; it’s the one at the root of the startup disk.

4. Go to Edit > Paste. This will copy all the action files into the folder.

5. Now navigate to the following folder Library/Application Support/Adobe/Photoshop Elements/9.0/Locale/en_US/

6. Inside this folder is a file called MediaDatabase.db3. This holds all the information for the Content panel. We need Elements to recreate the database in order for our actions are included, so delete (or rename) this file.


Windows Vista and Windows 7

1. Open the archive file containing the Tip Squirrel files from Windows Explorer. Select all the files (Organize > Select all) then select Organize > Copy.

2. Browse to the following folder1: C:\Program Data\Adobe\Photoshop Elements\9.0\Photo Creations\photo effects\

3. Select Organize > Paste to copy the files into the folder.

4. Navigate to the following folder: c:\Program Data\Adobe\Photoshop Elements\9.0\Locale\en_US

5. Inside this folder is a file called MediaDatabase.db3. This holds all the information for the items within the Effects panel. We need Elements to recreate the database in order for our new actions are included, so delete (or rename) this file.


Windows XP

1. Open the archive file containing the Tip Squirrel files from Windows Explorer. Select all the files (Edit > Select all) then select Edit > Copy.

2. Browse to the following folder2: C:\Documents and Settings\All Users\Application Data\Adobe\Photoshop\Elements\9.0\Photo Creations\photo effects\

3. Select Organize > Paste to copy the files into the folder.

4. Navigate to the following folder2: C:\Documents and Settings\All Users\Application Data\Adobe\Photoshop\Elements\9.0\Locale\en_US\

5. Inside this folder is a file called MediaDatabase.db3. This holds all the information for the items within the Effects panel. We need Elements to recreate the database in order for our new actions are included, so delete (or rename) this file.


TSQ Rebuild database

Once you’ve completed these steps, launch Elements. When the program opens, you’ll see a progress window. This is the database file rebuilding. This may take several minutes, depending on the speed of your computer.

TSQ Effects panel

When the database file has finished rebuilding, go to the Effects Panel and select Photo Effects. When you click the drop-down menu, you’ll see a new entry labeled Tip Squirrel Actions. Select this and you’ll see the icons for the newly installed actions.

TSQ Action full

To use an action, open an image and simply double-click the desired action’s icon. Depending on the nature of the action it will run through automatically or stop at certain points with a dialog box, allowing you to adjust a particular setting to suit the image you’re working on.

The Action Player

We mentioned before that there are two ways of using actions. The second is to run them via the Action Player, which is found in the Guided Edit workspace. There are three distinct advantages in using this method:

1. The install process is faster and slightly easier.

2. You can use sets of actions, that is: a single file containing several different actions; the previous method requires individual items for each installed action.

3. Because it’s quicker to set up, you can use this method to try out actions that you’re not sure will work in Elements – it’s highly frustrating to spend all that time install an action into the Effects panel, only to find a part of it fails because of a restriction in Elements, or because it’s been poorly put together.

As before, make sure Elements is not running before starting the install process. Follow the steps below for your operating system, exchanging the Elements version number for your own:


Mac OS X

1. Locate the Action file (.atn) in the Finder. Highlight it and go to Edit > Copy.

2. Open the Startup Disk in another Finder window. As before, if you’re not sure which disk this is, go to the Apple menu and select About this Mac.

3. Drill down to the following folder: Library/Application Support/Adobe/Photoshop Elements/9.0/Locale/en_US/Workflow Panels/actions/

Important: this is not the library folder in your home directory; it’s the one at the root of the startup disk.

4. Go to Edit > Paste. This will copy the chosen action file into the folder.


Windows Vista and Windows 7

1. Locate the action (.atn) file in Windows Explorer. Highlight the file then select Organize > Copy.

2. Browse to the following folder1: C:\Program Data\Adobe\Photoshop Elements\9.0\Locale\en_US\Workflow Panels\actions\

3. Select Organize > Paste to copy the file into the folder.


Windows XP

1. Locate the action (.atn) file in Windows Explorer. Highlight it, then select Edit > Copy.

2. Browse to the following folder2: C:\Documents and Settings\All Users\Application Data \Adobe\Photoshop\Elements\9.0\Locale\en_US\Workflow Panels\actions\

3. Select Edit > Paste to copy the file into the folder.


Now launch Elements. Open an image and select the Guided Edit workspace. Toward the bottom of the list on the right hand side is the Action Player command. Clicking this takes you into its control panel:

TSQ Choose set_1

If we click the Action Set menu (item 1), we can see the various pre-installed actions, as well as the set we just loaded. When we select the new set and open the Action menu (item 2), we see all the individual actions within that set. In this case they’re the same as those we installed in the first part of this article.

TSQ Guided run

Now all we have to do is click Play Action to run it. Once it’s completed, clicking Done will take us back to the Guided edit list. If we select Full Edit, we can see the image, complete with any layers and effects that the action created.


Note: If the Program Data/Application Data folder is not visible you will need to do the following, depending on your version of Windows:

1Windows Vista/7

1. Open the Control Panel from the Start Menu.

2. Select Appearance and Personalization.

3. Under the Folder Options heading, click Show Hidden Files and Folders.

4. Select Show Hidden Files, Folders, and Drives

2Windows XP

From Windows Explorer:

1. Select Tools > Folder Options

2. Select the View tab

3. Select Show hidden files and folders

4. Click OK

Share on Facebook3Tweet about this on Twitter9Share on LinkedIn0Share on Google+0Share on TumblrShare on Reddit0Digg thisShare on StumbleUpon0Buffer this page