How to Create Photoshop Actions Like a Pro

How to Create Photoshop Actions Like a Pro


If you dealt with Photoshop actions, you have probably run an action or created one yourself and at some point got an error saying something like ‘The layer X doesn’t exist’. This is usually caused by that the action was created on a different kind of environment than what you are planning to run the action on. On this post we’ll teach you how to create better actions and how to avoid using commands that are layer specific and cause errors like the one mentioned earlier. On this tutorial you’ll learn how to create actions and how to create them professionally.

We are going to create a simple action to demonstrate how to create an action that works on any set of layers. Keyboard shortcuts will come handy when creating actions, if you are not familiar with Photoshop shortcuts read this post: Photoshop Keyboard Shortcuts. On this action we’ll mostly use the Layer shortcuts.


  • When making the action, avoid using commands that are layer specific, like ‘select layer 1…’ never click on layer, rather use the shortcuts.
  • When changing blending modes and opacity, specially if you are unsure what settings you are going to use, rather double click on the layer and change the mode on the layer style window, this way you get to try different option without them being recorded unlike if you would choose it directly from the layer windows dropdown.
  • Keep an eye on what’s happening on your action panel while you record your action. If you make a mistake, you can pause the action recording and delete the unwanted commands. Just remember to continue exactly where you left off, sometimes it’s good to run the action and then continue recording from there.
  • Once your action is ready, always test it on different kind of environments (files with 1 layer or 10 layers)
  • Use smart filters when ever possible and work non-destructively. Keep the end result customizable.


Layer style window

We are going to create an action with few adjustment layers and some sharpening. And of course we make it all non-destructive and use smart objects/filters.
If you don’t have your actions panel on your workspace you can get it from Window -> Actions.

Action window

1. Stop recording the action
2. Start/continue recording
3. Run action. Choose an action and hit play to run the action. You can also run an action starting from the middle.
4. Create a new action set (group)
5. Create a new action. Once you create it it will start recording
6. Delete an action, set, or command

Creating the action

Lets start. You can get the image used on this tutorial from

Create a new set (1) and create new action (2).

First we are going to add a gradient map. Set the colors to #2c0d51 (purple) – #ffffff (white). Double click on the gradient map layer and set the blending mode to Soft Light. Play around with the opacity and see what works for you. I left it at 45%. Now when you still have the gradient layer selected, you can rename it.

Gradient map

Next we are going to add a gradient fill layer. Set the color to #3f065f and have it fade to transparent. Set the angle to -45 degrees. Set the blending mode to Soft Light and opacity to 45%. Rename your layer while selected.

Gradient fill

Merge all visible in to a new layer (CTRL + ALT + Shift + E), turn it in to a smart object by right clicking the layer and choosing Convert to Smart Object. Set the blending mode to Hard Light. Go to Filter -> Other -> High Pass. Set the radius to 0.8px. While layer still selected, name it Sharp.

Now it’s time to group your layers to make it all nice and tidy. Normally you would just shift + click and choose the layers you want to group but since we are trying to avoid using commands that are layer specific we are going to use shortcuts to do this. While you still have the Sharp layer selected, press ALT + Shift + [ choose all 3 layers and press CTRL + G. Name your group and stop recording the action (3).

On your action commands you should not have any commands saying ‘Select Layer 1’ ‘Select Gradient Fill 1’ etc. It should all be clean and clear non layer specific commands.

Useful shortcuts when creating actions:

  • Move to Previous Layer: ALT + [
  • Move to Next Layer: ALT + ]
  • Move to Previous/Next and keep the layers selected: ALT + Shift [ or ]
  • New Layer: CTRL + Shift + Alt + N
  • Duplicate Layer: CTRL + J
  • Merge to a New Layer: CTRL + ALT + Shift + E
  • Default Colors: D (black and white)
  • Fill with Foreground: Alt + Delete
  • Fill with Background Color: CTRL + Delete

View the full shortcut list.

Last step

The last step is optional but might be helpful at some actions. We set the High Pass radius to 0.8px but sometimes you might need a different radius so we are going to create a step that it will ask you to set the radius every time you run the action. Sure we used smart filter and you could change the radius by double clicking the smart filter but for demonstration purpose we are also going to do it this way as well. For the action to ask for the radius click on the icon (8) next to the High Pass command. Then we add a stop (7) with an informative text saying ‘Set your high pass radius’ by clicking the arrow down on the action window and choose ‘Insert Stop’

Recoring Photoshop Actions

Now our action is ready and you can now run it directly on a background layer or on a file that has several layers. If you want to save your action as a .atn file you would simply click on the arrow down on the action window and choose ‘Save Actions’ (9). Notice that you’ll have to have that action set selected for the save option to be available.

If you have any questions or suggestions comment below.

Download the Action


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