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How to Use Photoshop Elements Actions

written by: Misty Faucheux•edited by: Tricia Goss•updated: 3/15/2011

Photoshop Elements Actions allow you to add pizazz to your photographs, but do you know how to use these actions? Learn how in this digital photography tutorial.

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    Using Photoshop Actions

    An action in Photoshop Elements records certain steps and plays them back when you need them. Actions are similar to Word macros, except that Photoshop creates the actions for you. While you can make minor tweaks to the steps within the actions, you cannot really customize them. Adobe Photoshop Elements Actions can make quick work of complicated editing steps.

    If you have never used Photoshop Elements Actions, then you are probably wondering why you should. Actions help you quickly and easily change the look of your photograph. For example, Elements have actions for converting your photographs to pencil drawings or watercolor images. You can also use actions to add frames or decorations to your photographs.

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    Styles and Effects Palette

    To start using actions, select the photograph that you want to use. Depending on the action that you plan to use, pick a photograph that would benefit from the Photoshop Action. For example, if you want to convert your image into a watercolor, select a photograph with bright colors and good contrast. Landscape photographs work well for this.


    Next, open up your Photoshop Actions by going to your Styles and Effects palette. If this palette is not already open, go to the Window menu, and select Styles and Effects.

    Now, open up a new file, and reduce the size to 64 by 64-pixel image. Save it as a PSD file in the same folder as your current actions. Insert an image in this folder, and open up a new layer for each action. Name the layer based on the action that you are using so you can distinguish between the layers. The image that you are using for this effect should now show up in your Styles and Effects palette.

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    Where to Save Your Files

    Next, you need to save your file, but where you save it depends on your version of Photoshop Elements. If you have version 4 or earlier versions, save your PSD file in the following folder: Program Files\Adobe\Photoshop Elements\Previews\Effects. If you are working with version 5 or later versions, save your PSD file in this folder: C:\Documents and Settings\All Users\Application Data\Adobe\Photoshop Elements\5.0\Photo Creations\special effects. You must save your file as thumbs.psd for the action to take effect.

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    Deleting Cached Files and Creating Your Final Image

    Now, you must delete the cached files. To erase your working file, open up the following file: Program Files\Adobe\Photoshop Elements\Previews\Cache\Effects. In this file, you will see three caches: CacheCatagoryCache.che, ThumbNailCache.che and ListCache.che.

    If you are working in older versions of Photoshop Elements, you must know restart your program. If you are working with version 5 or later, your effects should already have taken effect.

    Always experiment with all the actions before using them to see what they can do and how they look on your photographs. Always save a copy of your image before applying the actions, and use that copy as your working file. Save your changes as you go.

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    Lasse Havelund,