Photoshop Top 40, Feature #30: Actions

Actions are Photoshop’s oldest and most essential form of automation. Simply put, an action is a recorded sequence of events. Which is pretty wild when you think about it. You click the record button, work your way through a series of oft-repeated steps, and then click stop. From that point on, the Actions palette can play back exactly what you did at breakneck speed, several times faster than you could ever hope to repeat the steps yourself. Test the action to make sure it works and it may serve you well for years to come, from one version of Photoshop to the next. As I’m fond of saying, invest an hour or two in actions now and your future self—lying on a beach while Photoshop works away as your obedient digital slave—will thank you.

In this video, we’ll build up a complex visual effect, one that you can easily share with others. And honestly, I think you’ll be blown away. This action generates a synthetic water effect that works against any background. And it’s available to you right here for free:

  • Just right-click on this link: the action set Water_droplets.atn. And choose Save or Download.
  • Inside Photoshop, choose Load Actions from the Actions palette flyout menu.
  • (new step!) Rename the action set “Water droplets,” with a space instead of an underscore.

This set includes the action I record in the video, Basic Droplet Steps, as well as a more elaborate action called Water on Image, which integrates a third action called Subroutine. Enjoy.

The base photograph comes to us from Glue Stock of image vendor Fotolia. Click this link for a special deal.

(For a list of all Photoshop Top 4 videos thus far, click this link.)

Incidentally, Photoshop Top 4 is now available as a downloadable podcast from iTunes. Click here to subscribe. dekePod subscribers will get the videos automatically.

Next entry:Martini Hour 033, In Which Colleen Buys Her Laptop a Drink, Because It’s Playing the Role of Fotolia

Previous entry:“Photoshop CS4 Smart Objects” Is Complete


  • Very nice.

    can’t wait to start make’n actions of my own.

  • Cool water action!

    Thanks so much Deke!

    You make my life so easy…...

  • Ranking!

    Hello Deke! Thanks as Always for the Magical Videos

    As you said in a previous martini hour , Those selected episodes are based on your personal experience…

    My Question is are they also ranked based on the way you think they are useful?

    or in another word .. Does feature #1 is the most important feature inside photoshop? and #2 is less ? and #3 ? is less? like this?

    Or they are just randomly arranged?

    Thanks Boss for your effort

    Black Seals ... White Reveals…!

  • Again…. amazing!

    Dude…. again….. amazing work in such little. 

    The part I love is that you get to play with this little action file and still learn some more!!!!

    LOVE IT!

    Thanks Deke.

  • The rankings are very much on purpose

    Feature #1 will be the most important feature inside Photoshop. And, yes, there is such a thing and I already have it mapped out.

    Can’t tell you anymore or I’d have to kill you. I’d give a little wink but I’m serious, I’d have to kill you.


  • Water Droplets Action

    I love everything you do and recommend you to everyone that would have any interest.
    Now that we have the good stuff over I don’t seem to be able to get the action you have posted to download.
    What I do get is a file that says Water_droplets.atn.txt which is nothing more than a text file not the action.
    I have clicked on it, double clicked on it and right clicked on it. What’s left?

    What am I doing wrong?

    Thank You, and next time the Martinis are on me.


    P.S. I really do have your all of your One-on-One books on Photoshop and InDesign from CS through the present.

  • I changed the directions slightly

    If you click you get text. You have to right-click and download to get the fully functioning ATN file.

    (Oiks, that was a late post.)

  • Water Droplet Action

    Hi Deke…..Thanks for all that you contribute to us Photoshoppers.
    I’m having a problem with playing this water droplet action on a selection. Can you help?

    Thanks, Jim

  • Where to put .atn file.

    On my Vista machine I had to put Deke’s action file in an imbedded folder for it to show up and work. The file works when it is placed in:

    C:Usersuser nameAppDataRoamingAdobeAdobe Photoshop CS4PresetsActions

    The AppData file is a hidden file so folder options must be set to show it:

    Control Panel> Folder Options> View tab> Show hidden files and folders (select radio button)

    The actions file doesn’t have an installer and there may be a way to load it into Photoshop, but I know if placed in the folder (above) that it works.

    If you simply put the action in:

    C:Program FilesAdobePhotoshop CS4PresetsActions,

    the action didn’t show up for me following the instructions in the video.

    Perhaps this is information some folks need to get this to work.

    My final result came out really well. I was impressed with both Deke and myself!

  • Some errors in the action


    The action (downloaded 9/26/09 at 10:00am CST) has some errors running under CS3.

    1. The set is named “Water_droplets” with an underscore, but the action plays “Subroutine” of set “Water droplets”, no underscore. So it errors out trying to play the subroutine.

    2. The step “Make new layer name ‘Offset texture’ using selection with copy” creates a blank transparent layer, which cannot be transformed in the next step. Maybe a CS3 vs CS4 thing? I can’t find any layer command in CS3 that creates an action step like that. But if I replace it with a simple “Layer via copy” it works OK.

    3. You rename the Background layer to “Original Image.” Not a good idea. Subsequent actions, including your own, may depend on the Background layer being named “Background”. If I run “Water on image”, don’t like the result, delete the layers and run it again, it fails because it can’t find a layer named Background.

  • Downloading Water Droplets Action

    pergifts: same thing happened to me, using CS4 & an iMac.  I right-clicked the action hyperlink, went to “Save Linked File to the Desktop” & ended up with a file on the desktop that appears as a Mac TextEdit file and that says “Water_droplets.atn.txt”.  After doing this many times, I finally clicked on the title of that file, deleted the last four characters (”.txt”), then clicked somewhere on the desktop.  You will then get a dialogue box that says “Are you sure you want to change the extension from “.txt” to “.atn”?”; press the button that says “Use .atn”.  The downloaded file then changes into a Pshop Water_droplets.atn file, which you load into your Pre-set Actions folder.  Restart Pshop (if it is on), go to actions and load the action.  It works fine.  Thanks, Deke, and keep up the great tutorials and manuals.

  • Where does the action go?

    Was it too much trouble to tell us this?

    I read comments from users until finding another iMac user who says to put it in our Pre-set Actions folder. But I don’t have one, and there’s no clue where it should be if I did have one.

    I continued my own sleuthing (like other users, none of whom PASSED ON all that they learned) and found that I have a PresetsActions folder inside the Photoshop CS4 application. But that’s a dumb place to put an action, since it will disappear when I upgrade Photoshop. (Won’t it?)

    Photoshop help is also useless, so I went to Yahoo and searched for “Photoshop actions directory”. I found a lot of useless links, and one that told me I could put actions anywhere I wanted. But that’s dumb, too. I should put in somewhere I’ll remember next time, and there really should be a standard place. But where? It seems I’m supposed to guess.

    One criteria I’ll set for myself, if there’s that much latitude, is NOT to put it in a system directory that Spotlight ignores. So I’ll put it in a DocumentsPhotoshop/Actions directory. I fully expect that Photoshop will NOT find it there FOR me, but at least I’ll know where it is.

    So I try doing it that way. The Actions palette is no help, since it shows me no way to load an action from wherever it lies. I also see, immediately, that there are already Custom actions on the palette.. but where are they on the disk? No clue. Not in the package directory already mentioned, and not in the Application Support folder mentioned 2 paragraphs on, either.

    Next I note (from the Yahoo search) that there’s a “Load Action” button on the palette. It opens an Actions directory… which is EMPTY. There are, indisputably, actions on the disk. But not in that directory. That is SO helpful. The Mac, being the so-nice OS that it is, also refuses to tell me where this Actions directory is, no matter which view of it I choose. But the directory exists, and THIS is where I really should put actions… but that’s impossible, since the folder can’t be found.

    But I happen to have an app called FindAnyFile. When I search for Actions, it finds 17 files. One of them is Usersmy user nameLibraryApplication SupportAdobeAdobe Photoshop CS4PresetsActions. THAT, apparently, is where user actions should go. But the Custom actions are not there. So where are they? FindAnyFile finds one folder called “custom” (small c), but that can’t be it. It’s in an absurd location, and the action that should be there (Resize 600W) isn’t.

    So… resigned to never knowing where Custom actions are stored… I’m back to plan A, using my Documents directory. And now, with Load Actions, I succeed in loading the action. Great.

    Did I really have to figure out all this myself?


  • Error fix

    Once you have downloaded the atn file, rename it and remove the underscore.

    Then load it in photoshop.

    I double clicked on it, and that launched pscs3 and loaded it. then save the action in the action palette drop down box, which will put it in the correct folder.

    the underscore is necessary for distribution on the web.

  • You’re making it too complicated

    Hey, Bobby. Belie’ you me, if you had to go to all that effort, I would have mentioned it.

    Happily, you don’t. Put the Water_Droplets.atn file anyplace you like.

    In Photoshop, go to the Actions palette (Window > Actions). Choose Load Actions from the palette’s flyout menu. Locate the Water_Droplets.atn file, wherever you put it. Click on it. Click the Load button.

    As stonjie mentioned below (thanks!), you’ll need to rename the set Water Droplets (with a space instead of an underscore) for the Subroutine to work.

  • You really know your

      You really know your stuff… Keep up the good work!
    drum clamp

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