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Web Design Techniques > The Actions Palette

The Actions Palette

The Actions palette is a very useful tool for large Web design projects. It allows you to record, and automatically repeat, several commands in sequence. You can even assign an action to a key, allowing you to trigger an action with a single keystroke. Actions are great if you have to convert hundreds of images to GIF or if you have to resize images to a specific size. ImageReady’s Actions palette is similar to Photoshop’s, but there are a couple of differences that you should know about. The most important is that ImageReady’s Droplet and Batch commands are in the Actions palette’s menu, while Photoshop has them in the File menu (File > Automate).

Droplets are little scripts that can be placed on the desktop that will automatically process any images that you drag onto them. They still require that the original program be installed and they will start ImageReady automatically if the application is not already open. But other than that, they are self-running and don’t require a knowledge of the software. This is very handy if you have repetitive tasks to do. Droplets are a great alternative to the Batch Processing command. For example, if you have images that need to be resized and that are all spread out in different folders, all you need to do is open the folders in List view, select the images that you want to process, and drag them onto the droplet icon. (Unfortunately, this procedure doesn’t work in Windows.) The images are opened automatically and saved in their original folders. This is a little different from the Batch Processing command, which will only process all images within a folder. Using droplets, you can perform some standard tasks directly from the desktop without having to open up files in ImageReady.

Photoshop’s Actions palette has a feature that ImageReady lacks: Button Mode. Open the Actions palette from the Window menu in Photoshop. To switch to Button Mode, click on the palette menu (the triangle in the upper—right corner) and select this command from the options in the menu. If you would like to trigger an action with a keystroke, go back one step (deactivate the Button Mode) and then double-click an action to open up the Action Options dialog box. Here you can set the color and the key combination for the action, which is particularly helpful when you use the Actions palette in Button Mode.

Here you can see how different images in one folder are dragged onto the droplet on the desktop. Droplets have certain advantages over the Batch Processing command.

ImageReady’s Actions palette (left) and Photoshop’s Actions palette (right) are almost identical in their functionality. However, Photoshop has its Droplet and Batch commands in the File menu, while ImageReady has them in the menu of the Actions palette.

To record an action, work with the palette as if it were a tape deck, using the buttons at the bottom of the palette (in Windows, change from Button Mode back to List view to see these controls). The red circle is for recording, the square stops the current recording, and the triangle plays back the action. Before you start recording, click on the icon that looks like a sheet of paper to create a new action; otherwise, you will record over an existing action.

Toggle Dialog On/Off

When you record an action, you also record the settings in dialog boxes. To use an action flexibly, for different images, it is important to be able to adjust the settings in a dialog box.

For example, if the Gaussian blur filter is used in an action, it will probably be necessary to adjust the value for each image individually. To allow for this, you need to open the action by clicking on the little arrow in the Actions palette and then toggle the dialog box on (in the second column, next to the checkmarks). Another good example is if you copy a selection to the clipboard and you then want to paste it into a new document. Photoshop usually uses the exact dimensions of the image in the clipboard when creating the new document (which is good).But if this procedure is part of a recorded action, it will use the dimensions of the document that was used when the action was recorded (which is not so good).You can avoid this by locating the New command in the action and toggling the dialog on. When you run the action again, Photoshop will open the Image Size dialog box, fill in the current dimensions, and wait for you to confirm them. By the way, you can also activate the modal control for all dialog boxes at once within an action. Just click next to the Toggle dialog on/off icon beside the action entry in the palette.

The Actions palette in Button Mode. The actions are represented by buttons instead of in folders. Here’s the main difference: in Button Mode, one click is enough to start the action. You also can see the key combination that triggers the action in the Action Options.

Sometimes when dialog boxes are recorded in an action, you may need to use the “Toggle dialog on/off” switch so that you’re able to change some settings. For example, whenever this action plays, it will stop at the New command and display the dialog box to allow the user to set the image size manually. If the dialog weren’t toggled on, the Photoshop action would always use the dimensions of the image that was used originally to create this action. So using Toggle is a way to use this action flexibly for images of different sizes.

Inserting Stops

If you want to create an action that allows you to make some manual changes with one of the tools, such as creating a selection with the Lasso, you must insert a stop in the action. You can choose this command from the Actions palette menu. Select the step after which you want to insert a stop, and choose Insert Stop. In the dialog box that appears, you can enter a comment to remind you what you are supposed to do. You will probably want to write something like “Select the part of the image that you want to copy.” Later on, the action will display the dialog box with a Stop button for you to confirm the stop. Once you are done, a click on the Play button in the palette will pick up where the action stopped.

Because it might not always be necessary to make changes, you can select the Allow Continue option in the Stop dialog box. Then, in addition to the Stop button, you will get a Continue button, which will save you the hassle of clicking the Play button in the Actions palette.

Recording Paths in Your Action

Paths are an alternative to Alpha channels as a way of creating selections. They can also be used as layer clipping paths or even when making a fill. If you create an action that requires a certain path and that should work with different documents, make sure that you have copied this path to the clipboard before you start recording the action. Suppose you want to create an action that builds a rounded button in a document. Start recording your action, select the path in the Paths palette, and use the Insert Path command from the Actions palette menu (in the upper-right corner of the palette). Now, when you apply the action in another document, the path will be pasted into the document.

Sometimes you have to include a Stop in an action, for example, to make a selection with the Lasso tool. You can type in some instructions as a reminder when you are inserting the Stop command.

If your action requires a path, you have to select the path and use the Insert Path command from the palette pop-up menu.

Batch Processing

One of the best features of the Actions palette is the ability to apply an action to several images automatically. This is called batch processing, and it is particularly useful for Web designers, as they often have to convert several images with the same settings. To activate batch processing, first create the action that you want to apply, then choose File > Automate > Batch. The Batch dialog box displays all the sets and actions listed in the Actions palette. Pick the right set and action and then—by clicking on Choose—select the folder (for Source) containing the images you want to be processed.

The Override Action “Open” Commands option is only important if your action actually has an Open command. (Note: It is usually better to open an image before you start recording an action.) If you have no embedded Open command, this option must be deactivated! I emphasize this because people often overlook this and many have been frustrated because batch processing displays an error alert. By the way, the same is true for the option Override Action “Save As” Commands in the Destination section. If you have no Save As command embedded in the action, don’t activate the Override option.

If batch processing doesn’t work as expected, use the Log Errors To File command. This simple text file contains all the events and errors that Photoshop encounters while running the batch script, which will usually give you enough information to fix the problem.

Photoshop also comes with a set of ready-made batch-processing scripts that are all listed in File > Automate. One that might be particularly helpful to you is Web Photo Gallery. Just select an image folder and this script will generate a main page with all the images as thumbnails. A click on one of the images will bring you to an HTML page with an enlarged version of the image. Best of all, these pages include all the navigational elements to move parallel between the pages and you can even customize the design.

You might think that you’re being safe by choosing the Override options regardless of whether the action contains any Open or Save commands, but this will confuse the Batch command and you’ll get an error message. Only use the Override option when there is an Open or Save command. For any other errors, check the Error Log to find out where the problem lies.

Web Photo Gallery is a special batch-processing command that makes it easy to display a couple of images on the Internet.

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