Creating Photoshop “Actions”

So, you’ve used Photoshop for awhile now and are fairly adept at cropping, working with layers, changing colored photos to black-and-white and the like. Have you ever had this happen? You tinkered around with a picture for awhile using Photoshop, and ended up with an image that was creative and different. The only problem is, you can’t remember how you arrived at that final look. Actions What you need to learn now is something called “Actions.” In Photoshop, an “Action” is a digitally written record of the steps you’ve taken to enhance or alter a photograph or image.


Some advantages to using Actions are:

  • you’ll save time and money
  • you can customize actions to fit certain workloads
  • you can share actions with others
  • you can make a hard copy of an Action you’ve developed, which can become a tutorial for you to use anytime

There is so much that can be done with Actions, it’s actually beyond the scope of what can be presented here. We’ll just touch on the basics. To create an action, use the Actions palette. The Actions palette is accessed one of two ways: Use the menu command: select Windows > Actions or Use the keyboard command: type Alt+F9 (Windows) or Opt+F9 (Mac) This will open your Actions palette. The palette then becomes your best friend as you create a series of steps to alter a photo, make a record of those steps, save that record and then re-play those steps in the future to achieve the exact same effect with another photo. Applying Actions to batches of photos Not only can you alter an individual photo using Actions – you can alter large numbers of photos with Actions. And the beauty of it is, you don’t even have to be at your computer while this is happening. To process a batch of images, first be sure that the action you want to use is loaded into the Actions palette. Then go to the Batch dialog box (File > Automate > Batch). The Batch dialogue box contains four main areas:

  • Play. Choose the action you want to assign to the Batch command.
  • Source. Select the images or folders of images you want to alter.
  • Destination. Determine the destination for the images you’ll be processing.
  • Errors. Photoshop logs any errors that might occur during processing.

Some Action tips Author Al Ward, Photoshop expert and self-proclaimed addict, suggests a few things to keep in mind as you set up your own actions.

  • Use as few displayed dialog boxes and stop messages as possible.
  • Establish color codes for your actions.
  • Keep the names of your actions as short and descriptive as possible.
  • Use keyboard shortcuts.
  • Save your actions frequently.
  • If you include a Save As command in an action that saves a file as a JPEG, be sure that the Save As Copy check box is checked in the Save As dialog box.

Fine Tuning Typography

The fine line between ordinary and extraordinary design lies in the details. While great attention to detail is placed on layout, often overlooked in document creation is the text itself. In the days of yore, professional typographers would peer over the printing press to ensure that the typeset was truly a work of art. Typographers would, quite literally, make certain that the “i”s were dotted and the “t”s were crossed.

While typographers in the print shop may have fallen to the wayside, typographers at digital foundries take special care to craft highly functional pieces of digital type that can truly sparkle in the right hands. However, unless you know where they have hidden their tools, your electronic documents may be missing their finery. In QuarkXpress 8, the ability to bring out the best of typography are just a few quick clicks away.

Working With Special Characters.
Working With Special CharactersWhat you see on your keyboard is just the start of what lays hidden within many fonts. Bullets, accented characters, monetary symbols, and much more lurk just beneath the surface. Some special characters even include multiple shapes for you to chose from to bring out the best in your document. These special characters can be found in the Glyphs pallet of the Windows Menu.

To add a special character, open up the Glyphs pallet in the Window menu, and then scroll to locate the character you would like to use. Double-click the glyph and it will be placed in your document. If you have a few glyphs you find yourself favoring, you may wish to save them in the Favorite Glyphs area at the bottom of the Glyph Pallet by dragging and dropping them into the open boxes.

Creating Fractions
Creating FractionsWhile you can easily create fractions using numbers and a slash, the results can lack the refinement that actual fractions lend to a document. For a more polished approach, you can utilize QuarkXpress’ built in functionality to give your fractions the detail they so highly deserve.

To create your fraction, simply highlight your text, and chose Style > Type Style > Make Fraction. This will convert those unsightly displays of 1/ 2 and 1/ 4 into more elegant 1/2 and 1/4. Even complex fractions can be expressed with a more refined appearance with just a few quick clicks of the mouse.

Applying Ligatures
Often times, certain combinations of letters can cause your type to look a bit more shabby than it should. Notoriously, “fl”s and “fi”s can become crowded with some typefaces. Ligatures are special glyphs that represent a character pair, and can help remove the awkwardness to those type combinations. Fonts can easily be substituted with ligatures automatically in QuarkXpress if you know where to look. Simply click on Enable Ligatures in the Character tab of the Measurements pallet.

Applying Ligatures
Typography may no longer be the first thing you think of in document creation. But thanks to QuarkXpress 8, your documents can still have the look of “hands on” craftsmanship like that of the typesetters of old. With a little attention to detail and a little knowledge of QuarkXpress’ powerful tools, you can bring back the fine art of typography to your documents.

Creating Tension

When working in graphic design, making things look good may seem like the right thing to do, but perhaps making things attract attention should be your goal. Attracting attention can often be done by creating tension in the eyes of the viewers. Tension is defined as balanced relation between strongly opposing elements, or the interplay of conflicting elements. This tension or conflict will cause viewers to stop and take a closer look at your design in hopes of uncovering what is making them subconsciously uncomfortable. Here are a few tension creating tips to intrigue your viewers:

vases sale

    • Barely touching elements tease the viewers. Their eyes are drawn to this point of almost intersection, and they keep checking to see if the items really touch.


    • Design decisions that appear tentative, such as elements that are off-kilter, can cause conflict because the viewer will naturally want things to be straight and orderly. Deliberately placing images off balance, as long as it isn’t overdone, can help capture a viewer’s attention.


  • Using complementary colors next to each other, especially when there is a shared edge, can cause a vibration in your design. This is because each color is vying for dominance in the eyes of your viewer. Choose your colors to attract attention.

Using these techniques at some of the focal points of your piece, such as the center, and the corners, will retain the viewer’s interest as they digest all that your piece has to say.

Variation on a Theme

Choosing an appropriate color palette is an important step in creating great design. Using the right mixture of colors is what gives life to the images you create and combine. But perhaps the best way to ensure you are using your colors to their full potential is to experiment with the placement of each color.

variation on theme

This variation on a theme, as seen above, serves to change the look and feel to give you a look that supports the image’s message. The key to variation is experimentation. When you stumble upon the combination that works best, you’ll be glad you took the time.

Customer Surveys That Inspire a Response

Customer response forms, whether they are surveys or feedback requests, are an invaluable part of your company’s go-ahead plans. The feedback you receive helps to drive your marketing and product improvement efforts. But, if these response forms are not pleasing to the eye, and easy to use, your customers will be more likely to throw them away than fill them out.

customer surveysIf you are preparing your company’s survey or feedback forms, take a lesson from the U.S. Census Bureau. In 1995, while they were beginning preparations for Census 2000, they spent time rethinking the effectiveness of the Census forms in creating a desire to participate. They realized the forms were unappealing and hard to follow, and because they wanted to generate a 100% response rate, they needed to find a way to boost people’s desire to participate. What they came up with was a fresh look that combined fact gathering and encouraging language with a fluid design and color scheme.

While the sheer volume of participants in the 2000 Census make this project seem irrelevant to the information gathering of a small company, there are many things that can be learned about form and function from the Census design.

  • Keep your design simple.
  • Use colors that set people at ease.
  • Consider the use of rounded shapes and lines, which are more appealing than rigid boxes.
  • Inform the participants of the value of their responses.
  • Make your form a safe place to divulge information.

Customers want their voices to be heard. When you ask them questions about themselves, you are giving them a place to participate in the future decisions of your company. Presenting your request for information in a way that makes them comfortable and eager to participate will increase your response rate and ultimately, your bottom line.

Room to Breathe

One of the most common pitfalls in design occurs when text is squeezed into borders and boxes, or wrapped too tightly around illustrations or silhouetted photographs. Next time you are faced with the challenge of creating sufficient breathing room in your designs, remember: there is beauty in simplicity. Compare the following examples of crowded vs. comfortable designs:


Here are some simple solutions on how to avoid the claustrophobic, unappealing feel of crowded design:

  • Increase the size of the border or box.
  • Increase the size of the margins on the edges of the page.
  • Add more breathing room around individual elements by increasing the white space in text wraps.
  • Decrease the font size, or cut back on text when possible.

Color Talks… Are You Listening?

Next time you want to make a bold statement, try saying it with color!

Depending on what type of message or meaning you wish to convey, the color combinations you choose can support, emphasize, or contradict your message. Color stimulates the senses, symbolizes abstract concepts and thoughts, expresses fantasy or wish fulfillment, and produces an aesthetic or emotional response.

According to the Institute for Color Research, humans make a subconscious judgment about a person, environment, or item within 90 seconds of initial viewing, and the majority of that assessment is based on color alone. party suppliesBecause color delivers an instant impression that is generally understood universally, color is very important in conveying a mood or idea where verbiage is not used or understood.

The power of color combinations can also be seen on many levels of marketing communication, including corporate identification and logos, signage, television ads, billboards, print media and packaging, online web sites, and on point-of-purchase displays.

Here is a small sampling of dominant colors and the responses they elicit:

sereneRed: Exciting, energizing, sexy, hot, dynamic, stimulating, provocative, aggressive, powerful
Bright Pink: Happy, attention-getting, youthful, spirited, fun, wild
Light Pink: Romantic, soft, sweet, tender, cute, babies
Orange: Fun, childlike, harvest, juicy, friendly, loud
Beige: Classic, sandy, earthy, natural, soft
Brown: Wholesome, warm, woodsy, rustic, durable, masculine
Purple: Royalty, powerful, expensive
Light Blue: Calm, quiet, peaceful, cool, water, clean
Bright Blue: Electric, vibrant, stirring, dramatic
Bright Yellow: Enlightening, sunshine, cheerful, friendly, energy, happy
Black: Powerful, elegant, mysterious, bold, classic, magical, nighttime
Silver: Classic, cool, money, valuable, futuristic
Gold: Warm, opulent, expensive, radiant, valuable, prestigious

Painting With Light

painting with light painting with light
Adding Dramatic Lighting Effects to Your Photo
With a bit of selective lightening and darkening in Photoshop, you can make a dull, lifeless photograph pop off the page.

There is nothing wrong with the original image, although the “before” picture lacks the dramatic mood that the change of lighting adds to the “after” picture. By using Photoshop to accentuate the darks and the lights, the viewer’s attention is now focused directly on the couple.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Create a new layer in Photoshop by pressing Shift+F5.
  • Select “50% Gray from the drop down menu next to “Use: and choose “Color Burn” from the drop down menu next to “Mode”.
  • Set the Opacity around 50%-80%. This can be changed later.
  • Click “OK”.
  • Use the shortcut for the Brush Tool, “B”, and right click to select a large brush with a soft edge.
  • Change the brushes color to white and set the opacity to 2%-3%.
  • Begin painting where you want the light to appear.

Low-Cost Clip Art and Image

Digital clip art collections provide a great source for designers to obtain inexpensive (sometimes even royalty-free) images. If you’re considering purchasing a digital clip art collection, here are some questions to ask:

  • Are the images in this collection compatible with my operating system and the software I use?
  • Is the file format (EPS, JPEG, TIFF, GIF, etc.) versatile enough for my needs?
  • Are the images of a high-enough resolution and quality?
  • Are the images bitmapped or vector-based? (Vector-based images are better if you’ll need to enlarge them.)

Other Sources to Check
clip artAs you search for images, don’t forget to check the Library of Congress web site. In addition to copyrighted images, their online catalog of prints and photographs even includes a number of quality images in the public domain, as well.

Old magazines and books are another potential source for images. Any that were published before 1923 are in the public domain. Those published between 1923 and 1963 might be in the public domain, unless the copyright holder renewed their claim. Anything published after 1963 is still under copyright, so you’ll need to obtain permission before using it.

And finally, our print shop has a number of print-quality clip art collections on file, too, which you are free to browse.

Suggestions for Designing Breakthrough Brochures


  1. Use color to focus attention on your main selling features and to improve the perception of quality. Two colors are better than one, and full-color printing is better yet.
  2. Using a glossy paper will often make your brochure look more professional.
  3. Avoid the temptation to try to jam too much information into a small space. In good brochure design, less is more.
  4. Don’t overlook the value of white space to bring a clean look to your design and to help accentuate key selling points.
  5. For readability, consider using a serif type for body copy. Studies have shown that serif type is easier to read. Sans serif type is good for headlines and subheads.
Other Good Ideas:
  • If you will be mailing your brochure as a self-mailer, consider applying a coated finish (varnish) to the printing. The coating will help prevent scuffing — ink being rubbed off by the post office’s mail-sorting equipment.
  • For the best impression, consider mailing your brochure in a matching envelope.
  • For a unique sales and marketing twist, consider applying a small label somewhere on the brochure to draw attention to a special feature, special pricing, a sales rep’s name, or a toll-free number.