I’ve mentioned the new Photoshop Elements 11 several times on this website.  Today, we are going to focus specifically on using actions in Elements 11.  Let’s start at the beginning.

What are actions?

Actions are a recorded series of edits to apply to your photo.  They can adjust exposure and white balance, create beautiful effects and looks, or help you prepare your images for presenting to the world.  I edited the image below using actions.  (Click to zoom in.)


Why should I use actions in Elements?

Actions can speed up your workflow, sneak in a few tricks not normally available in Elements, and teach you new techniques.  More on that last one later.

Can I use actions in versions of Elements prior to 11?

You bet.  Actions can be compatible with prior versions of Elements all the way back to 5.  Each action maker is different, however, so check specifications before you buy.

Are there separate versions of actions for Mac and PC?

No – you can install the same file on your Mac and your PC both.

When should I use actions in Elements?

To get the most out of actions, you need to understand the basics of Photoshop Elements.  What are layers and how do I adjust them?  Where is the brush tool?  What is a layer mask and how do I use it?  Once you are comfortable with those tasks, you are ready for actions.

What’s different about actions in 11?

Elements 11 gives us an actions panel.  This is the same way that full Photoshop users access their actions.  Each yellow folder is one set of actions with multiple actions inside.

Of course, the Elements version is limited compared to the actions panel in full PS.  We still can’t create or modify actions.  But it sure is easier for us to install them!OK, then, how do I install them?If you have a version of Photoshop Elements prior to 11, check out this page.  And set aside some time.If you have Elements 11, here is what you do.

  • Download your actions from the action maker.  Save them somewhere on your computer, like My Documents.  It’s good to save them to a place that you normally backup, in case your computer ever crashes.
  • Display the Actions panel via the Window menu
  • Click on the button with 3 horizontal lines at the top right of the actions panel and select Load Actions.

  • In the window that opens, navigate to the location on your computer where you saved your new actions.  Click on the action, then click the Open button.
  • You can even shift+click or command/control+click to select and load multiple actions at the same time!
  • Return to the actions panel to play your new actions.  Every once in a while, you have to restart Elements in order to see your new actions.  But that is not common, and it doesn’t take long.


What’s with the folders?  How do I change them?

Just about any action that works in PSE 10 can be installed as I showed you above in Elements 11.  However, in order to have the folders full of multiple actions, your action maker needs to design the actions appropriately.  You can’t change or re-organize these folders yourself.  (If you have actions designed for the old Guided Edit Actions Player in prior versions of PSE, they will work perfectly here!)

If you install ATN files designed for PSE 10, each individual action will be a separate file to install and will have its own folder in the panel, rather than one folder holding an entire set of actions.  (Actions designed for Elements 11 will have one file only per set or folder of actions.)  If you are installing files made for PSE 10, ignore any PNG or XML files.

Can I still install them the old fashioned way?  

Yes, if your action maker hasn’t upgraded their actions to be compatible with Elements 11, you can install them the same way you would install them into the Effects Panel in PSE 10, navigating through the PSE 11 folder instead of 10.   That way, you can still use the thumbnails and menu items, if available.

Do actions automatically transfer when I upgrade to a new version of PSE?

No, you need to re-install them each time you upgrade.

What about that secret way to learn from the pros?

Most actions that we run in Elements, no matter the version, create a series of layers that we can inspect.  If they are adjustment layers, we can see their settings, study their blend modes and opacities, and apply those techniques to other images with our own personal touches.  Sometimes, in prior version of Elements, you could look at your Undo History panel to examine steps that the action went through.  But, in Elements 11, you can actually read through each step in the process to see exactly how the action maker created each layer, adjustment or pixel.  Talk about a great way to learn.

If you find something in this list of steps that you just can’t do in Elements, odds are its one of those tricks that you can’t access in PSE unless you sneak it in via an action.

If that’s too much info for you, you can always collapse the lines so that just the name of the action is visible.

Why use actions then, if we’re learning these secrets?  An action will always be faster.  How long would it take you to remember and create each of 25 different layers for an image?  It might take an action 1 minute.  Plus, action makers are always studying the latest and greatest ways to learn Photoshop.  If they’re good, they will incorporate new techniques into each new action set.

Need another cool tip for using actions in PSE 11?

I like to skip over the first few steps of some actions.  For instance, when I made the collage above, I wanted to run an action, the action I was running resizes images and flattens them.  My collage was already the right size, and I didn’t want to flatten.  So, I created a new layer to sharpen on by using Stamp Visible, and then started the action at the Unsharp Mask step, rather than the beginning.

Pretty cool trick, right?  I’m a big fan of Elements 11, as you can tell. 🙂