Presets vs. Actions in Photoshop

Presets vs. Actions in Photoshop - Mastin Labs

Editing can be the most tedious and time-monopolizing part of a photographer’s life. With presets and actions, you can expedite the editing process by pasting a series of edits and adjustments all at once with just a one click. While presets and actions are similar to one another, they are not exactly the same. Here is an outline on both methods of editing, and an explanation about how you can use presets and actions to improve your Adobe Photoshop editing workflow.


Presets are a collection of edits that are recorded as a batch and can be applied to an image (or multiple images) with just one click. Presets save you valuable time that would otherwise be spent behind a computer performing repetitive and tedious edits, and help you edit your images with speed, consistency, and elegance.

Presets are used with Adobe Camera Raw (ACR), a plugin that comes with Photoshop that allows you to easily edit RAW files before uploading them into Photoshop for additional touch-ups. In ACR, all edits are non-destructive and can always be reversed.

How to Install Presets in Photoshop

If you’d like to use presets from Mastin Labs or another supplier, install the presets then follow the steps below to apply them to your images in ACR.

  • Download the file to your desktop for easy locating.
  • Unzip the presets file and find the files ending in .xmp.
  • Copy and paste these files to the following location:
    • MAC: /Library/Application Support/Adobe/Camera Raw/Settings
    • WINDOWS: /Application Data/Adobe/Camera Raw/Settings

Your presets are now added to ACR and can be accessed by clicking the preset icon on the control panel.

Once you’ve applied a preset to an image and tweaked it to your preferences, you can save the image as a JPEG to either share, upload, or fine-tune in Photoshop.

How to Create Presets in Photoshop

If you’ve worked with any editing program in the past, the editing controls in ACR will feel familiar. With basic editing sliders that control aspects such as color, contrast, vibrance, highlights and shadows, it’s easy to get the overall look you want using this intuitive editing program.

Creating your own presets is easy. Begin by uploading an image into ACR, then making your edits. If you’d like additional direction on performing edits in ACR, this tutorial gives a simple demonstration. Once you’re happy with your edits, follow the steps below to save the editing sequence as a preset:

  • Find the list of icons on the right side of the control bar and select the presets icon (It looks like three stacked lines with dots).
  • Click the save icon on the bottom of the control bar (It looks like a turning page).
  • Name your preset and click ‘OK’

You can continue to edit the same photo (or upload a new one) and save new editing looks as new presets. By following the steps above, you can begin creating a collection of original presets that you can always easily access by clicking the preset icon on the control panel.


Actions are a great way to make your editing quick and efficient, and to learn from the editing process of professional photographers. When you create an action in Photoshop, you essentially record a sequence of edits on one photo for the purpose of applying those same edits to another photo. After a JPEG is uploaded into Photoshop, you can apply an action to that image with a simple click then sit back and watch as your image is transformed.

Pre-recorded actions from professional photographers can also be downloaded and applied to your own images. For photographers who wish to advance their editing abilities, actions can be examined layer by layer to show each adjustment that was made by the photo editor to create the action, making them a great learning tool.

Actions are easy to use, and can make images look professionally edited without hours of tedious behind-the-scenes-editing.

How to Install Photoshop Actions

Actions are easy to install, simply:

  • Download the action that you’d like to use.
  • Open the zip file and find the .ATN file.
  • Drag the .ATN file into Photoshop.

Once the file has been dragged into Photoshop, it is successfully uploaded and can be easily accessed in the ‘Actions’ panel of Adobe Photoshop.

How to Create Photoshop Actions

If you’d like to create an action in Photoshop, follow the steps below:

  • Open the 'Actions’ panel.
  • Close the default actions and click the list icon (it looks like 4 stacked lines directly to the right of the ‘Actions’ tab.
  • Click ‘New Set’ and name your original actions folder.
  • With your original actions folder selected, click the list icon.
  • This time, click ‘New Action’.
  • Type the name of your original action and click ‘Record’.
  • Click the circle stop button on the bottom when you’d like to end the recording.

You can always delete actions and re-record your action as many times as you need to until you get it right. Once you’ve saved your action, you can decide how that action will playback:

  • Select your action in the ‘Actions’ panel and click the list icon.
  • Select ‘Playback Options’ and choose:
    • Accelerated: For a lightning fast, seamless edit.
    • Step by Step: For sequential changes through the editing process.
    • Pause for __ seconds: For control over the time between individual edits in the action.

Now that you’ve either downloaded an action or recorded your own action, you can apply these actions to your photos in Photoshop by following the steps below.

How to Use Photoshop Actions

  • Click the layer you’d like to edit.
  • Click the ‘Actions’ panel and click the action you want to use.
  • Click the triangular play button at the bottom of the screen.

With Photoshop actions, you can apply one action to multiple images all at once using a batch application. Go to File> Automate> Batch. When the pop-up window appears, select the collection of images you’d like to use, label and adjust the other settings accordingly.

What is the Difference Between Photoshop Presets and Actions?

Presets and actions are two different paths to the same result. To clarify the points we made above, here are a few key differences we’d like to highlight.


  • Edits are made in Adobe Camera Raw.
  • Simple and intuitive user experience.
  • Requires an understanding of basic editing programs.
  • Non-destructive edits are applied to the entire image.
  • Can be used on JPEG or RAW files straight from the camera.
  • Application is instant.


  • Edits are made in Photoshop.
  • Advanced user interface.
  • Requires experience using Adobe Photoshop.
  • Can be applied to individual layers only.
  • For use on JPEG files only. RAW files must be converted into JPEG before using.
  • Full control over the speed of application.

With these differences in mind, we hope this guide helped you understand the differences and similarities between Adobe Photoshop actions and Adobe Camera Raw presets. Happy editing!

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