Using Photoshop Actions as Droplets in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom

November 27, 2008 | | Comments 44

Photoshop has a feature called Actions. Actions are simply sets of instructions, also known as scripts or macros, that can be applied to an image or set of images. This post isn’t intended to describe all the things you can do with actions, or even how to create them, but rather to teach you how to make an action that you already have in Photoshop available to Lightroom.

Now, actions themselves (and their affiliated .atn files) aren’t directly accessible to Lightroom. What we have to do is push an image, or group of images, to Photoshop where the action is run. You can certainly select an image in Lightroom, choose Edit in Photoshop, then manually run the action once the image opens in Photoshop, but the whole point of Lightroom is to make your post-processing life easier and more efficient. Let’s look at a way to automate this.

Creating a Droplet

As I mentioned before, actions aren’t directly readable by Lightroom. The workaround for that is to create something called a droplet from our action. A droplet is a small executable program (.app file on a Mac or .exe file on a PC) that, when run, opens the applicable image(s) into Photoshop, runs the specified action, and completes any other tasks which were assigned to it when we created it. You’ll see what I mean in a moment.

To create a droplet:

  1. In Photoshop, make sure that you have at least one action available in the Actions Panel (formerly known as the Actions Palette).
  2. The Actions Panel

    The Actions Panel

    If you don’t see the Actions Panel, choose Window -> Actions from the Menu Bar.

    Choose Actions from the Window Menu

    Choose Actions from the Window Menu

    In the Actions Panel, you should see at least one Action Set (Folder icon) containing one or more Actions (right-facing triangle icon). If this is not what you see, you may want to reset the Actions Panel. Only do this if you haven’t created any actions of your own. If you need more help on creating an action, or with what’s going on in the Actions Panel, ask in the comments section below. To reset the Actions Panel, click on the small icon in the upper-right corner of Actions Panel and select Reset Actions from the menu.

    Reset Actions

  3. Choose File -> Automate -> Create Droplet… from the Menu Bar.
  4. Choose Create Droplet from the File, Automate Menu

    Choose Create Droplet from the File, Automate Menu

  5. Click the Choose button at the top to specify a location in which to save your droplet.
  6. Click Choose

    Click Choose

  7. I recommend you choose the desktop to make it easy to find later on. Choose a location in the dialog box and name your droplet. This name will be what we’ll see in Lightroom, so make sure it’s descriptive enough. Click OK. (I’m using the 50 pixel Wood Frame action that ships with Photoshop in its default actions set. Therefore, I’ve named my droplet Wood Frame – 50px.)
  8. Choose a location and name for your new droplet

    Choose a location and name for your new droplet

  9. Select the Set your action is in that you would like to create a droplet for. In my case, the set is Default Actions.
  10. Choose the Action Set

    Choose the Action Set

  11. Choose your action from the Action drop-down menu. I’ve chosen “Wood Frame – 50 pixel.”
  12. Choose the Action

    Choose the Action

  13. For this example, I’m leaving everything unchecked. Your decisions from here will really vary based on what your action is doing, why you’re doing it, when you want it done, etc. There will be additional tutorials on specific applications of this skill in the future.
  14. Click OK and your droplet will be saved in the location you specified in step 4 above.

Getting Access to that Droplet in Lightroom

Lightroom will allow you to specify a droplet to run with an image or group of images when you export. The last step in the Lightroom Export Dialog, Post Processing, is where we can specify a droplet to be run after export. Let’s go there now.

  1. Select an image from the Library Module in Lightroom, and choose File -> Export…
  2. Choose Export from the File Menu

    Choose Export from the File Menu

  3. Scroll down to the bottom of the Export Dialog (to the Post Processing section) and look at the After Export drop-down list.
  4. Post Processing section of the Export Dialog Box

    Post Processing section of the Export Dialog Box

  5. Our droplet is not available yet. We have to put that droplet in a specific location on our computer so Lightroom can read it. The easiest way to find that folder is to let Lightroom show it to us. From the After Export drop-down list, choose Go to Export Actions Folder Now.
  6. Go to Export Actions Folder Now

    Go to Export Actions Folder Now

  7. This will take us straight to the proper folder on our computer in which to place our droplet. Drag and drop your droplet (you like how I did that?) into that Export Actions folder in the Finder or Windows Explorer.
  8. Drag and Drop your Droplet

    Drag and Drop your Droplet

  9. Back in Lightroom, you should now see your droplet in the After Export drop-down list. If it’s not there, try clicking Cancel on the Export dialog, then re-open it and see if it’s there. Not there? You may have to quit and re-open Lightroom. It should be there now.
  10. Your droplet in the list.

    Your droplet in the list.

Calling up the Droplet in Lightroom

Once you’ve added the droplet to the Export Actions folder, it should always be available from the Export dialog. We’ll export an image now and send it straight to Photoshop with that droplet.

  1. Select an image in the Library Module in Lightroom.
  2. Choose Export
  3. I’m just exporting my image to the desktop in a folder called Action. You can put your settings however you see fit. The important setting for this demo is in the Post-Processing section. From the After Export drop-down list, choose your droplet. In the example below, mine’s called Wood Frame – 50px.
  4. Final Export Dialog

  5. Click Export. Your image will be exported and open in Photoshop. Your action will run.

The video below demonstrates several of the steps I described above:

Using Photoshop Actions as Droplets in Lightroom from Scott Rouse on Vimeo.

If you don’t have Flash enabled, or you’re viewing this on a portable device such as the iPhone, you can view the YouTube version of the above video here. If you have a choice, however, I recommend the High Definition Vimeo version above.

That’s the very basics of running a Photoshop action on an image from Lightroom. Think about the ways you can use that skill:

  • Run that droplet on a group of images on export.
  • Setup a Lightroom Export Preset that will send a copy of an image to Photoshop, run an action, save it, then re-import that new image back into the Lightroom Catalog.
  • Setup an Export Preset that will resize images for a website, send them to Photoshop for a fancy watermark, and save them as web-ready JPEGs.

The opportunities are quite numerous. We’ll be back later to help demonstrate some of those techniques.

If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to let us know in the comments section.


Filed Under: (07) Exporting From Lightroom(10) Using Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop TogetherAdobe Photoshop Lightroom Tutorials


About the Author: Scott Rouse is an Adobe Certified Expert (ACE), photographer, teacher, and graphic- and web-designer in Missoula, MT. His photography focuses on wildlife and adventure sports and can be viewed at His design and consulting work can be seen at