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How to Use Droplets in Your Photography Workflow


In this tutorial you'll learn how to create and use droplets, a handy tool for process automation with Photoshop, by making one from a simple export action.

Droplets are Actions, App-ified

Here at Envato Tuts+ we’re big fans of anything that saves you time when you’re post-processing your images; it’s the reason I’ve written thousands of words about how great actions are! Today we’re going to take a look at droplets: a way to take actions and use them outside of Adobe Photoshop. 

Droplets work by tying a single action to a shortcut icon in your file system. When you drag and drop files onto a droplet, Photoshop opens in the background and runs whatever action you've configured it with. The best thing about droplets is that they can handle multiple files at once, which makes them perfect for batch exporting images.

What Kind of Actions Work?

Droplets work best with relatively automatic actions. If you have to enter a load of values or paint in an effect for the action to work, it doesn’t make much sense to use a droplet. You’re far better to load your image in through Lightroom or Bridge, so you can keep things organised, and then run the action from within Photoshop.

For example, I recently put together a list of 100 awesome black and white images for Tuts+. I used public domain and Creative Commons work I found online so the images weren’t already in my Lightroom catalogue. To upload them to Tuts+ they had to be 850px wide and under 200kb in size. Rather than process them all individually, I created a droplet that ran an action that resized and exported them. I was able to drag all 100 photos onto it and in a few moments they were ready to be uploaded. Doing it by hand would have taken hours!

These kind of export actions are where droplets are at their best. You can take a high-res export file and in seconds have a low-res, watermarked file ready for sharing online or with clients. An action like this is what we're going to make as our example in this tutorial.

With that said, there are no limits on how you choose to use droplets. If they fill a different place in your workflow, that’s great!

Record a Simple Export Action

Recording actions in Photoshop is simple. If you haven’t done it before, you can follow along very carefully here or read some of our other great tutorials on it before continuing.

To start, open a sample image in Photoshop. It doesn’t really matter what it is. You just need to have something for Photoshop to work with.

Make sure the Actions panel is visible. If it isn’t, select Window > Actions to make it appear.

Click the New Action icon and name it something like Droplet Export. I’m putting mine in the Action Set called Personal Actions. If you’re planning to create a lot of droplets, create an Action Set just for them.

naming action
Naming the Action I'll use in the Droplet.

Click Record. Now Photoshop is tracking everything you do. Be careful, any mistakes you make are also saved into the action.

This action is going to be a variation of my normal finishing action. It’s going to resize an image to 1200px wide, sharpen it and add a simple watermark. Let’s start with resizing the image.

Select Image > Image Size or use the keyboard shortcut Command- or Control-Shift-I to get the Image Size dialogue box. Enter 1200px for the Width. All the other defaults are perfect so click OK.

resizing the image
Resizing the image to 1200 pixels wide.

Next let’s add a sharpening layer. Although there’s only the Background layer in my document we can’t count on that being the case for every image so I’m going to use a technique that works no matter how many layers there are. 

Create a new layer and call it Final Sharpening. Next, use the keyboard shortcut Command-Shift-Alt-E to merge all visible layers to the new layer. Change the Layer Blend Mode to Soft Light then go to Filter > Other and select High Pass.

sharpening layer
1.5 pixels is a good general purpose sharpening amount for 1200 pixel wide images.

For a 1200px image, I’ve found a Radius of 1.5 Pixels to work well in 90% of circumstances. Enter that and press OK

Select the Type tool and use it to enter a simple watermark. I just use my name in size 16 text. Use the Transform command to position it in your image.

text watermark
The simple text watermark I use.

In the Layer Menu select Flatten Image and then go to File > Export > Save for Web (Legacy). In the Preset dropdown, pick JPEG High and then click Save

Select the folder you want all the photos you run through the droplet to be saved to. Something like your Desktop works well. 

Click Save and then stop recording the action. It’s now ready for use.

Create the Droplet

To create the Droplet, go to File > Automate > Create Droplet…

For Save Droplet In, enter a name for your droplet and choose the location you want it to save. I’ll put it on my Desktop so I have easy access to it.

Under Play, select Droplet Export from the Action dropdown menu. 

create droplet
The Create Droplet dialogue box.

For the Destination, choose your Desktop and make sure Override Action “Save As” Commands is checked.

I like to add _1200px to the end of any exported files so in File Naming, just to keep things tidy. Add that after the Document Name but before the extension.

Click OK and your droplet will be saved to the Desktop. To make sure it works, grab a couple of test images and drop them on top of it. If you’ve followed along correctly, Photoshop will run them through the export action we created and save the files to the Desktop.

A Few Other Uses for Droplets

Batch processing files is the most obvious use for droplets: they're great for applying the same resizing, sharpening, colour toning, watermark and the like to hundreds of finals in just a few moments. That’s not the only use for them however.

For example, if you do any retouching work for other photographers or for graphic artists you could use a droplet to handle your file importing rather than exporting. You could have a droplet that opens the files they send you, applies all your default layers, puts the document in the correct colour space and bit depth and gets you ready for work.

droplet desktop
The TutsExportDroplet and a file it's just processed sitting on my desktop.

Another great use would be to have a droplet that creates three versions of one file in sizes you commonly use for web design work.

You can also have droplets that run more involved processes like creating business card mockups, or applying images to sample product packaging. 

If anything you do can be automated in Photoshop, it can be turned into a droplet. Examine your workflows and think about where they could fit in. Droplets won’t work in every instance, but there’s always a few spots where they’re awesome.

Wrapping Up

Automating different processes is one of the best things you can do to speed up your workflow. Rather than painstakingly working through repetitive steps by hand, you can have Photoshop do it all for you in the background.

If you’ve started to add actions into your toolkit, droplets are an obvious next step. They give you all the power of actions but without the hassle of opening files in Photoshop. For batch processing images, you won’t find a better tool.

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