Action Jackson

Action Jackson

Have you ever found yourself doing things again and again (such as typing the word redundant dozens of times)? Have you ever wished that your computer could do some of this tedious work for you? Well, that’s where Actions come in. Actions make Illustrator do the grunt work while you get to do all the fun stuff.

Illustrator comes with hundreds of Actions, although only a dozen are installed with the software. You can find the rest on your Illustrator application CD-ROM. Better yet — you can make your own Actions! Actions can be virtually any series of Illustrator activities, such as scaling, rotating, changing colors, or bringing selections to the front. You can even use Actions to select objects if they have specific names.


One of the handiest uses for Actions is creating compound keyboard shortcuts. For example, you can perform a set of procedures, such as Create New Layer, Place, and Scale at the same time, without even wrenching your back. Instead of performing all three keyboard commands individually, you can easily set up an Action to do all three simultaneously. Result: One keyboard command does three tasks! You just smile and watch. Choose Window→Actions, and meet the friendly Actions palette in Figure 19-3.

Figure 19-3: The Actions palette puts power at your virtual fingertips.

To use any Action, click it in the Actions palette and then click the Play Current Selection button (the right-pointing arrow) at the bottom of the palette.

Creating your own Action feels something like taping your voice or image and then playing it back. When you record an Action, Illustrator watches what you do and records every step as closely as possible. (This procedure is a lot like creating a macro in Word.)


Computers have no imagination; you have to tell them exactly what to do. Therefore, your recorded Actions must use precise values. Anything that requires a level of human interaction does not get recorded. In effect, Illustrator says, “That’s not my department. So there.” For example, creating a one-inch rectangle is a precise action. Drawing a squiggly line is not. You can’t always know in advance whether Illustrator can record all the actions you perform — but you know for certain after you play it back. Hey, it’s not a program; it’s an adventure.

To create your own Action, just follow these steps:

  1. Open a new document in Illustrator and choose WindowActions.

    The Actions palette opens.

  2. Click the Create New Action button.

    The New Action dialog box opens.

  3. Name the Action and click the Record button.

    For example, type the name Red Rectangle for the Action. After you click the Record button, the Action records everything you do, tapping your phone, and transmitting that information back to Adobe where they’re keeping a file on you. Just kidding. Honest.

  4. Perform a series of actions with the keyboard or the mouse.

    For the example, select the Rectangle tool and drag out a rectangle in the document. Then choose a red swatch from the Swatches palette for the Fill color.

  5. Click the Stop Playing/Recording button.

    The Action shows up on the Actions palette, ready for, um, action. Great gung-ho attitude, eh? But hold on a minute. . . .

  6. Prepare to test your Action.

    In this case, delete your original rectangle. This finishing touch prevents the Action from creating another rectangle of the exact same size, shape, color, and position.

  7. Test your Action by clicking the name of the Action and then clicking the Play Current Selection button.

    If the Action does exactly what you planned, it’s ready for duty.


The preceding example is a simple Action. With a bit of practice, you can create infinitely more complex Actions. This wonder results from a simple fact: An Action records (nearly) everything you do from the time you start recording to the time you click Stop. The Action can be a simple menu command or something as complex as the creation of some amazing artwork, as if by magic.