Much like Photoshop, Illustrator gives you a way to automate tasks you might perform over and over, through the use of actions. Although creating actions can sometimes involve trial and error, they are completely worth the time. Have you ever worked on a project where creativity took a back seat to tedium because you had to perform the same tasks over and over? That would have been the perfect time for an action.
Choose Window, Actions to open the Actions palette (see Figure 22.1). Notice that Illustrator offers numerous actions that have already been created and loaded. You take a look at one of these as an introduction, to get more detailed information about how actions work and how to work with them.
Figure 22.1. The Illustrator Actions palette comes preloaded with several actions you might find useful. Click the arrows next to each step of the action to see the steps the action will perform.
Notice that each action has an arrow next to it. Click the arrow to expand the action and see its individual steps. In this case, let's look at Save for Web JPG Medium.
When you expand the arrow, there is an entry for Save for Web. This is the command that this action performs. When you expand that arrow, you see the various choices that the Save for Web action makes.
To the left of the action name, there is a box with three dots in it. Notice that some of the actions have these and some don't. This icon indicates that there is a stop in the action, or a place where you can customize the action, where all of your choices are not made for you. In the case of this action, that step is choosing where your file is saved.
An empty box next to the action name means there is a dialog that comes up somewhere within the action where a stop could be inserted. If you want to insert a stop, just click in the empty box to turn it on.
Clicking the check box at the far left of the action name enables you to turn a certain step in the action on or off. This is helpful in complicated actions that have certain steps you might want to skip from time to time.
To play an action, simply click the object you will be modifying, if necessary, and then click the action name in the palette. Click the Play button at the bottom of the palette to start the action. It plays, stopping if necessary so you can adjust a setting.
Now that you know how actions work, it's time to learn how to create your own. Before you start, think about how to approach the action. Sometimes it's helpful to write down the steps before you begin so you're sure to cover everything you need to do.
When you're ready to start recording, have your document open, or have the object selected that you're going to be working with. Start in whatever mode you are going to be starting when you're ready to use the action.
Click the Create New Action button on the Actions palette (see Figure 22.2). Name your action.
Figure 22.2. Use the buttons at the bottom of the palette to create new actions, delete actions, and play and record actions.
When you click OK, the action starts recording. Perform the steps you want to record. Don't worry about dialogs where you may want to change your entries when you are working with different files. You can add a stop there later. When you're finished, click the Stop button on the Actions palette.
Now test the action on another file or object. Again, if there are certain dialogs within the action where you might want to change the settings when you use it again, click in the box to the right of that step in the Actions palette to create a stop.
If your action doesn't work the way you intended, just drag the action name from the palette to the trash icon at the bottom of the palette to delete it.
If you plan to share your actions and help your co-workers relieve their drudgery, create a new action set. Click the folder icon at the bottom of the palette. Name your action set and click OK. When you create another action, choose to save it in that set. To export a set of actions, click the folder and select Save Set from the palette menu. You can browse to a location to save the set (see Figure 22.3). To load a saved set of actions, choose Load Actions from the palette menu and browse to the location of the saved set. Select it and click Open. The action set loads into the palette.
Figure 22.3. When you save a set of actions, it can be shared with others. Save the actions file (.aia) in a location that is accessible so others can load the actions you create.
If you have a number of different files you want to perform an action on, select Batch from the Action palette menu. In the Batch dialog (see Figure 22.4), take the following steps:
Figure 22.4. A batch process can run an entire folder of files through the steps of an action, one file after the other.