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Photoshop Actions: 16 Ways to Troubleshoot Problematic Actions

Photoshop Actions: 16 Ways to Troubleshoot Problematic Actions

Because Photoshop actions are a series of recorded steps, they are cross platform (Mac/PC compatible). But just because they should work, does not mean they will. Many times, issues occur due to accidental user error. Other times Photoshop may disagree with the order in which you are working.  And occasionally an action is recorded with technical problems. Here are 15 common reasons that actions will give you issues or errors and how you can troubleshoot them:

how can I fix my photoshop actions

1. 16 Bit vs 8 bit – at this time, many features of Photoshop are only available in 8-bit mode. If you shoot raw and you use LR or ACR, you may be exporting as 16-bit/32-bit files. You will need to convert to 8-bit if the action steps are unable to work in 16-bit/32-bit. In the top toolbar, go under IMAGE – MODE – and check off 8-bit

2. A layer mess – if you get an error message after running a few actions consecutively, or if you do manual editing and then run an action, occasionally the action gets confused and cannot perform correctly.  A quick way to test this is to make a snapshot (so you save where you are), flatten (Layer – Flatten), then run the action. If it works, you know that something you did prior is causing confusion.  You can work off a flattened or merged copy, or rework the order in which you are doing things.

3. Error messages about the background layer – If you get an error such as “The object layer background is not currently available” it may mean you have renamed your background layer. If the action calls upon the background, it cannot work without one. You will want to create a merged layer of your work up to this point, and then name it “Background” so that you can use the action.

4. The cover up – sometimes you will run actions back-to-back, or work manually and then play one. But nothing happens. Assuming layer masks are revealing, what could be wrong? Layer order likely is to blame. One example is with the Eye Doctor action that helps eyes sparkle. It needs the background layer to work.  If you or another process duplicated pixel layer and then you run the Eye Doctor, it will be covered up.  All the painting and masking in the world will not help until that pixel layer is turned off. In this situation, flattening or merging into a “Background” layer is advisable. Here is a href=”https://mcpactions.com/2011/04/25/photoshop-help-get-your-layers-layer-masks-working-flawlessly/”>video that explains more about layer order.

5. Layer mask issues – you may think an action did not work because nothing changed – but some need to be activated by using the layer mask. Learn how to use layer masks in this Photoshop video tutorial. Remember, unless indicated in the instructions, white reveals and black conceals. Also make sure the mask is selected that you wish to work on. It should have a thin outline around it. Also make sure when painting on a mask that your blend mode is set to “normal.”  This video will help you troubleshoot layer mask problems.

6. Improper version – not all actions work in all version of Photoshop.  Check with the designer to find compatible versions. If purchasing, most makers do not allow for returns so pay special attention to the versions that are compatible. As an example, if one of my actions says it works in CS2, CS3 and CS4, that means it was tested in CS and prior and was not compatible.

7. Not reading directions – Many of my actions have pop up instructions. You will need to read these or your actions may not work properly.  A great example of that is Color Explosion from the Complete Workflow. There is a message asking you to paint on the photo with a white soft brush and then resume the action by clicking play.  If you do not do this, you cannot save your action as a a .jpg. I get many emails asking “why can’t I save my image as a .jpg?” I always know which they are using and why.  So remember to read the pop up messages, watch the photoshop video tutorials, and read the included instructions for best results.

8. Things just got messed up – if you ever want to alter an action, make a duplicate copy first.  Sometimes you may not even realize that you clicked record or deleted a step, etc. When these automated processes run, they do exactly what they are told.  The slightest altering can cause breakage. Your best bet is to delete the messed up one and re-install the original Photoshop action set (do this by the set).

9. Photoshop is missing something – this is rare, but I have seen situations where someone says an action will not work.  In order to operate effectively, the commands must be available. So for example, I had a customer who was missing certain filters, so when she used Texture Mix and Match from Frosted Memories vintage Photoshop actions, it gave her an error.  Once she worked with Adobe, she got the proper files that are included when you purchase Photoshop. Since actions can only do what exists, if your Photoshop program is missing components, you will need to call Adobe to locate these files. If you purchased from eBay or non-licensed vendors, you may have a bootleg copy and that could be why your program is incomplete.

10. Stopping at every step – occasionally a photographer may accidentally alter the action so that it stops at every step. Or it is possible the source you where you got the product recorded it that way. This is easily corrected by following these instructions.

11. Your preferences may be corrupt.  This usually does not happen with actions, but preferences can affect certain processes.  If your action calls upon a process that is messed up, it will not work.  Follow these directions to fix preference files.

12. Poorly written – if an action does not work, it may be a dud. This often happens with random free actions around the internet. In this case, delete it and move on.  If you paid for it, contact the vendor for support, as there may be additional reasons you are having trouble that are not listed above.

13. If you are making your own actions, remember not everything is recordable.  When you play it back, if it is not doing what you thought it would, you may have some steps that need to be done in a different way to get it to work properly.

14. Just stops working. If a particular action worked, and stopped working, it likely is one of the above reasons.  Actions do not just “stop working” unless they are altered. But they can give you trouble for some reasons mentioned above (like masks and layer order). If it worked at one time, and it was not altered, it should still work. Check things mentioned above and reload if it still is not working. If nothing works, contact the company you bought the action from and they should be able to help you. Before contacting them, make sure you have checked the most common problems. When possible and for quickest results, provide screen shots showing what issues you are having.

15. In CS4, CS5, CS6, and CC, there is a bizarre phenomenon with clipping masks.  Even if you do not know what one is, it could cause your actions to function incorrectly.  You may not even know it. We see this most often with black and white images.  Customers will email and say the black and white action is not turning their image monotone.  Or they get an error saying “invert not available” or “clipping mask not available.” Here is a tutorial on how to fix the “clipping mask issue” this if it happens to you – it just requires a setting change in Photoshop.  We are not sure why most are set properly, but some are not.

16. In CS6 and PS CC, if you crop before running an action, you may run into problems.  Learn how to fix your issue if you get the error “Background is not currently available” in Photoshop CS6. Additionally, if you have the Rounded Blog It Boards or Rounded Print It Boards, or the free Facebook Fix actions, you will need to download them from our site again. We included a version just for CS6 as the past versions were incompatible. See our Troubleshooting and Support FAQ sections for details on re-downloading products.

Remember if you are using MCP’s products, look for built in instructions as well as watch the Photoshop actions video tutorials.  These are available on the product pages and also in the FAQ drop down area of my site. Contact us if you still are having issues after trying everything.  We are happy to provide phone support for paid products.  Thank you.


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What Are Photoshop Actions?
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Photoshop Actions: 14 Reasons your Actions for Elements Might Not Work and How to Fix Them


  1. Mike Roberts
    May 12, 2011 at 12:27 pm —

    I appreciate these helpful suggestions.

  2. Mezphoto
    May 30, 2011 at 6:37 pm —

    Thanks for this, #10 was really helpful!

  3. Sveta
    July 19, 2012 at 10:15 am —

    I purchased the MCP Fusion Photoshop Actions & on some of the actions I get the “Unable to perform the Create Clipping Mask command” or something along those lines. I am very new to this so have no idea what that or how to fix it. I tried researching but haven’t been able to figure anything out. Any ideas?

    • July 19, 2012 at 11:14 pm —

      Read this blog post that you replied to. It has the solution. The actions work, but you need to change a setting in photoshop. Let us know if you have more questions.

  4. October 31, 2012 at 9:21 am —

    Hi Jodi – Thanks for putting this post up, I’ve been struggling with an action error & number 1 on your list sorted it out. thanks & have a great day. Dan

  5. November 23, 2013 at 1:22 pm —

    hi!!i have been using adobe Photoshop 7 .my problem is that
    whenever i click on custom color box its does not work,once i was trying to add new tpx colors in color-book i did not remember what i did since then whenever i re install the software problem
    remain the same.


  6. December 12, 2013 at 5:54 pm —

    Amazing! This blog looks just like my old one!
    It’s on a totally different topic but it has pretty
    much the same layout and design. Outstanding choice of colors!

  7. January 9, 2014 at 8:29 pm —

    Thank you so much for this article! While using photoshop elements 11 this evening, I opened multiple photos at once and changed them to 16 bit in ACR. I started to panic when my actions wouldn’t work, tried restarting the program and then restarted my computer. Actions still didn’t work so my next step was to google of course. After reading through the first paragraph I realized it was because I changed the photo from 8bit to 16 bit. Probably would have never figured that out! Thank you!

  8. January 19, 2014 at 8:36 pm —

    Thanks for the help. I was able to quickly figure out what issue I was having with Photoshop Elements. 🙂

  9. August 4, 2015 at 2:04 pm —

    If none of these work, check to make sure your opacity is adjusted correctly. If you changed it before and forget to change it back you will definitely have problems…

  10. August 30, 2015 at 3:31 am —

    Tip : if you have an error message saying background not available , try rename your bottom layer background and make sure it’s locked and there’s no background copy above it and the size is what they specified and in the colour format specified , hope this helps


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Photoshop Actions: 16 Ways to Troubleshoot Problematic Actions