The Ultimate Guide to Installing Actions in Photoshop Elements

Free Photoshop Actions and Lightroom Presets by MCP™

The Ultimate Guide to Installing Actions in Photoshop Elements

The Ultimate Guide to Installing Actions in Photoshop Elements: Troubleshooting Manual (© 2011, MCP Actions)

Installing actions into Photoshop Elements is not, as we all know, the easiest task. Many people think that learning how to use PSE is easier than installing actions, and that’s saying something.

Two absolute things about actions for Elements are:

  • There is always a way to get the actions installed.
  • There might be lots of roadblocks along the way.

Start by watching the appropriate installation videos for your version of Elements. There are two ways to install actions in Elements, the Photo Effects method and the Actions Player method. Most MCP Actions should be installed using the Photo Effects method, unless indicated in the included PDF.


Here are some of the most commonly encountered problems installing actions in Elements and their solutions.

  1. Start here first. Look in the Photo Effects folder indicated in your installation instructions for your version of Elements and your operating system.  Does it have any folders in it?  Unless you have Elements 5, you should have no folders inside Photo Effects.
  2. Elements will accept some folders in Photo Effects, but will stop working when you install “one too many.”  For optimal performance and speed, you should only have files that end in ATN, PNG, XML or thumbnail.JPG.  Delete or move any instructions, terms of use, or illustration files from Photo Effects.  Move any ATN, PNG or XML files from subfolders into Photo Effects, and delete or move the subfolders.
  3. Rename Mediadatabase per the installation instructions, open Elements and check for your actions.

Some Common Issues and Solutions to Installing actions in Elements:

1 ) Elements crashes every time I open it after installing actions.

  • Open Elements from Start/All Programs rather than the desktop shortcut.
  • OR, reset PSE’s preferences when you open it. Do this by holding down control+alt+shift (Mac: Opt+Cmd+Shift) while opening Elements. Keep those keys depressed even if you have to click on the Edit button in the “Welcome” screen. Do not release the keys until you get a message asking if you want to delete the Preferences/Settings file. Say yes, and release the keys. Elements will open properly now.

2 ) After installing my actions, my new actions don’t appear in the Photo Effects palette.

  • You need to reset the Mediadatabase.db3 file. The installation instructions that came with your action should tell you how to find it. If you rename Mediatadatabase.db3 to MediadatabaseOLD.db3, this hides the database from Elements. The next time it opens, it will build a new database. This rebuilding process is what imports your new actions. After Elements opens successfully with your new actions, you can return to this folder and see that Elements has, in fact, created a new Mediadatabase.db3. At this point, you can delete the file whose name you changed to OLD, because you no longer need it.
  • One point about resetting this database – when opening PSE for the first time after resetting it, it can take a LONG time to open. Anywhere from 2 minutes to 20 minutes. Even 30 in rare cases. Do not touch Elements, or even your computer, until Elements finishes processing. Wait until the hourglass cursor and progress message disappear. Even if Elements tells you it’s not responding, don’t touch it. It will respond, eventually.

What happens if you don’t wait? That brings me to my next topic:

3 ) After resetting Mediadatabase, all my other actions disappear.

  • PSE was interrupted while rebuilding the Mediadatabase (see prior topic). If you close Elements because you think it’s “not responding,” Elements will open with an incomplete database and it will look like all you actions (including your old ones) have disappeared. To fix this, return the folder with Mediadatabase.db3 in it. Delete that file, and any “old” versions. Reopen Elements and walk away from your computer. Seriously. Don’t touch it until PSE is finished rebuilding, once and for all. If you let it complete its processing, all your actions will appear where they should appear.

4 ) I can’t find Photo Effects (Mac).

  • When installing actions, start your navigation path on the Mac HD icon on your desktop or inside the Finder. Do not start in the path for your specific user account.

5 ) I can’t find Photo Effects (PC).

  • Program DATA is not the same as Program FILES. Try your navigation path again.

6 ) I get messages like this:

Could not complete your request because the file is not compatible with this version of Photoshop.

Could not complete your request because there is not enough memory (RAM).

  • You have installed a file into your photo effects folder that doesn’t belong there. The only file types that should be in Photo Effects are files that end in ATN, PNG , thumbnail.JPG, or XML. (In versions 5 and prior ONLY, you can have a psd file.) You should have no subfolders in Photoshop Effects (versions 6 and up). You receive those messages because you are clicking in the Effects palette on files that aren’t actions. Delete these files out of Photo Effects to end this message.

These messages could also be caused by thumbnails whose names are slightly different from the name of the action. See the “black boxes” topic below.

7 ) I get this message: The object “layer “Background” is not currently available.

You should run most actions on images that are flat – meaning that they only have one layer. This layer’s name should be background. If your image isn’t flat, flatten it by right clicking on a layer in the Layers palette and selecting “Flatten.”

8 ) I have black boxes in my Effects palette:

This could be caused by several items:

  • You have installed an action that should be installed via the Action Player into the Effects palette. Check with the instructions that came from the maker of the action on where to install it.
  • The maker of the action you are trying to install did not provide you with a thumbnail to install along with your action. This thumbnail is usually a PNG file. If you double click on actions of this type, they will run properly even without a thumbnail.
  • The name of the PNG is not EXACTLY the same as the name of the ATN (action) file (except for the PNG or ATN suffix). Rename the PNG to the same name as the action to solve this issue.


Once you have your actions installed properly you may come across issues using them. Please read this article with 14 troubleshooting tips to get your PSE actions working properly.

After reading this document, if you still have technical concerns regarding installation or usage of MCP’s Elements actions, please contact us for assistance. Please give a detailed explanation of your issue, list of actions you’re installing, your operating system, your version of Elements, and include a copy of your receipt showing payment. MCP offers phone support for any actions you buy from our store.  We offer these technical guides and videos to support free Photoshop actions.

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The Ultimate Guide to Installing Actions in Photoshop Elements