Knowing the best free Photoshop actions will streamline your workflow and save you buckets of time. If this sounds good (why wouldn't it?) but you're not sure what Photoshop actions are, we've got your covered. Adobe has built programming language into its flagship software that will enable you to condense minutes or hours of design work into a single click.
You can ask Photoshop to record your edits and save them as an 'action'. Assign that action a shortcut key and it'll apply the process to any image, almost instantly. If your design process involves making the same edits and changes repeatedly, these are invaluable timesavers.
Even more of a timesaver, is the ability to import ready-made free Photoshop actions, which is where this article comes in. These enable you to add a whole range of cool effects to your images. We've rounded up the best free Photoshop actions available, to enable you to pimp your designs in double-quick time.
Or, jump to the section you want from the drop-down menu above, which includes filters, special effects and touch-up techniques, but you should definitely bookmark the entire list of free Photoshop actions to check out the rest later – who knows where inspiration will strike. (And if it's filters you're after, also see our best VSCO filters post.)
Free Photoshop actions: Photo filters
01. Cross Process
Cross-processing means deliberately processing one type of film in a chemical solution intended for another, resulting in oddly skewed colours and increased contrast and saturation. This collection includes six different cross process effects. We especially like the rich vibrant tone of the example pictured above (action number two of the collection).
02. Desert Dust
Want to create a dry, overly hot atmosphere in your images? Try this free Photoshop action from Brusheezy. It knocks out colour and gives everything a hazy look. Mimic the effect in a single click, to save you hours of editing work.
03. Facebook Fix
This powerful set of Photoshop actions gives you everything you need to optimise images for sharing on Facebook. There are actions to resize, sharpen, watermark and brand your images for Facebook. Each resizing action will instantly apply your logo – all you need to do is move it to where you want it, and adjust the size and opacity.
04. Winter Blues
At the other end of the temperature scale, these Winter Blues photo effects are designed to add some wintry magic to your landscapes. Use these free Photoshop actions to enhance overcast and cloudy skies and with subtle cool hues. The pack includes 10 actions, each with a different style.
05. Underwater Luxe
If you're a fan of underwater imagery, this is the Photoshop action for you. It removes the underwater haze, sharpers and boosts contrast, sharpens, and warms up skin by removing blue tones. Ideal for transforming underwater portraits in particular. This action is completely customisable, and you can download it for free at The Coffee Shop Blog.
06. Deep Matte
This free Photoshop action does exactly what its name would suggest. It will give your image a super-strong matte finish. If you want a more subtle matte finish, Exposure Empire also offers a basic version, but we love the intensity of this one.
07. Color Pop
Give washed-out photos an instant burst of colour with this free Photoshop action from Shutter Pulse. One of its set of 14 Boosters Photoshop Actions, it comes as part of a free bundle of 20 Lightroom presets and 20 Photoshop actions. This action is perfect from bringing a much-needed pop of colour and contrast to any photo.
08. Reduce Motion Blur
Sometimes a little camera shake, or an unexpectedly movement from your subject, can ruin an otherwise great photo. This free Photoshop action is here to save the day, by removing motion blur from your images.
09. Pastel Effect
Another way to breathe fresh life into your photos is with this set of 40 pastel effect Photoshop actions; they'll provide instant light enhancement and beautiful colour toning at the touch of a button, and transform ordinary shots into something much more Instagram-worthy.
10. Mini Fusion
This Mini Fusion Photoshop action promises to inject new life into images. It includes colour conversions and optional tints and exposure fix layers. There are a number of impressive before-and-afters on the MCP Actions site that showcase the results.
11. Mystical Light
Give your photos an other-worldly air with this Photoshop action from Megan Joy, available through DeviantArt. It'll infuse landscapes with a magical light, infusing any shot with an ethereal purple haze and making the dullest of landscape shots look like a mysterious fairy dell.
12. Instant Hipster
For those times you want to give your photos a one-click Instagram effect, Instant Hipster's the perfect solution. It comes with 10 ready-made filters – Amaro, Mayfair, Hudson, Valencia, X-Pro II, Willow, Sutro, Hefe, Nashville and 1977 (you'll likely recognise those names from Instagram). Capture just the retro effect you need in seconds.
If your photos just aren't sinister enough for your liking, this free Photoshop action should make things a little more unsettling. It's designed to let you easily give your photos a dark, haunting vibe. Perfect for creating the impression that you're permanently about to stumble into mortal danger.
14. Cold Nightmare
This dramatically titled action will transform a photo of a perfectly innocent scenario into a window into a dark world. In this example image, the archer probably shooting at a target takes on the look of someone who is definitely trying to kill a human. It’s amazing what some shadows can do.
15. Summer Haze
If you'd prefer to cheer up your images, take a sunny shot and make it intensely summery with this great golden haze effect. Outdoor portraits taken in natural light are most suitable for this filter.
16. Hazy Afternoon
Perfect for outdoor pictures, the Hazy Afternoon action certainly lives up to its name by creating a soft gradient colour layer. You can use this free action on black and white or colour images, plus you can easily adjust the gradient until you get the exact look you're after.
17. HDR Action
Remove the lack of contrast that comes with HDR photography with this set of four actions; HDR fix Light, Normal, Heavy, and Clicker. This action is designed to remove the digital grey (lack of true black) found in HDR photos, to give them back their punch.
18. Strong HDR Effect
Try getting vibrant colour effects with this free HDR filter from Shutter Pulse. If it works well for you but you'd like more options, it's part of a set of 30 HDR actions that you can buy for $13.
19. Night to Twilight
This set of 11 actions convert your nighttime images into twilight scenes by introducing a colour cast and lightening the sky. The effect is rendered using layers, so you can adjust the degree of twilight by reducing the layer’s opacity, making it nice and flexible.
This action adds a beautiful warmth to your photographs, bringing out rich tones in hair and skin, and softening colours with a pink cast. Give your images a romantic, nostalgic feel in an instant.