Al Ward's Photoshop Productivity Toolkit: Over 600 Time-Saving Actions by Al Ward, ISBN: 0-7821-4334-2

Reviewed by: Mario Georgiou, March 2005
Published by: Sybex
Requires: N/A
MSRP: US$34.99 (online price US$24.49), Can$48.95, UK£24.99

When I first heard about this book the question of whether or not I actually needed it popped into my head. I decided that the book's premise would be a good point from which to explore all it had to offer. Being a visual person I spent some time developing my expectations about the book. Upon opening the package I felt an initial sense of disappointment at size of the book followed by a sense of being let down by the lack of illustrated examples of what each action does. Sometimes first looks can be deceiving.

Lets get back to basics. Anyone who uses Photoshop will be aware of the program's impressive capabilities, but everyone who uses Photoshop will not necessarily be familiar with Actions. Photoshop Actions is one of the program's most useful features in that it allows you to customize and record and save commonly performed tasks (no matter how complex) which can then be reused time and time again, as needed. It's a very useful capability when you need to apply an effect or uniformly modify a whole folder of images using Photoshop's batch processing capability.

I found much of The Photoshop Productivity Toolkit well ordered and clearly written with the exception of the first chapter which seemed a little heavy on detail. The first chapter covers a lot of ground by discussing what actions are and why you should use them. It also discusses what you can and cannot record using actions. The second chapter takes a more leisurely approach and Ward substantially lightens the tone of his writing, making things easier to follow. His exploration of the actions palette goes even deeper however, with coverage on how to load, use, save and edit actions. The capability to edit or modify actions is one I most enjoy because I can create sets of actions for most of my own commands.

The coverage of duplicating Actions by simply dragging & dropping an existing action to the "create new action" icon in the actions palette is also covered but not explored deeply enough to explain how it can be useful. To be honest here, even though its fairly easy for readers to figure out why they might want to duplicate actions, I think it's important to be explicit about why the functionality exists.

Chapter 3 covers the process of creating actions and even adding sub-functionality like nested actions. The chapter also demonstrates the creation of an action by following a typical workflow so that the process is clarified. The coverage of adding stops to your actions as well as batch processing is invaluable information. The most important capability discussed in this chapter is the use of Droplets, which are essentially standalone actions which you can apply by simply dragging & dropping files and folders in your file browser. It also covers recommended working practices when using the droplet and batch functions.

The final chapter of Al Ward's book covers system-specific information and explores things you should consider when creating actions. This chapter also lists several important and useful online resources for actions and some very useful tips. While there is an online site associated directly with this publication, at the time I was writing this review the site was down.

The next part of the book covers the toolkit CD and the actions themselves and let me tell you, with over 600 of them I expected a much bigger section with illustrated examples of each action. Here I was disappointed. as the vast majority of the actions are only listed as a brief one line description. The gallery features just over 30 examples of what these actions can achieve (5% coverage is not great really) and with another 25 or so Black and White examples in the body of the section we don't even get 10% of the actions covered by example. Now this would have been forgivable, but for the fact that no effort was made to add a navigable visual guide on the CD itself.

I'm a little biased because I've always believed that you have to be explicit rather than implicit when creating a book like this. To be honest, as a professional imageer, I was familiar with almost everything covered in the book, but I would most likely have bought it for my archive as the time savings alone are worth the price of admission. Creating just a few of these actions would take many hours to do. There are some great effects here and some wonderful productivity and layout actions, all of which are also worth the price of admission. I won't list the actions that come with the CD as there are too many good ones, but let's just say that if you spend the money you won't regret it. I for one, will be using and modifying many of these very useful actions to boost my own productivity.

Cons: My biggest issue with this book is the lack of a reference map for each of the actions. Providing a visual guide for each of the actions would have been ideal and given the fact that a CD is supplied with the book, I would have thought that doing this would have been an obvious move. Web site down.

Pros: Well written. Clearly shows Ward's expertise, troubleshooting skills and enthusiasm. The number of useful actions included with this publication more than make up for the absence of sufficient examples. I highly recommend this book, because the time savings alone will more than make up for the cost of purchasing it. Thank you Al.

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