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Photoshop Elements Tutorial: Organize Your Actions with this Free Download

(This article applies to Elements 10 and prior.) Photoshop Elements and actions.  It takes forever for us to install them, and once they’re installed, we have to scroll through a long list of stuff in Photo Effects in order to find them.

You have to scroll forever unless you know the magic trick for organizing your actions into menu categories, that is.  These menu items allow you to filter out the actions you’re looking for quickly.  To assign a menu category to an action, you just need an XML file for each action.  Your menu will look something like this after you customize it:

If you purchase actions, you’ll find that the better action makers, like MCP Actions (of course!) provide these XML files for you.  You can also make them yourself.

You can organize the actions however you’d like.  You can have one menu group for your Favorites, another for all the actions from a specific maker, and another for all your portrait actions, for instance.

Your XML file will look something like this (click for a larger view):

Please note:  the image above is just a screenshot.  See below for instructions on downloading the usable file.

  • To use this template, you will need to open it in some sort of a text editor.  On my Mac, I use TextEdit.  On my PC, I use Notepad.  Your computer probably has one of these installed, even if you’ve never used it.  (For best results, don’t use Word, Wordpad or anything similar.)
  •  Inside the XML, you will need to replace some of my text with two pieces of information – the action name, and the menu item (or action set) name.
    • The action name in the XML needs to be EXACTLY the same as the name of the action that you installed.  That is, it needs to be exactly the same as the name of the action file you pasted into the photo effects folder when you installed your action – this file ends in “.ATN”.  If the file name is “Turn My Photo Blue.ATN”, your action name is “Turn My Photo Blue”.
  • You will need to type the action name twice.  Replace my text that says “ACTIONNAMENOSPACES” with your action name.  You guessed it – don’t type any spaces.  Your action capitalization and punctuation should be exactly the same as the name of the action file.
  • Next, replace my “Action Name With Spaces” with your action name, spaced as it is in the name of the ATN file.
  • The next piece of information you will need to enter into this XML file is the action set name.  This can be “Favorites,” “Actions from Joe Blow the Action Maker” or “Actions for Portrait Retouching.”  Or anything else you’d like.  This is the text that will appear in your drop down menu in the Photo Effects Panel inside of Elements.
  • Again, you’ll need to enter this action set name twice – once with spaces, once without.
  • When you save the XML file, save it like this:  Name.metadata.xml.  Again, the name must be the same exact name as the name of the action file (with spaces).  And, you’ll probably need to type in the entire name – the .xml extension doesn’t usually appear for you, like it would if saving a more common type of file.
  • When saving, also make sure that the file format is set to All Files.

Now, these XML files can be persnickety.  If you have any typos, the menu items won’t work.  Don’t add or subtract anything from the template I provided – just replace the text that needs to be replaced.

To install them, copy and paste them into that same Photo Effects folder where you installed the actions.  You can use the installation instructions here, if you need a refresher.  You can paste all your new XMLs at one time (and you will need one for each action you wish to categorize.)

And yes, unfortunately you will have to reset the cursed mediadatabase.  The easiest way?  Close Elements and navigate to mediadatabase using the installation instructions.  When you find it, just delete it (and any old versions of it).  Don’t worry about renaming it.  Reopen Elements.  And let it process.  Remember that this part can take anywhere from 2 minutes to 20 minutes.  Don’t touch PSE until your cursor returns to normal.

Once installed, go to the Photo Effects palette inside PSE and pull down the drop down menu that usually says “Show All.”  If you did everything right, you can select your new action categories and get to editing!

How to Download This Free XML File:

Newsletter subscribers, return to your email newsletter from March 2, 2012,  and look at the bottom left corner under this blue and orange watermark.  Your download link will be there.

If you don’t subscribe to the newsletter, subscribe here.  After confirming your subscription, you will receive an email with links to my free actions as well as this download.

If you subscribe to the newsletter but missed the link, unsubscribe and then resubscribe.

One more thing.  I know some of you are going to try this and post back here saying it won’t work.  Go back to that persnickety part above.  This is something I just can’t help you with – you’ll have to proofread very carefully. Have fun organizing those actions!


Photoshop Elements Tutorial: Organize Your Actions with this Free Download was last modified: June 25th, 2015 by Erin Peloquin


  1. bdaiss Says :
    Posted on March 2, 2012 at 10:11 am

    I’ve been aware of this “trick” for some time and keep meaning to do it…thanks for the reminder! Maybe I can work on it during a few of the myriad of conference calls I have scheduled today. : )

  2. Gina Says :
    Posted on March 2, 2012 at 10:42 am

    Very cool!!!!

    You know- I just created an icon folder for my actions & brushes on my desktop. So now whenever I buy new ones I can just drag & drop super quick after unzipping them. So much easier & since it’s in a special folder that I see all the time & I don’t have to dig to find it- makes it so much easier when I do a backup of my system. That way if my computer crashes, I don’t lose all those actions I have purchased.

    • Erin Says :
      Posted on March 2, 2012 at 10:45 am

      That’s a great idea, Gina! I do the same thing, except that my actions are in My Documents, which I backup regularly. Thanks for bringing this up!

  3. Gina Comer Says :
    Posted on March 2, 2012 at 2:09 pm

    Bless your heart, Erin! I am thrilled to have this organizing solution. Thank you!

  4. Uyen
    Posted on March 2, 2012 at 3:45 pm

    Hey Erin, I’ve also been organizing my actions for the a while now and I know we’ve talked about this before but photo effects will only let you hold up to 30 menu categories at a time. If you have more then 30 menu categories, then you will have to go to “show all” and find an action by scrolling through it.

    Also, instead of having to write out the whole XML script/file (and praying that I don’t mess up somewhere along the lines)…I use an XML generator that automatically writes the script for me. I just point it to an action and press a button and voila…it’s written for me and installed right in the same file where your action is. It literally takes 3 seconds and will save you a boat-load of time!

    • Erin Says :
      Posted on March 2, 2012 at 6:22 pm

      Uyen, I actually sent you a solution to this back in May. I’m resending it now. I have 34 categories in my PSE. You just have to use your arrow keys to get to the ones on the bottom of the list. does that help?

      • Uyen
        Posted on March 2, 2012 at 7:33 pm

        Geez, it finally dawned on me that you have to move the arrow keys up and down the drop down menu! Thanks, Erin!!

  5. Michelle Says :
    Posted on March 2, 2012 at 7:35 pm

    Thank You! Thank You! Thank You! I am so excited to give this a try this weekend!

  6. alicia
    Posted on March 4, 2012 at 1:05 am

    Since the “crash” physical crash to the floor that is of my computer I have not been able to get my actions reinstalled into Elements 9 and everytime I reinstall Elements 9 onto a new computer the keyboard starts doing very strange things such as wiping out the screen blank and missing letters and mixing them up. I uninstall it and it stops…not to mention while it’s installed it will NOT allow me to install the actions to the drag and drop or copy/paste point. It will simply not do it. I have tried on several computers and all of my old actions were resent from who I purchased originally and I have everything also saved from the broken computer by Best Buy geek Squad on a drive, so that it is also on the new computer. NOTHING will work for me. It is a big mess. I do not see how it is possible for the disc to be causing this on my computer or how it could be any type virus, as I have only downloaded it to my computer. I am going to buy Elements 10 and see if that changes anything at which point if it does not PLEASE tell me what you would suggest. I am stuck and not able to edit my photos the way I want and have many actions from MCP, Florabella…etc…. as well as textures and loads of freebies. I am desperate and I am waiting on my Blog to be complete any time and really NEED to be able to move forward. I was starting to learn so much and progress and this brought so much to a halt. SORRY for the lengthy sob story. I am only trying out Lightroom, but do not know enough about it yet. What ever kind of direction you could give would be so appreciated. I have watched every tutorial and tried it all…I am lost! I just need a solution to get back to where I once was. I would be happy at this point to simply have one set of actions installed and functioning properly. Advice, suggestions, guesses would be so very welcome from anyone. 🙁

    Thanks Erin!

    • Erin Says :
      Posted on March 4, 2012 at 12:28 pm

      Sounds like your plan of installing PSE 10 and seeing what happens is a good one to me.

      • alicia
        Posted on March 7, 2012 at 6:10 am

        Thank you Erin for your plain and simple logical advise! That is why I love you guys!! xo

  7. Tracey
    Posted on March 5, 2012 at 9:58 am

    Hi Erin,

    Will this action of yours work in Photoshop CS5 or just Elements?

    Thank you,

  8. Cindy
    Posted on March 5, 2012 at 11:18 am

    Tried this and it worked great! Thanks so much!

    • Erin Says :
      Posted on March 5, 2012 at 1:08 pm

      Thanks so much for the comment Cindy!

  9. Niki Says :
    Posted on March 6, 2012 at 11:41 am

    I <3 u!!! A long time ago I downloaded these fabulous actions from Pioneer Woman ( http://thepioneerwoman.com/photography/ )and I noticed that her actions came up in their own category. I emailed her asking how to do this to my other actions. Since I'm fairly sure that you have worked with her, I like to think that my email helped bring this blog post to fruition! Thanks again, this is sooooo helpful, as always!

  10. Debbie
    Posted on March 16, 2012 at 8:30 am

    Hi Erin, Can I use this method to add actions made for the action palette to the photo effects palette? Such as TOL/TOD? I love going directly through photo effects palatte.

    • Erin Says :
      Posted on March 16, 2012 at 8:43 am

      Hi Debbie. Unfortunately not. Actions made for the Action Player can only be installed there.

  11. Nikki O
    Posted on March 28, 2012 at 5:36 pm

    works like a charm!!! love it! thank you so much!

  12. Anna Hettick Says :
    Posted on April 14, 2012 at 12:24 pm

    Thank you so much for this!! I really do not like using action player if I can help it but I am sort of an organizational freak so I do like being able to organize my actions according to their effect. =)

  13. Graphics Guy
    Posted on April 29, 2012 at 9:22 am

    Is the XML-Template still available? I keep getting an error message that the file has been moved when I try to download this file.
    Respectfully, GG

    • Erin Says :
      Posted on April 30, 2012 at 7:46 am

      Yes, it is. Did you subscribe to the newsletter and click on the link in the Welcome email?

  14. TerriK
    Posted on May 31, 2012 at 6:29 pm

    boo hoo. i’m getting the same message as GG. i unsubscribed and then resubscribed & go the message again.

  15. Megan Balazek
    Posted on July 20, 2012 at 8:10 am

    Hi. I’ve been able to follow the instructions pretty easily but it didn’t work…after a lot of trouble shooting, I think the problem may be that I am missing both the mediadatabase.DB3 and ThumbDatabase.DB3 files. I deleted them when installing a bunch of actions. I remember the status bar taking awhile when loading them but missed the part of your post to not do anything else on the computer either (I’m a chronic multitasker). The actions are in the effects pallete and work fine but the files didn’t rebuild. I’ve searched multiple sites for a soltuion and haven’t come up with anything. I’ve also noticed my action player is gone. I don’t use it much so it took me awhile to notice that it isn’t there when I scroll down throught the Guided Edit options. Are the missing files really my problem? Any suggestions on how to get them to rebuild?

    • Erin Says :
      Posted on July 20, 2012 at 8:57 am

      Hmmmm. Your actions wouldn’t show up without that media database. And I suspect that the action player is hiding under one of the Automated panel. You might restart your computer.

  16. Megan Balazek
    Posted on July 20, 2012 at 9:36 am

    Thanks for the response. As far as the Action player, the Automated Action menu is at the bottom when I scroll down. When I click on it, the triangle changes as if it’s opening the menu but it won’t scroll down anymore to see anything that would be under Automated Actions.

    I’ll restart and see what happens. Do you think an uninstall/reinstall might help? If so, is there anything I should do before I unistall? I have all my actions saved in a folder on my desktop but want to make sure there’s nothing else I should do to safeguard stuff. I’m always paranoid about losing stuff when I unistall.

    I did come across one of your other posts for a similar problem on another Adobe site where someone suggested holding shift while opening PSE. This didn’t seem to do anything.

    Thanks so much for you’re help!!

  17. Megan Balazek
    Posted on July 20, 2012 at 10:02 am

    Again, thanks!

    One last quick question…the actions I’m trying to organize are from My 4 Hens. She uses a dash in her set names. Will this make a difference? Should I not be using dashes when replacing your text?

  18. Maree Allred
    Posted on September 10, 2012 at 10:14 am

    Quick Question: Can I put the same action into two different categories (such as putting the action “Lighten Photo” into both my “Fixes” and my “Favorites” categories) by doing it exactly the same way except changing the category name? Or is there another way to do that? Or maybe it’s not possible? If you could let me know, that would be great. Thanks!

    • Erin Says :
      Posted on September 10, 2012 at 12:30 pm

      Hi Maree. I think you can, but I don’t know for sure. Give it a try!

    • Ava
      Posted on December 17, 2013 at 10:50 pm

      I would like to know how to put an action in two different categories as well. You can’t have two different files because they have to have the same name. I tried duplicating the category line but PSE got confused and didn’t show it in either one! Any ideas?

  19. Mickie
    Posted on January 5, 2013 at 8:45 pm

    Oh if only I’d come across this information a year ago. I use XML some at work and figured this out last year. Took me several tries to get it right but then I did it for all of my actions (tedious). I found it to definitely be ‘persnickety’ as you said. Sometimes I’d think it was right but the action wouldn’t come up in a category without a reboot of PSE. How awesome that you’ve passed this along for others!

    • Erin Says :
      Posted on January 7, 2013 at 10:09 am

      Tedious for sure, Mickie. Thanks for your comment!

  20. Rosa Says :
    Posted on March 20, 2013 at 7:19 pm

    I had quite a bit of trouble getting this to work in PSE 10 on my Mac. I believe I’ve finally got it to work! When creating my new .xml file, I opened your template file in TextEdit and duplicated it. When I duplicated the file, the new file defaulted to giving it a new name right away, so I went ahead and named it with the proper “.metadata.xml” extension. I then edited the contents to go along with my action as you instructed above and finished by saving the file. I copied the file to the correct “photo effects” folder and deleted both the “ThumbDatabase.db3” and “MediaDatabase.db3” files. After restarting my computer and letting PSE rebuild the library, my action was where it should be!
    I’m not sure if this is a Mac problem or if I had a problem with my computer or something…

  21. Chelsey S.
    Posted on April 25, 2013 at 12:08 pm

    Ok, I am having trouble. I think I have done everything correctly then I open up elements and still nothing in my drop down menu. I am curious in the XML file there is an = between the nonspaced and spaced name. Do I leave that or remove it? I am hoping that is my problem but who knows, this is so not my forte. 🙂 Thanks!

  22. Maree
    Posted on August 16, 2014 at 3:30 pm

    I just upgraded to Elements 12, and I can not see a way to do this (there doesn’t even seem to be a drop down menu anymore for sorting them). I am so sad, because I did it for all of my actions–and it took FOREVER–in PSE 10, and now it looks like PSE 12 doesn’t even have that option? Say it isn’t so! Is there ANY way to organize actions in PSE 12? It won’t even let me click and drag the actions up or down to put them in a different order–it just sticks them in there in the order I install them. And what happened to the little icons? Mine were color coded and that helped me to find the action I wanted more quickly… Erin, do you know the scoop on this?

    • Erin Peloquin Says :
      Posted on August 23, 2014 at 6:50 am

      Hi Maree. Actions work differently in PSE 12. Search this blog for info on them – there are quite a few articles.

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