How To Use Photoshop Smart Objects

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How To Use Photoshop Smart Objects

Smart objects in Photoshop make life easier for you.

When it comes to using Photoshop one of the hardest things for my students to grasp is the fact a Photoshop image is nothing more than a few thousand colored pixels. These pixels are arranged in tidy vertical and horizontal rows and anything you do to them – make them smaller, make them larger, change their color, whatever – stays put. This is the fundamental concept behind what is called “Destructive Editing”. Changes made to an image are permanent … even when you don’t mean to.

Adobe dealt with this issue in Photoshop CS2, which was released 10 years ago. One of the really exciting features of the CS2 release was the introduction of Smart Objects. A Smart Object is a Photoshop layer that contains bitmap or vector image data. The neat thing about Smart Object’s is they preserve the source content’s characteristics while still manipulating them to your heart’s content.

Let’s start with creating a Smart Object.

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How To Create A Photoshop Smart Onject

Creating A Smart Object In Photoshop.

Any content that is on its own layer can be turned into a Smart Object. There are three ways of doing this when you have a Layer selected:

  1. Select Layer>Smart Objects> Convert to Smart Object
  2. In the Layers Panel select the Context menu and select Convert To Smart Object from the pop down menu
  3. Right-click on the Layer in the Layers panel and select Convert To Smart Object from the pop down menu.

Once a layer is converted to a Smart Object the layer sports a small icon in the thumbnail indicating its status as a Smart Object..

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How To Tell The Difference Between A Layer And A Smart Object In Photoshop

Smart objects have an icon in the Layer thumbnail.

Take a look at the above image. Notice how the object on the left is fuzzy? This because I used Edit> Transform >Scale to reduce the size to 25%. When I transformed the image back up to 100% all Photoshop did to try its best to figure out the color of the pixels. What you see is a classic case of “Destructive Editing” which, in the immortal words of Martha Stewart is “not a good thing”.

There is also a rather subtle visual clue that you have selected a Smart Object. If you look at the above image you will see the corners of the bounding box for the Transform are hollow. If you select the Smart Object those corners are solid. 

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How To View A Smart Object in Photoshop

A Smart Object is a container for the original artwork.

A Smart Object really is nothing more than a container for the original image or vector data. The neat thing is you can view that image. All you need to do is to double click the Smart Object icon in the Layer thumbnail. When you do a new image, with the .psb extension opens. This is the container, and unless there is a compelling reason otherwise, you shouldn’t “play” with this image because changes made to the .psb are instantly reflected in the .psd. Let’s see what I mean. 

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How To Edit A Photoshop Smart Object

Change the content of the Smart Object then save it.

For this example, I applied a Warp Transform to the Smart Object Layer in the .psd. Then I double clicked the Smart Object icon in the Layer to open the .psb file. I then selected the Color Replacement Tool, set the Foreground color to Blue and painted over the yellow petals.  To apply the change to the .psd image, save the .psb image.

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How To Place A Smart Object In Photoshop

Illustrator or image content is automatically placed as a Smart Object in Photoshop.

 In an earlier “How To” I explained how an Illustrator drawing can be added to Photoshop as a Smart Object. The neat thing about this is if you double click the Smart Object icon, you launch Illustrator. You can also place multilayer .psd images into a Photoshop document by selecting File> Place Embedded or Place Linked. When the Place dialog box opens, locate the .psd file and click OK. Once you have moved it into position and scaled it you simply press the Return/Enter key and the new layer is a Smart Object.