Get Smart with the Photoshop Smart Objects

In my opinion, Smart Object is one of the most useful feature in Photoshop. It allow us to save a lot of time in designing website and graphic user interfaces, where there are plenty of repetitive elements. If you have a good understanding on how a Smart Object behaves, it can also serve as a template for Photoshop effects.

What is a Smart Object?

Smart Objects are layers that contain image data from raster or vector images, such as Photoshop or Illustrator files. Smart Objects preserve an image’s source content with all its original characteristics, enabling you to perform nondestructive editing to the layer (quoted from Adobe).

The image below demonstrates a nondestructive transformation done to a raster graphic. In normal conditions, a raster or bitmap image will turn blur after resizing for few times with the transformation tool (seen on left). By converting the raster image to a Smart Object, any transformations that come after will remain sharp like the original. All the pixels information are preserved upon the conversion (seen on right).

By preserving the original pixels, any scale smaller than the original size will remain great but it will still be blur when made bigger due to the lack of fill information. So it is better to convert a high resolution raster image right from the start.

How to Create a Smart Object?

There are several methods to create a Smart Object: by using the File > Open As Smart Object command; copying and pasting data from Illustrator; or converting one or more Photoshop layers to Smart Objects (shown below).

Ways to Use a Smart Object

Of course there are many creative ways to use Smart Objects. The few that I am sharing below are only the more common methods.

Once you converted a layer or group of layers into a Smart Object, any duplicates of it will act as instances. This means that any changes made to one Smart Object layer will reflect to all the other duplicates. The example below is demonstrating a button with another 3 instances. This setup is useful for design drafts with constant changes to the look and feel. By planting a button template across your document, it will save time by just amending one button and the rest will follow.

The important point to look out here is that, double-clicking on a Smart Object layer will launch a new .PSB window with your template elements in it. After performing the amendments, make sure you SAVE the .PSB document in order for the original .PSD to register the changes. Since there is a separate .PSB document for every Smart Object, you can also save it as a single file that is reusable for your next design!

Following is an example showing what we normally do to a post summary. There will be a thumbnail, post title, post summary and read more button. What we usually do is to group them all up in a single folder and duplicate them several times. This not only makes Photoshop performs slower due to the many layers and it is also troublesome if we just need to do one simple amendment, such as changing the font for post title.

So what we can do to improve our effiency is to convert the entire group folder into one Smart Object!

We can then do more complicated designs, in this case we made three post summaries using only three Smart Object layers. This shall make your Layers Panel look much neater.

Smart Object as a Template for Photo Effects

This can work similar to those presets found in Photoshop Elements if done properly. I shall demostrate a simple example of what I mean by that. Let us start off with a photograph (in courtesy of ShutterStock).

Then right-click on the image layer and convert it into a Smart Object. So any adjustment effects and filters that come after that will not destroy the original photo.

Then we add a Color Balance adjustment layer above the Smart Object.

You can get creative further with the adjustments. I added Levels and Hue/Saturation to the example below.

We can even make a selection on the Smart Object and apply a Gaussian Blur effect to it. And yes, you can use masking on it as well!

After doing the desired effects, you will get a set of layers that look similar to what I have here. Several adjustment layers above and filters below the original photo Smart Object.

Here comes the fun part, you are able to apply the same effects to another photo easily. What you need to do is only to right-click on the photo Smart Object layer and choose "Replace Contents" then select a new photograph.

There you have it! Isn’t Smart Object an amazing feature to use? Hope you will find this little tip useful for your future design works. Cheers.

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17 Comments | Write a Comment

  1. Dougieladd says:

    Really well explained tips. Cheers Johnson… and hello Singapore!

  2. anne says:

    Just wondering..for the replace content, how to actually have the originally picture to be in place with the other pic? To have the same effects on the other picture and at the same time to have the original pic instead being replaced.

  3. Paw says:

    Hey! Thanks for sharing. Very useful feature… :)

  4. ranx says:

    just found your site you got great tips keep up the good work

  5. deden says:

    great post… i think this is amazing thanks for share…

  6. sewa mobil says:

    Amazing tips. I definitely will use them in my next designs!

  7. Beyb says:

    Awesome and really amazing tips

  8. Dara says:

    Thanks for the tips!

  9. Nice illustration. Adobe CS5 brings a lot of cool features and it will help out a dumb one to master photoshop. And now the creack of this premium suite is available on the web with the name
    “adobe.cs5.master.suite-raz0rw1nd”

  10. Web Design says:

    Thanks for the share, something to try this weekend!

  11. Garry says:

    I’ve always wondered how to use it but was lazy to find out.
    Thanks to you I finally know how to use it! =]

  12. Johnson Koh says:

    Thanks everyone for the comments! :)

  13. budicokro says:

    i’m using cs2 and not yet have smart object features. :(

  14. Really interesting tips..

  15. Bing says:

    Great tips! I’m trying it out NOW. =)

  16. Amazing tips. I definitely will use them in my next designs!

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