Smart Objects: The Little Feature in Photoshop That Makes a Big Impact
Do you make smart decisions when working on projects in Adobe Photoshop? Well depending on your level of experience with the application, your answer would likely be, “of course I do”. Stop for just a moment and ask yourself when the last time you used a Smart Object was. For many, smart objects are one of the most underutilized features in Photoshop. One that could make a major impact on the way they work. In this article, we will shed some light on the magic of the Smart Object.
What are Smart Objects?
Adobe defines a Smart Object as a special layer that can contain both raster and vector image data while preserving the image's source content and all original characteristics. This Smart Object layer allows for nondestructive editing of the source content.
While this is absolutely true, it doesn't exactly inspire creativity in the implementation of Smart Objects. What you should know is that a Smart Object can contain virtually anything you can create or open inside of Photoshop. Whether it's a logo you created in Illustrator, an image from your digital camera or even multiple Photoshop layers that you've created, all of these can be converted into a Smart Object.
How do you create a Smart Object?
Creating smart objects is actually very easy. If the information you wish to target exists within your current Photoshop file, all you need to do is select the layers in the Layers Panel, right click and choose create Smart Object. You'll know that a the smart object has been created once you see the Smart Object icon appear in the lower right corner of the new layer's thumbnail.
Smart objects can also be created by using the Place command when bringing images, logos or other graphics into your Photoshop file from another location on your hard drive. Simply choose Smart Object from the dialog box.
Why are they useful?
There are a number of great reasons one might decide to use a Smart Object inside Photoshop.
Preserving the source content or original characteristics of what is contained in the Smart Object is probably the most important. Let's say that you have a raster image that you want to shrink down within your Photoshop document using the Free Transform command, the raster image is down-sampled. That means that Photoshop removes the unnecessary pixels within the image for it's new, smaller size. This is often referred to as a destructive change to the target image. Once the down-sampling has occurred, the only way to revert back to the previous state is by using the step back through history using the history panel. If you use the Free Transform command again and try to enlarge the image, those previously removed pixels don't just magically reappear. Photoshop will do it's best to recreate the pixels but the result is never going to be as good as the original. When using any of Photoshop's transformation tools, your pixels are resampled in some form or fashion.
Another reason one might choose to convert some of their work to a Smart Object is so they can utilize Smart Filters. A smart filter is simply a normal Photoshop filter that when applied to a Smart Object layer can be both modified and masked. When a Smart Filter is applied to a Smart Object layer, it looks a little like a Layer Style. It can be collapsed, hidden, or drug to the trash can and deleted. Speaking of filters, one of the most powerful filters for transforming pixels, the Liquify Filter, can now be applied to a Smart Object.
If you have played a little with creating a Smart Object inside of Photoshop, you may have noticed that when you double click on the layer icon for the Smart Object, a new document opens that contains it's contents. This is actually how you would modify the contents of a multi-layered smart object. But what if your Smart Object was a logo or other graphic you created in Adobe Illustrator? Have you tried double clicking on the layer icon for those Smart Objects? If you have, then you will notice that Photoshop prompts your computer to launch Illustrator and opens a temporary file inside of it so any changes you need to make can be made. Once your changes have been made, all you need to do is save the Illustrator file and the Photoshop Smart Object will be updated when you return to it. Now that is the magic of one program talking to another.
Lastly, Smart Objects are extremely useful for cleaning up a Photoshop file that is overflowing with layers. If you are working on say a website design and it took you six layers to build a button graphic, wouldn't it be nice to have all of that data contained in just one layer instead? If you have to duplicate and modify that particular button into multiple locations, those six layers will quickly multiply. In this case Smart Objects can be used as containers to clean up your Layers Panel while nesting important information in it's original state.
Why aren't Smart Objects used more often?
The most obvious answer might be that people either just aren't aware of the feature or don't completely understand it's power. If you spend a good deal of time inside Photoshop every day, then implementing Smart Objects into your own workflow can really save you a lot of time and frustration. If you'd like to learn more about Smart Objects, make sure and check out Your First Day with Photoshop CC.