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Photoshop Tip #1: Smart objects and layer masks

I run into a lot of little obstacles in Photoshop from week to week and I thought I would share some of my Photoshop tips and workarounds from time to time.

Layer masks are a really important part of Photoshop. If you are an avid Photoshop user you probably use them all the time. There is however one pesky little problem with layer masks and that is how they work with Smart Objects. Unlike every other kind of layer in Photoshop, you cannot link a mask to a smart object. This means that when you nudge or move a smart object layer, the mask does not move with it.

Now there are cases where this is the desired behaviour, and that’s what link/unlink is for, but for some strange reason there are is no linking capability for Smart Objects. Not very smart, try having 10 masked Smart Objects in a web layout and moving everything around. You have to nudge the Smart Object, and then nudge each mask.

How do you get around this? Very simple, put your smart object into a layer group, and add the mask to the group. Yes it does add more complexity to your layers pallet, but now you can easily move around your Smart Objects and layer masks at the same time making your life much easier.

5 Comments to “Photoshop Tip #1: Smart objects and layer masks”

  • Nick

    There is one major problem about this workaround. The layer style doesn’t work as it should work with a layer mask and the folder cannot be styled.
    So it is still very limited.

  • Ian Hoar

    That’s true, but it’s still better than shifting around the mask every time you shift the object. I usually don’t apply styles to my masks anyway, but it is a workaround. Ideally it would be nice if Adobe would just fix this.

  • Nick

    Yap, Adobe just fixed it and the fix name is CS$… I’m sorry CS4… :)… typin’ 2 fast…
    I read about another workaround that involves a layer beneath the smart object layer and clipping mask. Unfortunately, though I read it on many sites (even Adobe’s help forum), no matter how many times I tried to understand it and to practice it, I never really get it out. No one said anything about linking those layers so I still wonder how it works and what its use is.