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Photoshop Smart Objects: How and when to use them

Photoshop IconSmart Objects aren’t perfect, and until Photoshop CS4 a mask could not be linked unless you used layer groups. They don’t always resized perfectly when using vector logos either, but one thing they are perfect for is embedding photos into your Photoshop documents. I still can’t believe how many times I end up working on PSD files full of photos without any Smart Objects. It takes seconds to create one, and saves a lot of time down the road.

Why should I bother with Smart Objects?

You are working on a mockup for a client with several images. Each image is placed into the layout, resized and cropped as needed. Everything looks perfect and off to the client it goes. A few days later you receive feedback, “please make all the images twice the size”. If you have not used Smart Objects you now need to go and grab all the original photos and resize and crop every image again, not fun.

Here’s another scenario that’s even a bigger time waster. You hand the mockup off and someone else “Me” has to change the size of the images. I don’t know where they are located and have to not only redo all your work, but I also have to track down the original photos again.

I think I have made my point, Smart Objects are indeed a smart idea. Case in point, check out the image below.


Now figure the first photo of the cat really small was your first image. Now if this were a real world example where a client had asked you to increase the size of the cat 3 times and you had used a raster image then you would have effectively tripled the amount of work you had to do in regards to this image. For the example above I used a large photo of this cat and converted it to a smart object with a mask over top. Then a simple uniform scale up each time allowed me to zoom in without any need to re-visit the original image, since the original image is already embedded in the Smart Object.

There are many other great uses for Smart Objects too. If you double click on a Smart Object you can then work on the original. Photo retouching or cropping is a lot easier on a large image. With vectors you Smart Objects will open in Adobe Illustrator and you can touch them up here and your Photoshop document will be automatically updated.

Smart Object brush up

To create a Smart Object convert your photo image to a layer if it is not already (double click the layer). Now right click the layer and select Convert to Smart Object. That’s it, and this is why there is no excuse to have mockups loaded with resized raster images.

Tip: Add layer masks to your images. In Photoshop CS3 and under masks are not linkable to the actual Smart Object. You can work around this limitation by placing it into a Photoshop group in the layers palette and applying the mask to the group. In CS4 Smart Objects are linkable, so remember to unlink when resizing the image unless you want to resize the mask too.

About the cat

The cat in this photo was one of the coolest looking cats I have ever seen. I took it while visiting Grenada in the capital city Saint George’s. You can see more photos on my Flickr account.

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