I want to take a moment today to talk about Smart Objects and Smart Filters. As much as I discuss these two features of Adobe Photoshop on this blog, I believe there are still many folks out there who don’t really get what’s going on. It’s easy to work on all sorts of things inside of Photoshop and never even attempt to take advantage of these features, but trust me when I say this, life would be much easier for many editors if they did. Both Smart Objects and Smart Filters are here to help and they do a wonderful job at preserving the integrity of the original document that’s being worked on.
In today’s post, I’d like to show you three different methods for turning an ordinary layer into a Smart Object. Each of these three methods is extraordinarily simple to pull off. After that, I’d like to get into what exactly a Smart Object is and how these things work. I have a feeling that if one were to understand what’s going on behind the scenes a little bit better, they’d be more inclined to incorporate this type of thing into their workflow on a regular basis.
How To Create a Smart Object
For this post, I’ll be using a photo of a tree hammock hanging in the forest with a few people sitting in it. I already have this photo launched into Photoshop.
To create a Smart Object, I have some different choices to make. I can either right-click on the layer in the Layers panel of the image I’m interested in converting, use the Layers panel menu or visit the toolbar up top to achieve the same goal. Here’s a screenshot of me right-clicking on the layer in the Layers panel. When the menu opens, I would click the Convert to Smart Object option.
Also, I do want to mention that it’s important to click on the layer in question before attempting to convert it. It needs to be selected and active.
Next, I can click on the Layers panel menu that’s located up in the right corner of the panel. When the menu appears, I’ll again choose Convert to Smart Object from the available options.
In the screenshot above, I circled the menu icon location in red.
Finally, I can visit the Filter > Convert for Smart Filters menu item up in the top toolbar.
To create a Smart Object, it really doesn’t matter which method you choose. They all have an identical effect.
What is a Smart Object?
So here’s the question; what in the heck is a Smart Object anyway? I think I’ve said this before somewhere, but a Smart Object can be thought of as a photograph or a graphic laying flat on a table surface. The photo would be the original object and if you placed a piece of plastic wrap on top of the image, that wrap, in addition to the photo, would be the complete Smart Object. the plastic wrap is what makes it smart.
So, what’s so smart about the plastic wrap? Well, if you had a magic marker in your hand and you decided that you wanted to draw on the photo, you’d essentially have to color the plastic wrap to make it appear as if you colored the photo itself. While the plastic wrap would be affected, the image underneath wouldn’t be at all. The same concept is true when it comes to filters as well. If you were to apply a filter to the image, you wouldn’t really be applying it to the image at all. You’d be applying it to the plastic wrap, which would make it seem as if you applied it to the image underneath. Either way, the same exact effects would be visible. It’s just that the original object wouldn’t be touched, which means it would be preserved.
Let me show you what I mean. As you know, I already converted the original layer into a Smart Object. Now, I’m going to apply a filter to it. I’ll apply something crazy so the image really looks different. I’ll go ahead with the Stained Glass filter. Here’s what the image looks like with this filter applied.
Pretty different, right?
Okay, now let’s take a look at what we have going on in the Layers panel.
As you can see, we have the Smart Object on top and then the Smart Filters layer mask beneath that with the specific filter that has been applied all the way at the bottom.
Check this out. If I double-clicked on the Smart Object thumbnail, a new tab would open up in Photoshop and inside that tab would be the original, untouched image. This is the one that’s being covered by the plastic wrap. The cool part about all of this is that I could alter that original image if I wanted to and those changes would traverse tabs to the actual file I’m working on. I’d do this as an example.
I’ll head up to the Image > Mode > Grayscale menu item in the top toolbar and click.
After I do that, I’ll save the file and then return to the other tab, where I was working earlier. Let’s see if the change I made to the image file jumped over to this file.
Yes, I would say it did.
Now, I could, of course, edit much further in the file I’m currently in by double-clicking on the Filter layer and making changes in there. I could also paint inside of the Smart Filters layer mask to alter things in there as well. Those are topics for another post though. What I wanted to show you today was merely how these Smart Objects/Filters work and what you can do with them.
I hope I clearly explained how Smart Filters work inside of Adobe Photoshop as well as the multiple methods for applying them. If you have any questions or concerns regarding this post, please leave them in the comment section below. Thanks for reading!