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Smart Objects for Beginners

Lesson 7 of 8

Linked and Nested Smart Objects

Ben Willmore

Smart Objects for Beginners

Ben Willmore

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Lesson Info

7. Linked and Nested Smart Objects

Lesson Info

Linked and Nested Smart Objects

So let's talk about what's known as a linked smart object. So far, all the smart objects we've used have been embedded smart objects. What that means is their contents are completely contained within the Photoshop file that we're working in. There's also a way to work with linked smart objects. A linked smart object is one that is stored somewhere else, on your hard drive. You know how you probably have a folder somewhere that's got your signature in it, and it might have your company logo somewhere, in a folder? Well, why not be able to link to your company logo and use it within multiple files, and then if you ever updated your company logo, you know, you're going to refresh it this year. Well, if you open that original logo file, and you changed it, maybe you just changed the colors or something with the font or something like that, that now, suddenly, if you open any of these old documents, it won't automatically update them because you might not want that. But it's gonna let you k...

now that that file had been changed and ask you if you want to update it. Would that make sense? So that would be a pretty cool thing. Or the other time I might want to use this is if whatever's in that smart object is really complicated. It's 100 layers. I have files that are 100 layers, easily. And I don't want to contain those 100 layers inside of this file that it's used within, I want that on a separate document so it saves kinda space. So let's see how we can do that. I'm gonna open a few images here, I have three of them. And these images are ones that I used in a book that I wrote many years ago, that these were the chapter openers. And so on the left side of the page, we would have a picture that opens the chapter, and on the right side of the page would be the name of my book, which is Up to Speed. Up to Speed covered only the new features, when a new version of Photoshop came out, therefore you can get up to speed, you know, with the new version. And then down here we would end up putting some text for the name of the chapter, does that make sense? But this, Up to Speed right here, should show up on each one of these. And wouldn't it be nice if, we're not finalized on that logo, but I still wanna write the book. I still wanna make every single chapter opener, and at the very end when we're finalizing the project, I might end up even changing the name of the book. And it would be awfully nice if I could very quickly update all the chapter openers, and even the cover of the book. Well, if I use a linked smart object, I could do that. So if you look at the document I currently am working on, it's the bottom one in our view that's here. That's what you're seeing in the Layers panel. We have the picture here, and above it, you see a smart object, don't you? 'cause you see that little icon in there. If I double-click on the smart object, you'll see its original contents, and it opens up, and you can kinda see that it's made out of multiple layers, but it's just a bar on one layer, you know, the text on another, and so on. That's not really important right now. I'll close that file, I just wanted to show you what it looked like. Now, if I go to the Layer menu, we have a choice called Smart Objects, and in here, there are many different things we can do, but I'm gonna choose Convert to Linked. Convert to Linked. That means I already have a smart object. That smart object is self-contained within this document, it's not already linked to something, and I'm gonna say let's convert that to something that's linked. All right. Now, when I do, it asks me where to save the contents of the smart object, and I'm just gonna put it on my desktop. Save. All right, then I'm gonna go to another document. Now, by the way, it just saved a Photoshop file on my hard drive. It contains the exact contents of that smart object, and not only that, it converted this so that the contents of that smart object are no longer completely contained within this file. It's relying on that file that just got saved on my hard drive. So now I can go to a different file, like the one in the middle. I can go to the File menu, and when you want to place something as a smart object, meaning you have a file in your hard drive, you want to make it show up in Photoshop, but you want it to be a smart object from the beginning, you can choose either Place Embedded, and that means make it so it's not dependent on the file you're feeding it, so the file will be completely contained within here. Or if you choose Place Linked, that means make it so it will be dependent on what we had there. Now I just need to find that, I don't remember what I called it or anything. I thought I put it on my desktop, but I might have messed up. Do you see it? Anybody know where I saved it? Well, let me save it again, 'cause I might have screwed up. I'll choose Layer, Smart Objects, Convert to Linked, and when this comes up, could not convert because the selected object is not, oh. This is already linked. When you convert to linked, what you'll find is the icon in your Layers panel changes, do you see it right there? And that little link symbol indicates that it's not a self-contained smart object, instead it depends on something else. But you can still double-click on it, and that file will show up. Here I can drag its tab out so it's a floating window here, and we can see it. Anyway, I don't know where I saved this file. Oh, it is on my desktop, it's called Black Bar, okay. Anyway, that's my independent file. Now let's see if we can get it to be used in the other files. I just didn't remember its name, so I didn't know what to choose. So File, Place Linked, I'm looking for one called Black Bar, there it is. I choose Place, and now can you see what it just put in there? That thing, right? I can press Return or Enter if I want it to be scaled to that size, or I can scale it up to whatever size I need, I can drag it around to position it wherever I'd like. And I can do the same thing above. Place Linked, Black Bar. I could have even copied and pasted between those as long as I'm using my Move tool, it could be able to copy between those, okay? So now we have it on all those documents. This could be 30 documents that it's used within. Now I want to make a change, so I double-click within my Layers panel on the smart object. It pops open in its own document. It looks a little messy, 'cause I have more than one document visible on the screen, but that's okay. And I come in here and decide that I want to make a change to the image. I want to come in here and I want the letters T-O to not be that particular color, I'd like them to be something else. I'll grab my paintbrush tool, and let me just see if I'm able to do this. I'm not sure how this document is structured, but, or let's instead change the color of the black bar just 'cause I won't mess things up so much in the process of doing so. I'm gonna make it an ugly green bar. I'm gonna clip that to what's underneath. Okay, just, it doesn't matter what I'm doing, it just matters that I'm changing this. Whatever technique you're comfortable with to change it. All right, now I'm gonna just close that, or I don't even have to close it. Just type Command S to save it, and do you see the other ones update? If I close this file, you can see they're all changed. Now, if I ended up doing that while these files were not open, then they wouldn't have automatically updated, 'cause it wouldn't have been sure if you wanted to or not. It's only while these documents are open that they automatically update. If I had changed that while these were closed and then I opened one in the future, that little symbol, I think it would be there, would have a yellow triangle on it, or the yellow triangle would show up down here. I'd have to actually try to be sure, but I'd see a yellow triangle somewhere, that's a warning triangle, it means that hey, that file would need to be updated and you can update its contents. And so remember on your smart objects, if you already have a smart object and you want it to be linked to something on your hard drive, so you can use it amongst more than one file, you choose Convert to Linked, or if you just have a file sitting there, like your logo file, and you've never used it yet in any document, you just go to the File menu and there's a choice called Place Linked, and that would also make it a relationship where it's linked to a file on your hard drive. All right, so all sorts of things. And right here, by the way, is where it says Update Modified Content, so if I changed the logo, later on opened a file, saw a yellow triangle, and I'm like, yeah, I do want it to update, this would force it to. So let's close those. And so we've learned that a smart object can either be embedded in your file, which means it's completely contained within that layered Photoshop file, and completely independent of all of the files on your hard drive. Or that smart object can be linked to something on your drive. And if it's linked to something on your drive, it can be a cool way to update things. So you remember when I did that mug, where I wrapped the picture around the mug? Well, if I actually needed to do that every single day, to, you know, like 100 times a day to have that done, why not have it a linked smart object so that it's linked to a picture that's in a folder, and it's just called Mug Image, that's the name of the folder, and I would just take out whichever picture is in that folder and replace it with a different picture that has the exact same file name, 'cause that's the only way it's linked up. It remembers where is it and what's the file name. So every time I swapped out that picture for another one of the exact same name, and I opened the file, there'd be a different picture on that mug. So it depends on when would it be useful to link things up or not. Just so you're aware, I'm not gonna get into huge detail on this, I just want to describe it. You can also have, what's the word for it, nested smart objects, which means a smart object inside of a smart object. And so you can get crazy with it. For those of you that will embrace the concept of smart objects and just go, oh man, I wanna go deeper with that, I'll just describe it, I'm not gonna do it. So in this case, these business cards. I want to be able to change the text on them. I want to be able to change the logo on them, if I wanted to. And I want it to remember the distortion that's there. So I have a single business card, here. I turn it into a smart object before I do anything, right? And once it's been turned into a smart object, I end up warping it, and warping it gives me the bend that makes it feel like it's kind of floating in the air, bent. Then I want to make another one, but the other one needs to have somebody else's name on it. That means I don't want this one to be an instance of this one, I want this one to be independent of that one. So I choose Layer, Smart Objects, New Smart Object, via Copy, right? I have one that looks exactly like this. I scale it down, I rotate it, I warp it slightly differently, and there it is, right? Then I do the same thing here, the same thing there. Now after that, I end up with a total of one, two, three, four business card layers. On all four of them, I can double-click on that layer. It's gonna show me the straightened version of the card, 'cause that's what was originally in there. And I can go in and type in different people's names, and phone numbers or whatever. So we can do that, it'll remember the bending. But then I want to bend it further. So I take the one, two, three, four cards, I select them all in my Layers panel. 'cause they're all smart objects, I just select them. And with those four smart objects selected, I say convert into a smart object. And you're like, what? That's just putting smart objects inside of a new smart object. It's like having Ziploc bags, and I already have four Ziplocs with something in them, and I get a bigger Ziploc and I put those inside of that, seal it shut. And so after I put those four, and I say make a smart object out of them, it looks like a single layer for this. 'cause it always looks like it merged those together. And I warp that, and I apply a blur to it so it does weird stuff. Maybe I duplicate that and I make it even smaller and I bend it more, down there. Even though you can't tell those cards have the same names as these, but they do. And I can make this. But still, I can go back and change everybody's names on these cards, even the name on the card that's right there. I just need to drill down to it and get it. So what am I gonna see? I'm gonna see a single layer for these four cards. I double-click on it. What opens up in a new window is a file that contains one, two, three, four layers. They all have smart object symbols on them, they're all little bent things. I double-click on one of them, it opens up, and it's a straightened card, and I can change somebody's name. I hit Save, Close. Save, Close. I'm back to this file. This whole thing is updated. I could just change the entire design on the card if I wanted to, you know, that kind of stuff. It'd be very easy if I wanted to change that logo. I could get ridiculous, I wouldn't usually, 'cause you don't want to melt your brain too much. I could make that logo a linked smart object within the little card. But you can get as crazy as you want. It's a completely different way of thinking about your layers once you get used to the concept of a smart object. This is if you want to get crazy with it. If you're new to smart objects, I don't think you're heading there. But if you've been using smart objects a bit, now you're like, oh, really, I can go that far with it? So if you want to see kind of a real-world example, here is the cover of my book that I wrote a long, long time ago, Photoshop CS2. Let's open up the image that was on the cover, and let's see a little bit about how it was created. And I don't know that I'm going to make everything, 'cause that would take a long time. But if I describe some of the pieces, it might help you get an idea of how smart objects were useful, okay? Leaves, you see 'em? Originally, that was one file. It looked like that, okay? Now, if I open that file, I can remove the background that's here. I happen to use the pen tool, but you don't have to use that tool. You can use any tool. Heck, you can use the eraser tool, just sit there and erase around it. Whatever skill set you have to get rid of that background, you could do it. And then before I do anything else, I take that and I turn it into a smart object. So it's just this with the background removed. Go back to looking at this. All right, so it's a smart object already. I duplicate it, a normal duplicate, so it's multiple instances of the same smart object. With that duplicate, I rotate it, maybe 15 degrees. Then I duplicate it and I rotate it 15 degrees, and repeat and repeat and repeat until I get all the way around there, make sense? Now, if I set the blending mode of all of those, you know, at the top of the Layers panel, you have a little pop-up menu? I could select all of those layers and change that popup menu, and if I chose a choice called Multiply, it acts like ink. So it's as if one leaf is being printed on top of the other, so it just kind of darkens it. And that's why you can see through here, where one overlaps the next, okay? Well, then I could revisit each individual one of those layers. And there is a choice at the bottom of your layers panel, it's known as a layer style. That's where you can add a drop shadow, that's where you can add beveling and boss, you may have seen that. One of the other choices there is called Color Overlay. All it does is put a solid color over whatever the contents of that layer is. But at the same time, there's a blending mode that you can set, and if you set it to the choice called Color, it'll apply the color that's being put in, but it won't change the brightness of whatever was already there. So the leaf has the original brightness, but the color changes. That's a layer style called color overlay, and if you use something called color mode. And I did that for each one. Believe it or not, the way colors are specified in Photoshop is there's a number that represents what's called the hue, and the number that's there is based on a color wheel and it's in degrees. So zero to 300 and probably 59, 'cause 360 would be zero again. So if I rotated these by 15 degrees, so I could change the hue of them by 15 degrees for each one, and these colors would be evenly spaced. You don't have to know that. (laughing) So anyway, you get the idea that multiple instances are useful, doesn't matter if you rotated them. Now, look down here. Can you see the same leaves down there? Well, what if I just took one, two, three, four, whatever those layers were, selected them all. I don't have to turn them into a smart object, but I could, if I want it to look like one piece. But I simply duplicated them. I moved them down, maybe I scaled them a little bit, and I changed their blending mode to screen mode. Screen acts like light, so I can lighten things. Anyway, it gives you a sense for what's in there. But that made this a lot easier, and the other thing that it made it was so that I can change this. If I come into this and I find that fan of leaves, it is a smart object, by the way. It's a smart object because I masked it. If I turn off the mask, watch the back edge of the head. See how it would've, I let the back edge of the head show through. But if I double-click on it, there's my leaves. You see the individual leaves that are there. If I double-click on an individual leaf, there it is. And so what if I decide I don't want leaves? I want feathers. What do I have to do? Paste a feather in there. And suddenly the entire design will update. All the rotation, all the color application, all the blending modes, the entire design updates. That's nuts, I think. So somewhere, I probably have a replacement image. Why don't we put a bowling pin in there? Let's grab a bowling pin. I'm just gonna take this and put it over here. I'm dragging it to the other tab and back down again, and, ooh, it looks like I grabbed the bowling ball instead. No, oh, it's both images in the same picture. So Select All, Copy, over here, paste, there's my bowling pin. Unfortunately I don't have the background removed, so let's go over here and do that quick. I'm gonna be quick and dirty about this, so the end result's not gonna be perfect, but I'm going to add an inverted layer mask, okay. Now let's just close that. Yeah, let's save it. Let's get rid of the original, look, we've got bowling pins. Okay, let's save that, let's close it. Look, we've got bowling pins on a head, and it's masked around the head and it's got colors, and look, look at the background where the lighter ones are, they're all up to date. It's crazy, isn't it? So what you wanna do, if you have not used smart objects in the past, is get used to the basics first. Just keep in the back of your head somewhere that you could go deep with them if you really wanted to. And if you want to go really deep with them, eventually it can completely change the way you think about everything you do in Photoshop. At least it has for me, and it's absurd, what I can do. I mean, let's update more of the design. We can update this lens. What if I want a bowling ball, what do I do? Just paste it in here. Well look, there's a reflection of Ben in there. There would be a reflection of Ben in the bowling ball if I put the bowling ball underneath. I sneak picture of myself into my book images, so that if you looked at any image in any of my books, if you look hard enough, there's a picture of me in all the chapter openers and the covers. But most people don't know that.

Class Description

Smart Objects is an easy, flexible, non-destructive way to work with layers. Because it preserves an image’s characteristics, Smart Objects allows you to resize, transform, add filters, make composites and more without affecting your original image. In this class, Ben Willmore will show you the basics of Smart Objects, including how to update one image and have those changes propagate to all duplicates, load linked raw files that update when you make changes in Adobe® Lightroom®, and build complex effects onto a placeholder image that can be replaced and then instantly updated. This class has the potential to completely change the way you use Adobe® Photoshop®.


Adobe Photoshop CC 2018

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Jeph DeLorme

Great class, extremely helpful for understanding smart objects... both creating and the full range of uses. Fun and engaging instructor, loved this class!

Amy Vaughn

Awesome overview of smart objects. This class may be geared toward beginners, but I think Ben did a good job of showing just how powerful and complicated they can be.


Such a useful and easy to follow class! Ben breaks down smart objects and makes the whole process clear and easy. Definitely a game changer with Photoshop.