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Using Smart Objects in Adobe Photoshop

Lesson 6 of 7

Multiple Instances of a Smart Object

Ben Willmore

Using Smart Objects in Adobe Photoshop

Ben Willmore

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Lesson Info

6. Multiple Instances of a Smart Object

Lesson Info

Multiple Instances of a Smart Object

Now let's take a look at the concept of multiple instances of the exact same smart object. We saw just a hint of it when we worked with a raw file. You remember when I just use standard commands to duplicate a layer, how if I made a change to one smart object, the other one updated? Well, let's see how that can be a useful feature. In this document, I have drawn two layers here, I drew a base which is just a circle. And after making that circle, I added a drop shadow so that if I turn off the drop shadow, you can see that it's gone. Then above that, I ended up drawing this polygon. Now both of those can be drawn using what's known as the shape tools. And we had a lesson in the ultimate guide that covered the use of the shape tools, and I ended up making a complex gear, but this is just using two of these particular tools. I simply drew an ellipse on one layer, and I drew a polygon on the other. So I'm gonna select those two layers, and I'm gonna turn them into a smart object. That's go...

nna look as if those two layers get merged into one. It still has access to the individual layers, though. I just need to double click on the layer to get them to show up as a separate document. Now I'm gonna end up duplicating that layer multiple times. You can duplicate it any way you'd like, as long as I don't use the command we used on the raw file that made the other layer independent. Now, a quick way of duplicating a layer is when you're using the move tool and you click and drag to move a layer. If you hold down the Option key, that's Alt in Windows, you're gonna move a copy. And so here I just made a copy. Then I'm gonna select both of the layers that have bolts in them in my Layers panel. And with Move tool again, I'm gonna hold down the Option key once again to make another set of copies. And if you want to, we can make a ridiculous number just by holding Option each time I drag and dragging out a bunch of these. That's a panel that's really bolted down well. Now if you look at our Layers panel, you're gonna see a whole bunch of layers. Each one of them except for that bottommost layer is a smart object. Now I'm gonna double-click on any one of those layers on its thumbnail image. It doesn't matter which of the layers because they all point back to the same original contents. When I double-click on the thumbnail for the layer, that contents appears as its own layer, and that's where I can see it here. I can tell that it's just a little circle and a polygon above it. We could fine-tune it. Maybe I add some additional styles. A bevel and emboss around the edge, a little gradient overlay to add some shading. Maybe on my polygon, I come in here and add a little edging on there with some bevel and emboss and some other things. Those are just things I had turned off, but I could've just added them by coming down here and saying I wanna add bevel and emboss and such. Anyway, I just updated that. Now I'm gonna come in here and I'm just gonna close this, and when I close it, since I made changes, it's gonna ask if I wanna save them. I'll say yes, save them, and it's gonna save them back to where they came from. Where they came from is wherever I double-clicked to get this document to appear, which means it's gonna go back into the layer that it came from, and all of these just updated. If I choose undo, you'll see what they used to look like. And then I'll reapply and you can see the update. So therefore if you ever wanna use an element multiple times in a document, and later on you might wanna update that element, you might want to change its contents, change its color or anything else. If you end up turning it into a smart object before you duplicate to use it in multiple areas of the image, you're gonna have much more versatility. We'll show you another example of that. Let's say you're doing web design. Here's your interface you're gonna have to navigate your website. And you see you have those little circles that are kinda like little bullets to indicate where your various options. Well, if you made one of those and you turned it into a smart object before you duplicated it to do the others, which was done here, then you should be able to take one of those layers like this one. You see the one that's turning on and off? And double-click on his thumbnail, and then you're gonna see that as a separate document. There it is. Well, I'm gonna go over to the other document we were working on, this one, and I'm gonna double-click on one of these layers. So I'm just gonna grab these two pieces. And I'll use my move tool, drag it over to this document and put it in there. It's a little on the large side, so I might type Command + T for transform, just get it to be an appropriate size. Press Return or Enter and then hide the layer that contains the original piece. I'm gonna close that, tell it yes, save the difference. Save that. And we'll close the one I took it from. Now let's return and see what we have. Look, they're all now little bolts. Since it was in a different position, it wasn't centered in the document, it got moved up a little bit here. They're still in the same position, it's just before the object was centered in the document, and when I was done, it was higher in the document. So all I need to do here is grab all those layers and use the arrow key to move down with my move tool. I can do the same thing with these tabs as long as when I made one tab, I turned it into a smart object before duplicating it to create the others, and that was the case here. If I double-click on this, there's my tab. And that tab is made out of just a shape with a bunch of layer styles on it. But I could change its appearance here. And then if I close this and save the changes, all of them will update. But what if I only wanted one of them to update? Well, that's when I need to come in here and choose Layer, Smart Objects, New Smart Object Via Copy, which means make a smart object that is independent of the existing ones. I would do that, and then I would throw away the layer that it was made from so that now that one on the left is completely independent. I can double-click on its thumbnail and I'll turn it back on those styles, close it and save it, and now you can see that only one of them changed. And that's because I took only one of them and said New Smart Object Via Copy, I threw away the layer that that new smart object was generated from, and now that one's independent of the others. So there's all sorts of uses for this. You could end up, if you make advertisements, you're gonna have a coupon border around it. You start off with just dashes in your coupon border. Well, just make one dash, turn it into a smart object, and then carefully duplicate it and space it out all the way around your document. Later on, the next week, you decide I wanna have stars all the way around. All you have to do is double-click on the thumbnail for that layer, replace the dash with a star. Suddenly they all update. There's all sorts of uses for that, but it's known as multiple instances of the same smart object. All right, now let's look at how I took that to a different, another level. Here I'm gonna turn off a bunch of layers to show you just one layer. This single layer was created using the shape tools. I demonstrated how to use the shape tools in a separate lesson that was about the tools and panels in Photoshop, so if you haven't seen that lesson, you might want to refer to it. And then this was just a solid color and it only has some effects applied to it to give it a special look. If I turn off the effects, you can see it's just a boring, solid color. To change its basic color, I went down to the letters FX, and there's a choice called Color Overlay. In that color overlay, I chose red, and that's what made it look red. I gotta turn all these on to show it to you, though. Okay, there's the red. Then I went back to the same menu and I decided to add a drop shadow. There it is. Then I decided to add bevel and emboss and something else called satin. That's what makes it look special. Now what if before adding all of those settings to this, instead, back when it looked like the simple shape, I turned it into a smart object? Well, if that's the contents of the smart object, and then on the outside of the smart object, I added those effects, then those effects can easily be changed. Then I end up taking this and I duplicate it. I can just type Command + J. That's one way of duplicating. And then I can transform it with free transform. And I think in one of the other lessons in the complete guide, I showed you how you could rotate something. What if I were to rotate this until that little hook around the edge here seemed to wrap right around right there, and I press Return or Enter to say I'm done. Then there's a way to get it to do that again. And again, I could repeat this. I've already done that, which is what created all of these pieces. And I showed that process where you can duplicate and you can rotate from the middle of the document instead of middle of the object in the lesson that had to do with tools and panels. So if you need more about how to do that, feel free. That's not really what I wanted to show you. I just needed to talk a little bit about the setup for this document. Now, since I had a shape and I turned it into a smart object before I duplicated it, before I rotated it, all that rotation and other changes are going to be retained if I come in here and just double-click on the thumbnail for that layer. There's the original shape. If I come in and use this little arrow tool that's known as the direct selection tool, I could select part of this, see about changing it, and if I close it and save it, it just updated every single one of those. I'll choose undo. Before, after. So it just makes it so you can push it to an extreme if you want to, and I did it when I created some pieces of interesting kinda art with this, because it allowed me to create something like this and then make fine-tuned adjustments. Like for instance, here, if you see how this particular piece looks, almost like it's wrapping right around that edge and this looks like it's almost going perfectly around that. Well, that's because I was able to adjust it and have all these update and just do it multiple times until I got it to be exactly the way I wanted to. Then after I was done with that and made it look like these were woven, as if this piece went above here, and then underneath and above and underneath and above and so on. But I showed that in the layer mask lesson. So it's only if you get the full, complete guide that you'll learn how to do all that stuff.

Class Description


  • Determine when Smart Objects should be used and when they are a bad idea
  • Non-destructively scale, rotate and warp
  • Create templates with easily replaceable images
  • Use linked Smart Objects across multiple documents
  • Retain camera-generated raw data when opening an image in Photoshop
  • Create multiple instances of a Smart Object and have them all update when you change the original


  • Beginner, intermediate, and advanced users of Adobe Photoshop.
  • Those who want to gain confidence in Adobe Photoshop and learn new features to help edit photos.
  • Students who’d like to take ordinary images and make them look extraordinary with some image editing or Photoshop fixes.


Adobe Photoshop 2020 (V21)


Kyosa Canuck

Many, if not most, of these classes (note I said class and NOT course), are excerpts from a full course. DO NOT get hooked into buying copies of these that you already may have from the full (and sometimes the full ones are actually missing pieces) course. Note that CL does not state that these are excerpts from other full courses. I bet, too, that some of them may actually not be in the course content of a full course. I have bought some full ones where the instructor says that a topic will be covered the next day or so but is never mentioned. Caveat Emptor, viewers.