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What is a Smart Object?

Lesson 2 from: Working with Smart Objects & Smart Filters

Dave Cross

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Lesson Info

2. What is a Smart Object?

Lesson Info

What is a Smart Object?

What the heck is a smart object, and why would we care? Well, normally in Photoshop, you have some information in there, and it's generally, of course, makes up a bunch of pixels like this logo was created elsewhere but brought into Photoshopped, so that made it into pixels. And at the moment, this is the size of this. So, you know, I could look at it. Image, size, command. It's OK. It's 1400 pixels. Why? It's not a huge logo. But the typical way that things work in photo shop is when you're working with pixels, you can have a limit to what you can do with them, and every step you do is pretty permanent. For example, if I decide to take this layer and say I want it smaller, I would use free transform. So Commander Control T. I'd use the shift key and make it smaller. But as soon as I hit enter, that's now 100% size. So unless I press undo right away from now on, that's its new size, which might be OK, but here's the catch. If 10 minutes from now I've done a whole bunch of other things ...

and then I decide. Oh, you know what I should have? I should have kept its original size. This is one of the problems with pixel based images is whenever you scale up, the quality suffers because Photoshopped has to invent pixels to make it look like it was that big. So whenever you scale pixels down, unless you undo it right away, you can never put it back up to the same size without losing quality. And that's just the way pixels work. So that means that people do things like, Well, I may make a copy just in case, have sort of workarounds or backup plans, which is fine. But I'd much rather have on opportunity to be able to experiment and know that I'm not going to be stuck in that way. So one the ways we can do that is by using this thing called a smart object. And really, what a smart object is it comes down to. It's a different type of layer, it appears in the layers panel. That's where you work with it. But what it does. Sorry. Excuse me. In a sense, it's like it takes this pixel information, and it puts it inside a protective container. So imagine a a clear plastic Tupperware container. We can still see the logo. It's It's I should have added. It's a magical container because it does all these magical things, meaning we can do things like scale it and do everything else. But it's still remembers inside here. But that logo was still this big. So one of the things, many things it does it eliminates the worry of. If I scale something down, I can't scale it back up again. So we'll talk in more detail as we go. How to make a smart object. The simplest way is to right or control. Click and juice choose convert to smart object. The only difference at first is the thumbnail has that little excuse me symbol on it to show you this is a smart object. So that's all that means, okay, but one of things that does in our special magical container. So I now take my logo and make it even smaller and hit Enter, that's instead of its Now that's 100% size. It really means in this case that's my current size so I could do 14 other steps I could save this document and reopen it next week because it started out as a smart object before I scaled it down. I can free transform it right back up again and not lose any quality. Now it doesn't change the fact that I can't scale it bigger than it originally was, cause not that magical. It's only magical in terms of remembering its original size, but as a simple example of a benefit of a smart object. If you're not sure how big you want something, at least you know you have some room to play net, whereas normally you don't. Okay, so that's sort of the first simple example. On top of that, we also as well Seacon do things like apply filters in a way that's much more creditable than it normally waas. We can also take multiple layers and turn them into a smart object which has some great benefits, all of which will see but before we go too far. I always addressed this pretty early on because this happens to almost everyone that starts working with a smart object. So let me also add that if we were having this conversation before smart objects before they existed, I would probably have said soon as you open a document, duplicate the background layer and you so you're working on a copy. That was always my standard workflow because I didn't want to touch the background. Now I pretty pretty much say before we do anything else, take that background layer and convert to a smart object because right away that's a form of protection. So you're always protecting the original. But here's what happens to people they convert to smart object cause they told him to and then they go, OK, so now I'm gonna take the clone stamp tool and they get this little symbol that says, I like to call this the I'm sorry, Dave. I can't let you do that symbol and you try and use it and you get this, um, message that says the smart object must be rast arised before proceeding well for people who watched the previous class, we now know that rast arises not a good word to use because it takes away the whole benefit of being smart. So then what? People think Well, they want do one of two things. They click OK and Then go wait a minute on the Smartwatch anymore. What's happened or they click, cancel and go. Now what do I do? I have this cancel symbol. So that's the first road block that most were onto. A smart objects is Does that mean I can't edit it? No, that's not what it means. Just means you have take a different approach. So there's two different options that you can do once you've converted to a smart object and you want to do things like editing like cloning and healing, etcetera. The 1st 1 is, and frankly, I would do this anyway. Even it wasn't smart object. I hardly ever if ever heal and cloned directly onto the background because I'm worried I might mess up, so I usually do it to a blank layer anyway, So that's all I do with a smart object at a blank layer. Then whatever tool your using, like the clone stamp tool you notice up in the options bar. One of the options is called sample all layers, and that's a adobe fancy way of saying. Put the results of the clone stamp on the blank layer, but sample or pick from the layer below. Even though it's smart, it doesn't matter because we're not painting on that layer. We're just picking from it. So now I can do, you know, whatever it is I want to do. Not that I would do this, of course, but we just do some things you can see adding more information and that information basically appears on that layer by itself. I think so. That's one way to work around the fact that all those tools that give you the cancel you can't do that symbol is to add a blank layer. For me. That's the solution. Ah, large amount of the time because I won't do that Anyway. I want to make sure that my healing cloning, especially if I'm, say, retouching a portrait of a person. There are many times where if I take the healing brush and go directly on a portrait, say to remove lines and or someone's eyes now doesn't look like them anymore because I've removed them completely. So if I put the cloning onto a blank layer that I can lower the opacity so it's less obvious but still there and that's a very common retouching technique and it begs for you to put that retouching on its own layer anyway. So for me, anytime I'm talking about retouching and things like that, I do it on separate layers, as it is. So with smart objects, it's no different. Some people find that for whatever reason, they they don't wanna have to separate layers. They still want to kind of contain it inside that container. And I should also add I usually say this the beginning that if you go looking in photo shopped for the term container, you won't find it. That's just what I call it. So if you think container and contents that helps you kind of remember the smart object of container, the contents, what's inside? You will, however, see the term edit contents. So the way we edit the contents of a smart object is to double click on it. And this is the other part that throws people off. The first time is this is what happens. You double click. It opens a separate window showing the contents. So now we have container in one window and contents in another. Thank. So I still have to edit. I don't have to. I would still prefer to add it on a separate layers. I don't want to touch the background layer, so I'll just do something like take the pink brush and just you can see I'm doing something. But if I look back at my original smart object, nothing has happened because I'm in the middle of editing the contents anytime you edit something, whatever it is, once you're finished, you have to hit safe to tell it you're finished editing. So if I hit the safe command, it's gonna update the contents file, which now means the container changes to So this is the hardest part of smart object for people. Initially is the whole to window thing is that this is my final document. But to edit that red brush stroke, I can't. It doesn't exist here. See, there's no layer with the red brushstroke on it. I have to go back to the contents document. Oh, there it is. So now I could turn it off, hit save and it will update. So for most people, that's the first hurdle to get past. It's a very different way of working. It takes a while. There's no question you have to get your mind around it. But once you do it the 1st 1 or 17 times, then after a while you're like, Okay, now that's starting to make sense. It just becomes second nature because, as we'll see as we progress along, there's somebody advantage that it gives you. It's worth investing the time to get used to. Okay, contents window going back and forth. So what I would suggest that everyone does when you're trying to grasp smart objects is just do something like this. Uh, let's just make a file. This size is fine, So simplest way to get used to smart objects is to do this. Make a new document. Just Here's the thing, I would say. Don't try to learn smart objects when your deadline is 45 minutes from now. That would not be a good time to try and grasp how smart objects work. So when you have a lunch hour, just want experiment to make a new document at a layer and put something on that layer like a rectangle. Something simple, right? Click on that layer and shoes convert to smart object. At first, nothing will happen other than thumbnail changes, but Now, if I want to paint on that change the color of it, everything I do, it's gonna be like, No, can't do it because it doesn't technically exist there. It's now protected inside our magical container. So to be able to edit that in any way, I have to double click and you see, when I open it, all it opens is filled with red because the only thing on that layer is that Red Square. So that's all that can meet, really Show me. So if I wanted to change it and again, this is just me being careful, I would make another layer and, you know, make some change and hit save and then come back and see that it's updated. If I want to alter that Aiken, hide this or I could move it half off the bottom or whatever I do As soon as I hit save, then it's gonna update over here, and that's the part that I would suggest. We need to invest a bit of time just kind of getting used to the back and forth because it is quite different. We're so used to saying this is my document and it still is, is the document that has another important aspect that contents file. We don't see it. In other words, Once I closed this contents document and save this document, that smart object is embedded inside of it, including all the contents. So I have to go worrying about did ice. It's not like a linked file is just part of it. So that means that generally speaking, smart object documents or smart object based documents are larger file sizes because we're having to incorporate all this extra information. But again, to me, that's a small price to pay for all the advantages that it gives me. So I would suggest the people that are kind of going I'm not quite sure I grasp how this whole smart object editing thing works to start up something really simple, whatever it might be. And let's just add some text, you know something so anything you change, you hit saved update the contents document, and it will update over here. But now, if I wanted to move the text, nothing to move except the overall thing, so I to get to the individual pieces, I need to go back to the contents file Edit contents. Now it's subtle, but if you look at the file names to do that very well, hold on a second. So my I haven't saved this one yet, But if this was a save document, it would say untitled one dot p s d for Photoshopped document. If you look very closely at the name of the contents filed its dot ps B. That's the Onley little clue. If you're ever lost in going, wait a minute. Which one is which? There's two ways you can tell this one, because it's my container has just what looks like one layer with that little thumbnail on it. The contents document is called dot psb, and that's where I see my actual layers. So once you go back and forth a few times and get used to that principle, most people either clicks right away or they go. I don't know if I could deal with this because it's so different. I found personally, it took a little time because it was so different. But now even think about anymore. It's just because there's so many possibilities that gives me I didn't have before that it's worth investing the time to get used to this back and forth kind of thing.

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Smart Objects Workbook

Ratings and Reviews


Clear explanation of smart objects and smart filters in depth including a wide variety of options. Demonstrations show how to use and why these functions are so valuable. Dave is a great teacher, with excellent pacing and explains every salient detail. Very highly recommended.


Very informative class that provides great insight into a concept I was completely unaware existed. Pace was good and Dave presentation style was great.

Beatriz Stollnitz

Dave explains smart objects, from the very basics to more advanced scenarios, in his usual clear and simple style. A great class!

Student Work