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Why Photoshop Smart Objects Rock

As a professional graphic designer who has used Adobe Photoshop extensively, there are many things I’ve picked up over the years. The one point I’m going to share with you today is how to use Smart Objects to their full potential. Let’s get started.

This Is What It’s Like When Smart Objects and Layer Styles Collide

Anyone who is familiar with photoshop has experienced some of the power of layer styles, but what many users might not know is that you can add additional layer styles on top of the ones you’ve already added. This can be done by turning the layer into a Smart Object.

This is a great option for when you want to have an all-inclusive layer with styles that are still editable. What exactly can we do with something like this? Well, let’s say we want to have a harsh shadow below our layer, but we’d also like to have a harsh shadow above the layer without having it on the sides. First we’ll add a drop shadow with an angle of 90° on our layer.

Exhibit 1aNext we’ll turn the layer into a Smart Object. Now we just need to add a drop shadow with an angle of -90° to the Smart Object. Then we’re done; it’s as simple as that. We now have a solid shadow both above and below our object, without the side shadows.

Exhibit 1bOr, let’s say we have a layer of which styles include a one pixel stroke, and an inner shadow.

Exhibit 2aWhat if we want to add a bit of depth to our layer, but with an angled glow on the top? We will just turn this layer into a Smart Object and then add another inner shadow, then set to ‘screen’. Now we have two inner shadows on one single layer, both of which are completely editable in the future.

Exhibit 2bIf You Liked It, Then You Should Have Put A Filter On It

One of the many things that makes the Smart Object feature so powerful is the ability to add editable filters to a layer. If you have used Photoshop filters in the past, then undoubtedly you have run into the problem of wishing you hadn’t added certain filters toward the end of a project, with your only options being to either leave as is, or undergo the sometimes rigorous task of recreating the layer. Well have no fear folks, for we have Smart Objects! With the original content safe and sound inside the Smart Object, edits are no longer so difficult. Using our example from before, we will add a gaussian blur filter to our layer. At first glance it appears to function the same as always. However, you’ll notice in the layers panel that we now have something called a “Smart Filter” on our layer. With Smart Filters you can choose to have your filter on or off, or you could completely edit the value of your original filter.

Exhibit 3aWalk This Way – Practical Uses

You may be wondering, “What are some everyday uses of Smart Objects?” Well, one of the most popular and convenient uses of Smart Objects is the ability to skew and transform your designs while retaining the ability to edit them. Once something is a Smart Object, you are able to then bend, twist, stretch, and squash to your heart’s content, all the while keeping your original piece of art perfectly untouched.

Another great little tip that most people don’t realize, is how Smart Objects act as instances of the original. If you are familiar with Adobe Flash this will be a relatively familiar concept and become a welcomed addition to your Photoshop workflow. When you duplicate a smart object, both layers are actually a copy of the same content. Meaning, that when you open one Smart Object and make an edit, it gets applied to both.

Why is this important? In doing this you only have to make one change that then gets applied to all instances of that element. For example, let’s say you are designing a website and all of your buttons are blue.  You spent time meticulously designing the style to be applied to these buttons, and then you get that dreadful email from the client, requesting to change the blue buttons to now be orange buttons; if you utilized Smart Objects, you can make one single color change, and all of your buttons will then update automatically.

Exhibit 4aHopefully now you have a better understanding of just how helpful Smart Objects can be in your every day Photoshop workflow. Now go – Go and show the world what you have learned here today!

About the author

Eric Kaufman