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Smart Objects

This new Photoshop CS2 feature brings layer flexibility to another level, allowing you to link from one Photoshop document to another. There are two ways to create a Smart Object from another Photoshop document: use the Place command to import the document, or drag in the layers you need and convert them to a Smart Object. Let's look at both options.

Option One

Here I used the File>Place command to bring a second image into our document. After resizing and pressing Enter, the layer indicates that this is a Smart Object.

I can rotate the image, change the blend mode, lower the opacity, or add a layer effect (you cannot apply adjustments to the Smart Object or use any painting-type tools such as the Brush or the Clone Stamp tool).

Then if I decide I need a different image—but want to preserve all the other changes—I simply use Layer>Smart Objects>Replace Contents and choose a different image. Click OK and the existing Smart Object is replaced with the new image, complete with any changes I made.

Option Two

In the following example, a multilayered document was created to make a small banner for a website.

After Shift-clicking to select all the layers, I used the Move tool (V) to drag the layers into another document. Although I could keep all the separate layers, or put the layers into a Group, in this case I made a Smart Object instead. From Layer>Smart Objects I chose Group into New Smart Object. It looks as though the layers have been merged, and in a sense they have.


However, double-clicking on the newly created Smart Object will open a new document based on your Smart Object. (Note: It is not opening the original document from which I copied the layers, but a different document, in PSB format.)

Any changes I make to the document will be updated automatically by the Smart Object.

You can also select layers in a document and turn them into a Smart Object. It's as simple as selecting them and then choosing Layer>Smart Objects>Group into New Smart Object. The only—and important—difference is that this Smart Object is not based on a separate document. If I double-click to edit the Smart Object, it will open a document that contains the layers in the Smart Object. Edit that document, save it, and the Smart Object will update in the original document.

If you place a Camera Raw file into another Photoshop document, it will also become a Smart Object—after launching the Camera Raw dialog. This means that you can apply the settings you want in Camera Raw, click OK, and then scale it to size in the other document. If you double-click on the Smart Object, it will launch Camera Raw so that you can tweak the settings.

Warning Will Robinson

Warning! If you have taken several layers and used the Group into New Smart Object command, you will see what appears to be one layer. As long as it remains a Smart Object you can access the original layers by double-clicking on the Smart Object symbol. If you attempt to paint on the Smart Object, apply a filter, or use the Clone Stamp tool, you'll get a warning dialog that prompts you to rasterize the Smart Object before you continue.

Be warned that if you choose to rasterize, you will end up with one layer that is the composite of all the layers in the Smart Object. This may be what you had in mind, but if it isn't, click Cancel! There's an option under Layers>Smart Objects>Convert to Layer that might appear to be the answer, but look closely at the name: Convert to Layer, not Layers (plural). Unfortunately, this command also takes your multiple layers and turns them into one layer. In situations like this, the “safest” way to get a Smart Object back into its original layers is to double-click on it, then save the resulting multilayered file under a different name.

Here's another huge advantage of Smart Objects: the ability to scale an image and not lose quality. First, let's look at the “traditional” method: I dragged-and-dropped one photo onto another and scaled the dragged copy to be very small.


Later I decided to make the small photo much larger, but when I use Free Transform to scale up the layer, the quality is very poor.

Look at the difference with a Smart Object: I use the File>Place command to import the Photoshop document, and then scale it way down.

When I decide to scale up the Smart Object, it refers back to the original document, and as long as the original is large enough, it in effect re-imports the image at the larger size without any loss in quality—while preserving any changes you made such as rotating, opacity, and layer effects.

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