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Smart Objects

Lesson 34 from: Foundations of Adobe Photoshop CC

Dave Cross

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Lesson Info

34. Smart Objects

Lesson Info

Smart Objects

A number of times throughout what we've talked about so far. There's been times where I've; it's hard to not do things a certain way but I wanna follow kind of a structure and say, you need to learn about all these things, but in the back of my head I'm thinking, oh if I just use the smart object there, it'd be so much easier, but we haven't covered that yet, so now we are. Someone asked the question, I forget who it was earlier that said, "If you transform something smaller, "can you then transform back up again "without losing quality?" And by nature, the answer is no. But if you use this thing called a smart object, the answer becomes yes. So that's one of the main reasons we do it, is because it changes the way that objects work in Photoshop. This is a topic that could easily go on for hours and hours and I happily do that at many events where I just talk about smart objects forever but, I just want to get you started that even as someone who's early on and using Photoshop there ar...

e times where understanding what smart objects do and when you might use them are useful. And also I will say that, I touched on this earlier, we'll get into more detail now that the biggest part for many people of smart objects is when you make a smart object using filters also become smart, which really just means much more editable than they normally are. So let's talk about that first. Normally in Photoshop, you have a photograph and you decide you're gonna apply a filter. So this is the, I would call it old way, don't do it this way anymore so don't write this part down. (chuckles) So I go and I say I'm gonna do a gaussian blur and I'm gonna over-blur everything and I click okay. And when you look, well now my background layer is just blurred, so I have a few issues. One of which is, A, I can't change my mind. B, I have no idea how much I blurred it and I really only meant to blur parts of the image, not the whole thing. So all those means, not a great idea. What some people used to do and some people still do this, and I will show this method so you can see why while it works, it's still not ideal, is they would duplicate the layer, because this is a technique that many people use thinking it's gonna help them which, on the surface it does but it's still not the best idea; in fact, I still meet many people who've been using Photoshop for years who say, "Soon as I open an image I duplicate the background layer." I'm like, "That I would say, was the 1999 way to do it." Ish. Because while it worked, it still wasn't great. So here's, to show you the difference. I still go in and I still do a blur, so now I still have a really blurry layer. The only difference is at least I have a backup layer so I can delete this top layer and go over the one below. So that's slightly better, but the problem is, even if I decided for some reason I liked this blurriness, if I open this photograph six weeks from now and say how much did I blur that? I don't know. It's just blurry pixels, it doesn't tell me. There's no history now for me to do that. So instead, what I tend to do, is as soon as I open a background photo, if I think I'm gonna do some things to it, I'm gonna convert for smart filters. Now just so you know, 'cause we'll talk about this. Convert for smart filters is another way of saying convert to smart object. So it's the same thing, so later on when I go somewhere else and say, convert to smart object, it's exactly the same concept. All that happens at first is our layer changes name, typically to something like layer zero and there's a little thumbnail, a little icon on the thumbnail to tell me this is smart. So now if I go and apply the same blur. Acts the same way, but the difference when I click okay. Now right underneath it it says, "Smart filter, gaussian blur." So right away it looks better, because it suggests to me I have more control. What can I do with that? Well the first thing is I'm gonna say, you know what, I don't really want the blur after all. So anything with layers, if there's an eye icon, you can hide it. So you can hide and show it. I can also say, well how much did I blur it and do I want to edit that? So if I double-click where it says gaussian blur, it brings back whatever filter I applied with whatever settings I use. So for the first part it reminds me that I blurred it this amount. It also means I can say, well maybe that was a bit heavy-handed, let me put it down to this instead, and click okay. I'm gonna actually put it back up again so you can see the next function more easily. The other thing I can do which is not possible very easily at all in any other way. See over to the far right there's another little icon here, right beside where it says gaussian blur? If you double-click on that, it opens up, I missed it. Double-click on that, he said. There we go. It brings up this little dialog, it says "blending options [Gaussian Blur]." And right now it says normal 100%. So the way you have to think about this, when we talked about layers and we saw in the layers panel there was opacity and blend modes. This is the same thing, but for just the filter not the content of the layer. So in other words I can say, well maybe I don't really want it to be 100% blurry. I want to lower the opacity. So now I get this really cool soft focus effect that frankly is really hard to do any other way. So instead of all the other methods people would do to try and get this to work now, sometimes I'll deliberately blur more than you'd think I should 'cause it looks so blurry on the screen knowing I'm gonna go in and lower the opacity, so it's almost like the filter's on its own layer. It isn't actually, but that's the way you need to think about it. So these controls are controlling just the filter, not anything else. So I'm not making the layer see-through. I'm making the filter see-through, which is really interesting because one of the things it does, is it frankly takes filters that in the past I would've never used because they were kind of obnoxious with their result, but now I'll apply it knowing I can make some changes by lowering opacity or something like this. Here's those same blend modes we talked about with layers, so I can change the blend mode to multiply. See how that's made a dramatic different; it's the same blur, but now it's saying take that blur but multiply it instead of just be normal. So as you start going through every single filter now, very different I mean, think about it. A second ago, that was so blurry you couldn't see what it was. Now it looks very different. Just by going in and changing to overlay and I could also and maybe lower the opacity. So then when I click okay, now, I still have the original layer untouched. But now I have this effect that I can continue to edit in multiple ways. I can still double-click and say, what if I blur it even more now or less? I can always go back here and readjust these settings and I'm gonna put it back to normal for a second so you can see the other option. See this big white thing right here? Doesn't that look a lot like a layer mask? It's a mask, it just happens to be a filter mask. So the same principles apply. With a layer mask, we paint with black to hide parts of the layer. With a filter mask we paint with black to hide the effects of the filter. So now if I decide I really like this effect but I don't really want her face to be affected quite so much or her body, whatever, now I can decide where I want the filter applied. Now just like an adjustment layer, where we made a selection first and made a mask out of that, the same thing applies here. If before I had applied the filter I'd made a selection of her, then it would only apply the filter to her or I could inverse it and make it the opposite. So the bottom line with smart filters is, use them. 'Cause the any other way of using filters is so clunky and now uneditable and you don't have any level of control. Any time I see someone just say, "I'm just gonna apply a filter to this layer," and they just do it straight I'm like, oh gosh. It'd be so much better if you just converted that for smart filters and now everything you do about that filter is editable. And it stays that way. So again, save this as a PSD file, I come back six months from now and go, "That's kind of a cool effect, how did I do it?" Well it's all there. I just look and say, how much was the gaussian blur, how much, oh I changed it to overlay, oh I did paint it on the masse, so all those settings are built in just like any other kind of layer. So it takes filters from being a one-shot deal to just another part of what we can edit through the layer's panel. So would you advise, if you add a couple of effects, would you do a brand new filter or would you put them on the same filter? Well that's a good question. The one constraint we had with smart filters is you can add as many smart filters as you want to the same one layer. But the only catch is, there's always only one mask. In other words, you can't have on the same layer a gaussian blur with a mask and something else with a mask. So if I added now for example, I don't know let's do something probably bad but so you can see it. Add noise. Hold on a second. Try that again. Add noise. So you see how the noise is only outside, not on her because of being affected by the same mask. Which you might want, but if you wanted that to be different, then you couldn't do it that way and then you start having to say, well now I have to make a different one, so. On the surface level, the answer is you can have as many smart filters as you want and sometimes you might have five to get the effect you want, understanding that all those five smart filters will share the same mask. Which might work but if it doesn't, then you have to come up with an alternate plan. When this first appeared the most common question was, to Adobe, "Can we please have one mask for each filter?" And the response was something like, "Until we all have super computers on our desk, no." 'Cause apparently the computational things would be just so immense that it would probably slow your computer down to the point where you would throw it out the window. That's one of the things where that's just the way it works. But there's so many possibilities with this because, let me throw this away. Show you an example of one that, a filter that I used to joke about in my classes because it was just goofy, I'm like, "Who would ever use this? "Ha ha ha." And it's called, stylize ... Find edges. Oh by the way, here's a little tip about filters when you're first starting out. Notice under this list, all these filters you see like diffuse, dot dot dot, emboss, dot dot dot, extrude dot, find edges. So anytime you see a filter with no dot dot dot or ellipses at the end, that means I'll just do it. You don't have any choices. So any filter that just has the name of it means you won't see a dialogue box that says, "How would you like this to happen?" It just goes, "I'll find the edges for you." Isn't that lovely? And as you can imagine, you'd probably wanna use that just about everyday in your work 'cause it's so, so nice. That always was the problem with find edges. Well, here you go. That's it. Some people would try and make tutorials that would find a way to use it but it always seemed kind of like they're just reaching for a reason to justify why this is here. So one day when smart filters came along I just kind of went, oh just out of curiosity I wonder what would happen if I went to these blending options and tried something like, I don't know, multiply. And all of a sudden it was like oh. That's actually kind of interesting, because it's changing the look. So now it's starting to look a little more painterly than it was before. It was just weird before. And maybe if I lowered the opacity a bit. Or maybe if I try overlay. Maybe, I'm not sure. But the point is, at least there's something there now. Where before, this filter was kind of like the joke filter. There's a few uses for it but it's kind of a little odd, especially because, after awhile when you use filters you find that it's frustrating to have a filter that has no options. So anytime you go under filter menu and see just a name it's kinda like oh. Which reminds me to say. Sorry I gotta throw this away 'cause it doesn't look good like that. A lot of filters you'll see sets. And this is beyond whether your smart filters or not, just in general. See under blur, I have blur, blur more, and they just have no little dot dot dot, so that means it's just gonna blur it. How much? I don't know. And I can't think of too many reasons why you'd ever want to just say, "You go ahead and blur it for me. "I don't care what the settings are." Personally I would, if there are alternate choices. Like in the case of find edges there isn't another similar one, but here for example, I would go to gaussian blur because it has settings. Or I would try some other one where you see that dot dot dot and know there are some settings you can use. The good news is, if you do some filter, whatever it might be, like motion blur. And let me point out the fact that as a habit I almost had to remind myself to say it. Remember when we talked about adjustment layers and I said I often deliberately over-adjust before I mask? I do exactly the same thing here. I'm probably not gonna blur, motion blur anywhere near that much, but I'd rather overdo it so I can clearly see what's happening. Now, go back into my filter mask and use my paintbrush and start painting a little bit and see what I get. It still looks a little odd. I'm deliberately not going to the outer extremities here. Now that I've done that, now I think I'll come back and pull it back a little bit more and see if I like that better. So it's kind of the same idea; if you do a very subtle little filter, and you're trying to mask and you're still going, "I'm not really seeing "any difference here so, why not." Since you can, it's temporary, so temporarily overdo it. Over-blur, over-whatever it is you're doing. Then play around with those settings like the blending modes, opacity, et cetera. Mask, all those things you wanna do and then once you've done that, just double-click to open it back up and put it down to a more reasonable number. And the reason I stress that so much is because I realized I was spending much longer than I needed to be, because I would make a subtle little change with the blur and then be painting around going, oh this mask, it's really hard to see. So, make it easier to see. Deliberately overdo it so it's easier to see what you're doing and then pull it back and you might find sometimes I've discovered by accident or some people call it a happy accident, where I deliberately over-blurred something. For example, thinking I'm gonna set it back, but once I try the combination of say like, overlay at 50% I'm like, "That actually looks "really cool, I'm not gonna even bother "changing the blur because it looks pretty cool "the way I use that combination of settings." The nice part is, broken record time, as long as you save it as a PSD file, the next time you open it, you've got access to all of that. If you have a series of photographs that look the same way it's even possible to copy from one to another so you're not redoing the same filter all from scratch you're copying that same information over, so there's lots of ways we can implement this in different ways. So that's the smart filter part, and then we're gonna continue talking about that in other ways but that's the basic principle of it. As I mentioned, the biggest thing you have to be aware of and it was brought up through a question is that, while you can add as many smart filters to the same layer as you want there's only one mask. And unfortunately, if you want to on the same photograph have say, some parts sharp and some parts blurry, that's a much more complicated work around than we can go through today, 'cause I know at least two or three brains would just go, I have no idea what you just said. 'Cause it's much more complex. So just be aware that for now, starting out, you just have to keep that in mind that, and it only comes into play if you're actually using the mask; sometimes you don't need to, it's just doing two or three smart filters you get the results you want, great. Just leave it that way and the mask stays put and you're fine, okay. So, let's talk a little bit about how smart objects themselves kind of tie into this whole thing. So here I have a simple logo. It's just a piece of clip art. Colorize, and I wanna use it somewhere else. So I'm gonna take my move tool. Just tap the letter V for move and drag that into this other photo, which of course makes a new layer. So let's get a little closer here. So here's what happens before the world of smart objects. If I were to, for example decide the logo was a little big, I wanna scale it down. So as we've seen before, I use this command called free transform. And I'll tell you, it's causing me, I have to make an extra effort to remember to go under this menu to show you 'cause my fingers just wanna go command or control T, 'cause that's just a habit but I want to see where it is. And it has these nice little handles of course and you hold the shift key and you can strain it down. Say I want the logo to be this big. But here's the deal, as soon as you hit enter, that's now 100% size. So there's no record in Photoshop of anything else. If I move on and do anything else. Now if I undo it right away I'm fine. But if I move on and do 10 other steps, I close and save this, that's the new size of my logo in this document. So if later on I went, oh you know what I shouldn't have scaled it that small. Let me just transform it back up again. You can see it doesn't look very good. Because now it's inventing pixels to try and put it back up to size. So the nature of pixels in Photoshop, without you doing anything unusual is you can certainly scale it down and the quality will be pretty nice. But you try and scale it up again, it's gonna lose quality. That's just the nature of the way it works. So here's where smart objects come into play a little bit. Up until now I've only used smart objects for smart filters and the fact that Camera Raw has this smart ability. But you can take a layer, or as we'll see, multiple layers and make them into this thing called a smart object. What that does, the best way I can think of to describe it to you, 'cause what makes sense to me when I first started looking at it is it's almost like a special kind of layers. Taking this pixel information, putting it inside a protective container. So now, I can do all these things to it. It's a magical container, by the way. Because I can do things like scale it down, but it still remembers inside that container, I'm actually this big. Even though I now look like I'm really small, I still remember my original size. So that way you can put it back again. It also means that things like, anything you do like transforming or anything else you can apply filters to it. Like as we saw a moment ago, but technically inside that container, when I did that blurriness on that girl before, technically inside the container she was still not blurry at all. That was just kind of an overlaid effect. So that's where the smart part comes in, is it kind of remembers. So if I take this layer and I right-click and choose convert to smart object, which as I said is exactly the same as going under the filter menu and choosing convert for smart filters. It's the same end result. 'Cause both make it into a smart object. This has now taken that layer and put it inside this invisible container. And by the way, please don't go looking in Photoshop and search for container, 'cause you won't find that. That's just my word to say it's a container. So now, if I free transform it down really small and hit enter and move on and do 10 other steps and save it and close it then realize later on I wish I hadn't done that, I can hit free transform again and scale it back up again without losing any quality 'cause I'm just putting it back the way it was. Now it's very important to note, this is a smart object, not a magic object so you still can't scale it bigger than it originally was, that doesn't change. You still can't go bigger but at least you can go down and back up to the same size. You can't then say, now let me make it three times bigger, 'cause you'll still lose quality. But this is what it does for you. It allows you to be much more experimental because normally in Photoshop, without smart objects if you transform something, it's a step in your process and your only option is you better undo it right now, 'cause once you do anything else it's too late. With a smart object you can scale it down, do 10 other things, go you know what? I don't like it that small, let me put it back again. And everything else will still stay in place, you don't have to go back and lose all that other information or all those other things you've done. So that's kind of the principle of smart objects.

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Quick Notes Guide
Landscape Image for Practice Edit
Senior Portrait Missing Element for Practice Edit
Senior Portrait With Element for Practice Edit

Ratings and Reviews


I really like Dave's methodical teaching style. Step by step works best for my learning processes. He also has a lovely voice to listen to during his classes, that is important if you have to listen to someone talk for any length of time. I also like the "dance" he does by explaining what he is going to do, then does it, and then comes back to explaining the choices he made and why. Very, very easy to follow him in his straight forward explanations. He increased my understanding of so many tools I use and so many I have never used. Wow! Photoshop with Dave took away a lot of "fear"! (Wish I had a "happy face" to place here!) I bought this class today because I don't think I can get along without it!


A writer and an old person (over 60), I rarely use neat exaggerations like "great" or "fantastic," and never say "awesome" in the currently fashionable manner. However, I would call this class both great and excellently planned. Cross is well-spoken and a consummate teacher with a rarely non-irritating voice. It is information packed, clearly presented, well-organized, and extremely helpful. I wish I could afford his others.

Jim Bellomo

I was so lucky to get to attend this class in person here in Seattle. I have been a fan of Dave's for years and own a number of his courses from Creative Live. When this class was announced I almost decided to skip it since it was listed as a "beginners" class but decided that it "might" be worth it. One of the reasons I wanted to take it was that I am self-taught. I had started with Photoshop 5 (not CS5 but 5) about 15 years ago (at least). I figured it I took this class I might learn a little something that would help me in my work. Well, two days later I have 18 pages of handwritten notes, a whole new way to work and it has already paid off in a huge way in my daily workflow. I bill out my hours at around $100 an hour as a graphic designer and marketing person. That means in the two days that I spent 10 hours a day taking the class and commuting to it, it cost me about $2000 in working time. But it didn't. I can guarantee that I am way ahead on this one. I l learned so much. The real world things I learned will pay off for a very long time. Within one day after the class I had already started changing my workflow to be more non-destructive and faster. Dave is an awesome teacher and I can't say enough good things about this class. Even if you think you know Photoshop, you don't. I teach it in my small world but I learned so much.

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