Closer Look at Smart Object Layers in Photoshop CC 2014

Closer Look at Smart Object Layers in Photoshop CC 2014

Smart Object Layers are one of the best Photoshop features. There are tons of PSD templates with very cool effects created using Smart Object Layers. Some of them you can download for free from Creative Cloud Market > For Placement. That's only one of many uses. Starting with Photoshop CC we have Linked Smart Objects which are even better in 2014 Release with ability to choose Layer Comp to be displayed. That's another new and big deal, which can save you lots of time.

Beside my tutorials which are linked in paragraph above I want to recommend you and Richard Curtis post Photoshop 2014 – Deep Dive on Linked Smart Objects and Layer Comps and Julieanne Kost's video tutorial: Linked Smart Objects in Photoshop CC .

Now you know everything. Or almost everything. From my experience it is good to know and how things work. When you know how something work, you can use its full potential.

What are actually Smart Object Layers and how they work

I will try my hands to explain you what are Smart Objects, how they work and what is advantage of using Smart Object Layers.

Smart Object Layers are a special kind of layers or containers. These kind of layers are huge time savers and will increase your efficiency and speed up your workflow. Smart Object Layers will also give you amazing amount of flexibility and forgive you any mistake.

There are some differences between Embedded and Linked Smart Objects. Once you understand Smart Object Layers you will be ready to take full advantage of unique features which are not available in any other image editing software.

Embedded Smart Object Layers

When you use Place Embedded command (Place in prior CC versions), Photoshop will create a container and store original file. What you see on your screen is actually preview with, usually, scaled version. When you convert layer(s) to Smart Object it is the same as using Place Embedded command with only difference that you do not have that layer(s) in some other file on your drive.
Embedded Smart Object Layer in Photoshop

Let's say you have placed original, layered file which has 5000x5000px dimensions and 100MB size in the document which is 2000x1600px.
After placing a file you have scaled it down to 500x500px. What you have is a PSD file with embedded original 5000x5000px plus another, flattened version scaled to 500x500px.
If you save working PSD file with only background layer and the scaled 500x500px version visible on your screen, it will be, logically, huge in size. Why it is huge in size? Because it has embedded 5000x5000px layered file.

What is the advantage of having embedded original file, you will ask. Advantage is that you can scale up and down file as much as you want. Photoshop will always discard preview, go for original (embedded in this case) file and scale it to the desired dimensions. The result is always maximum quality regardless of number of transformations or filters applied.

Let's say you are working in image editing software which does not have Photoshop's Smart Object Layers. You have placed 5000x5000px file and scaled it down to 500x500px.
Next, you have several filters applied. Then you have applied another, perspective transformation.
You look at your work after some time and you realize that first from 3 filters applied is too much.
What you can do? Delete the layer with placed image, place again file, transform it and apply again filters.
In Photoshop you can just double click on the filter name below the Smart Object Layer and change values, everything else will remain in place, as it is.

I think this is enough to understand what is so great with Smart Object Layers, to not continue with: what if after a few days your boss or your client tells you that they want placed file to be larger? Delete existing layer, place again, scale, distort and so on. In Photoshop you can just press Ctrl/Cmd + T and enlarge Smart Object Layer, transformation and filters will be applied automatically. If that's not enough or too much you can change scaling percentage/perspective distortion or reduce/remove filter which is applied. All that in seconds!

So far so good, now we know how great Smart Objects are. What I have mentioned is actually only one part of Smart Object Layers and what we can do to save time and make our life's easier.

The only disadvantage in some cases (as mentioned above) is file size. Well, that is solved with the introduction of Linked Smart Objects. Lets see what is the difference.
Comparison Linked/Embedded Smart Object Layers

Linked Smart Object Layers

Linked Smart Object Layers are introduced in Photoshop CC. The main difference is that Photoshop is not embedding original file what can be huge space and time saver. If you are placing large PSD composition and scaling it down, it can save you a lot of disc space. What you will get in your document is flattened version. The original file will remain on your drive where it was with all its layers and you can change everything you want. After changing original file you can easily update placed Linked Smart Object. Everything else is almost exactly the same as with Embedded Smart Objects and it is covered above.
Linked Smart Object Layers in Photoshop CC

There is also another one difference to bear in mind.

What to bear in mind when working with Linked Smart Objects

There is another difference between Embedded and Linked Smart Object and I want you to read this carefully and to remember. I guess that you already have experience with Smart Objects. If you are not brand new user then you know that double click on Embedded Smart Object Layer will open it in new tab/window.

If you make some permanent, destructive changes, original file on the hard drive will be preserved. Changes will be applied only to embedded version of the original file. I am talking about dodging and burning, for example, directly on layer.

With Linked Smart Objects you are actually opening the original file from hard drive when you double click on Linked Smart Object thumbnail. Photoshop is enough smart and will offer to you to save file with changes you made. It will not offer to you to save file only in case you have applied destructive changes directly on layer. In case you have applied some filter from the Filter Gallery directly on a layer without to convert it to Smart Object first, Photoshop will ask you to save changes and will overwrite the original file. That's the only thing to bear in mind.
Editing Linked Smart Object Layers in Photoshop CC

What if you want to send file with Linked Smart Object Layers? There is a solution and for that: File > Package. Note: this option is grayed out if you do not have Linked Smart Objects in the document. In case you have converted Linked to Embedded Smart Objects (new feature in 2014 Release) after opening the file, Photoshop will display an error message when you try to use the Package command.

Other things worth to know

I want to mention and that Linked Smart Objects depends on external resource and placed file must be on location from where you have placed it. Photoshop does not keep track of content and you can change it as long as the file has same file name and resist in the same location. If you change file name, location or perhaps drive letter, then Photoshop will display a red warning sign. You have 2 options: to use the Resolve Broken Link command (Layer > Smart Objects > Resolve Broken Link) and to basically re-link to file or to use placed file as it is without the advantages of Smart Object Layers. In fact, when you have a red warning on a Linked Smart Object Layer, Photoshop will not allow you to work with that layer without to relink it. Here is the tip: if you have broken link and you do not want to relink to file, use simple solution: Select > Copy > Paste. Another solution is to convert Linked Smart Object with broken link to Smart Object then to rasterize it.

Reference:
Photoshop Help / Work with Smart Objects
Photoshop / Edit Smart Objects

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