Digital Scrapbook Tutorial | Using Smart Objects

Hello everyone, Ona here to bring you another tutorial featuring products from Captivated Visions. 

This tutorial is the result of a request about Smart Objects, what they are and how can they be utilised in Photoshop. Please note that I am using Photoshop CC 2015 so some of the information may not apply if you are using a different version of PS but the capabilities of Smart Objects will certainly be applicable.

PSE 13 and 14 have Smart Objects but they do not behave the same as in Photoshop CC. Some items that are dragged from the Photo Bin onto a layer will turn into a Smart Object but the only function they have is to prevent loss of quality if they are resized continuously. So while you can resize a Smart Object in PSE 13 & 14 without loss of graphical quality, you can not edit them as in deleting a part of the item, painting it or using a gallery filter on it. To carry out any of those editing processes you need to Simplify the layer by going to Layers>Simplify. For PSE users this can be both frustrating and confusing to say the least when they hear of how great Smart Objects can be in Photoshop! All is not lost however, there are a few plug-ins that can be used to give PSE users some tangible assistance.  One particular plug-in that I use in my PSE14 and recommend is called Elements XXL. This will give you a basic version of the Smart Objects capability available in PS CC. Elements XXL works quite well and gives PSE users the ability to create a Smart Object and then to edit the items as you would normally, but of course it will not have the full capabilities associated with PS CC. The plug-in is affordable, easily installed and integrates into the PSE user interface seamlessly. If you want to find out more about it then simply Google Elements XXL.

Smart Objects were introduced in Photoshop CS2 and have become a useful tool for photographers and digital scrapbookers alike. It's main claim to fame is the ability to allow non-destructive editing of not only the images but of the filters applied to an image as well. It is also an invaluable tool when a number of like images need to be edited or the image replaced completely without losing any effects you have already applied to it.

I use Smart Objects a lot and here is a page I created. It may not look any different initially but since I have started using Smart Objects I find my workflow to be a lot faster and I know that the resolution will not have diminished when I go to print my pages out as I am continuously resizing stuff as I create as I love to experiment!

What are Smart Objects?
When an image is converted to a Smart Object, the raw data for the image is saved within the Photoshop PSD file itself. This means that any type of editing that is carried out on the image can be undone without losing the original quality of the image. When editing an ordinary Photoshop layer, most editing is destructive in the sense that a certain amount of quality is lost and can not be reclaimed when you undo the edit. 

Why Use Smart Objects?
Using Smart Objects for your images in most cases makes sense, especially when you will be editing the image using various techniques. For instance, resizing an image to a smaller size and then enlarging it again can make your image look less sharp or pixelated.  This is because a certain amount of image data is deleted when an image is resized to a smaller size. If you then want to enlarge it again, Photoshop cannot replace the original deleted data and can only take a guess at what data was lost. Converting the image to a Smart Object first and then carrying out the resizing will not degrade the image data at all as all the original information is contained in the PSD layer itself.

The example below shows a Sunflower PNG file from Rachel's  Stand Tall Darling: Kit  that I resized. The flower on the left was left as is while the one on the right was changed to a Smart Object. Using the transform tool I resized both images to around a 1" square and applied the transform. I then resized them back to their original size and you can see the loss of quality quite clearly. 

After confirming the transform I enlarged the flower and had a closer look and the the flower on the left (not a Smart Object) has certainly lost its original sharpness.

The point here is that if you are planning on resizing your photo or an element/embellishment a lot during your creative process then it would be better to convert it to a Smart Object before doing so, especially if you plan to print the layout out at some time.

Converting a layer to a Smart Object.
Creating a Smart Object is as simple as right-clicking on the layer and selecting the Convert to Smart Object command. On the layer panel you will then note that a small symbol has been placed in the corner, as shown below. This symbol can be double-clicked to edit the Smart Object instead of accessing from a drop down menu as I have mentioned further on.

You can also create them by simply dragging and dropping items onto your canvas if you change your Preferences as shown below:

I have mine set with this preference so I don't forget to convert them myself.

I have mine set with this preference so I don't forget to convert them myself.

As with most Photoshop techniques, once you learn the basics of Smart Objects and start to use them on a daily basis, you can then move on to explore the more powerful ways that Smart Objects can be used to give you that creative edge. 

Smart Objects and Smart Filters.
Smart Objects come into their own when used in conjunction with Smart Filters as they can really give you a lot more control over your editing choices, allowing you to go back to tweak and change various changes whenever you need to. In the previous tutorial we looked at applying various Filters and Effects Basics that were available in Photoshop and I mentioned the fact that once you apply a filter to a layer it could not be changed unless it was first converted to a Smart Object. So if you are planning to apply filters to a particular layer then it would make a whole lot of sense to convert it to a Smart Object first.

When a filter gallery effect has been used on the Smart Object layer, you will notice an additional white rectangle/square below the layer's thumbnail in the layers panel, this is the Smart Filter Masking area. The white square is a MASK which can be used to mask out the effects of the gallery filter/s applied to that particular layer.

In the example below I applied a drop shadow effect,  four gallery filters and a Levels adjustment:

(1) The area designated by the RED border (above) will display all the effects/adjustments that have been assigned to the Smart Object layer. The white square with the words 'Smart Filters' next to it indicates that filters from the Filter Gallery have been applied and when clicked will take you back into the Filter Gallery to edit of any of those filters, or to apply another one. 

(2) These small double rings also indicate that filter effects have been applied to this layer and will be seen if the Smart Filter area has been minimised. It will appear next to the Fx symbol if you also have a style effect on that layer. The little arrow to the right is used to either hide (minimise) or show the Smart Filters area (within the red border above). 

(3) The eye symbol is used in the same way as for a normal layer, clicking it to either hide or show the various effects you have used on that layer. Double clicking on the actual text will open the effect for editing. 

Editing a Smart Object.
There are two types of Smart Objects that can be created in PS CC, a Linked Smart Object Layer or a NON-Linked one. The differences are explained below.

Linked Smart Object Layers
A powerful feature of Smart Objects is the ability to selectively edit a number of items by only editing one of them. Think of those clusters you create, you bring a flower in and duplicate it a few times and position them on your page. As you progress you realise that the flower would have looked better in a different colour or with a different drop shadow OR even a different flower! By converting the first flower layer into a Smart Object and then duplicating that layer you are able to edit them all at the same time or change the flower for another item completely, simply by editing just one of the flower layers. Pretty awesome I think!

In Photoshop CC Smart Objects are linked by default so when you edit any one of those layers, the other layers will be changed accordingly.

Editing a Linked Smart Object Layer:
1. Create a Smart Object layer and duplicate it (how many times you like). I have duplicated a flower four times, moved the flowers into a different position and then resized some of them, just as I would if I was creating a layout.

**NOW think about the type of editing you want to do. Remember that these layers are all automatically linked so any editing you do in the next step will be carried out on ALL of the other layers. For instance if I change the colour in the editing screen, ALL of the other layers will end up the same colour. If you want the flowers to be individually coloured then you need to do that as you would normally. With drop shadows, if you add them in the editing screen then all the other layers will have the same shadow. So just have a think about what you actually want to do first.**

2. To edit the smart object right click on one of the layers and select the Edit Contents command from the menu.

OR simply double click on the Smart Object symbol in the bottom right corner of the layer.

OR simply double click on the Smart Object symbol in the bottom right corner of the layer.

3. This layer will now (1) open in its own window for you to carry out your changes. (2) Treat this as a mini PSD file within your layout file. You can edit the original item OR replace it with something totally different at this stage but there is another way of replacing which is even quicker which I will cover in the next step. This is really a time saver!

4. When you are finished, use the Close X in the top right hand corner of the object's window (3 above), PSCC will ask whether you want to save this, click Yes.

5. PS CC will then take you back to your layout and all your other Smart Object layers will now be changed. In my example I changed the colour of the flower.

Tip: If you are using Smart Objects for cluster work, you can keep your layout tidy by placing all 'alike' layers in their own folder.

Replacing a Linked Smart Object Layer.
As I mentioned earlier, if you want to replace the contents completely on a Smart Object layer, not just edit it, the command to use is the Replace Contents. It is accessed the same way as for the Edit Content command, right click on the layer and select Replace Contents. This time you will be directed to your folders to select another item to replace the item you already have. 

In the example below I opened a little orange paper flower from Rachel's  Stand Tall Darling: Kit converted it to a Smart Object and duplicated the layers 3 times. I then moved the flowers around and changed some of the colours and resized a couple of them in the normal way. Using the Replace Contents command I then replaced the flower with a yellow button from the same kit, note how the button retains the colours I had applied and the sizes, resizing in ratio to its own size as well.

Create a NON-Linked Smart Object Layer.
In some instances you may want to work with each Smart Object layer individually. For example, you may have a photo that you want to transform using a plug-in, as well as another copy to use with another filter gallery effect, thinking to then combine the two with blending or masking options (see example below).  You wouldn't duplicate the Smart Object layer as before as changing one photo would also change the second copy. 

To create a copy of the Smart Object layer without linking, right click on the layer in the layers palette and select the New Smart Object Via Copy command.


Editing a NON-Linked Smart Object Layer:
Edit the Smart Object following the steps above for the linked Smart Object, but remember that the edits will only be carried out on the layer you selected, the other Smart Object layer will not be affected.

As always let me finish this tutorial off with some Captivating Sista inspiration!

By Anja: "When I start a layout I never know from the start where I want to end up. Smart Objects allow me to play around with sizes and filters in a non-destructive way and that gives me maximum flexibility. Filters applied to Smart Objects become Smart Filters and you can turn them on and off to see what would look best... or edit them again if you're not happy with them."

Smart Objects are a very useful and powerful tool in PS CC.  As well as retaining the quality of your images, they can also speed up your workflow. In the future I will explore Smart Objects a little bit more but I hope you have found this tutorial useful in getting started in using them yourselves. 

Until next time,
Ona.