Smart Objects are smart layers, and they have been in Photoshop for years. They have been evolving, but few people truly understand them and fewer still take full advantage of them. There are major benefits to learning what Smart Objects offer you and how they can change your workflow. Here are four things Smart Objects can do for you.
1. Change Or Update RAW Conversion Settings. This is perhaps the single biggest reason why everyone should seriously consider using Smart Objects. Whether you’re using Lightroom or Bridge/Photoshop, if, and only if, you acquire a RAW file as a Smart Object, by double-clicking it, you’ll be able to change conversion settings and even update the RAW-processing algorithms to the latest version. Forgot to adjust a setting? Found better settings? Want to take advantage of advances made in the latest process version of ACR? All of these are reasons to use Smart Objects.
To acquire a RAW file as a Smart Object in Lightroom, go to Photo > Edit In > Open As Smart Object In Photoshop. With Adobe Camera Raw, click the blue underlined line at the bottom of the window to access Workflow Options and check Open In Photoshop As Smart Objects, which will set this as a default for opening files. The Open Image button will change to Open Objects. Notice that in Photoshop the bottom layer uses the file name instead of Background, and it contains a small rectangular icon that indicates it’s a Smart Object.
Smart Objects offer two more valuable features, whether a Smart Object is created from a RAW file or from a rasterized layer.
2. Apply Filters Nondestructively. Smart Objects provide Smart Filters that can be reset anytime, offering a much easier way to make future adjustments and a much more flexible workflow. Filter, unfilter and refilter with no penalty; only the final results are applied. A Smart Object can have multiple Smart Filters applied to it. While there’s only one mask for all of them, each Smart Filter can have its own Opacity and Blend Mode setting. (Double-click the double arrow icon to the right of the Smart Filter to activate Blending Options.)
3. Apply Nondestructive Scaling And Distortion To Layers. The full resolution a Smart Object was acquired in can always be reaccessed. So, unlike rasterized layers that suffer progressive degradation with each transformation, you can scale or distort a Smart Object in as many ways and as many times as you like with no additional loss in quality.
4. Blend Multiple Exposures Or Layers With Stack Modes. Smart Objects have Stack Modes (additional blending options above and beyond a layer’s Blend Mode), which can be used for a variety of functions, including reducing noise, eliminating moving objects, creating star trails and much more. While any Smart Object can use any Stack Mode, Stack Modes are particularly useful when multiple layers are combined into a single Smart Object. To do this, highlight the layers to be combined and go to Layer > Smart Objects > Convert To Smart Object. To change a Smart Object’s Stack Mode, go to Layer > Smart Objects > Stack Mode, and choose one of the 11 options. Median and Mean are the most commonly used.
If a Smart Object is created from multiple layers, those layers can be reaccessed by double-clicking the Smart Object. A new window will appear showing only those layers. After making changes to individual layers, close the window and hit Save to return to the original window with the combined Smart Object.