The Smart Object is one of Photoshop’s most useful tools for design development, particularly for creators working collaboratively. This tutorial will help outline the basics of Smart Objects, how to create them, and best practices for using them in your work. A properly made Smart Object is a necessity for Photoshop templates to allow users to replace an image or design.
On this page:
General: What Are Smart Objects? | What Can You Do with Smart Objects?
Instructions: How to Make an Embedded Smart Object | Mockup Walkthrough & Best Practices
Final Touches: Smart Object Quality Checklist
What Are Smart Objects?
Smart Objects protect the content of an image or design, which allows you to alter the design in the working file without affecting the original content; this is also known as non-destructive editing.
In templates, Smart Objects are used frequently in the construction of mockups in order to make replacing images, designs, and text easy. In collaborative work, Smart Objects are often used to replace images within a design, while protecting the details of how the images interacts with other elements within the file.
What Can You Do with Smart Objects?
- Transform images and designs without affecting the quality of the original image/design content. You can scale, rotate, skew, distort, perspective transform, or warp a layer. without losing original image data. No more transformations that result in pixelization!
- Apply filters without affecting the original image or design. You can edit filters applied to Smart Objects at any time without losing the quality of your content.
- Apply a layer mask to a Smart Object layer. (Read our post about masks here.)
- Perfect the layout and treatment of various designs with trial or placeholder images that you can later replace with final images.
- Edit one Smart Object and automatically update all its linked copies.
How to Make an Embedded Smart Object
There are several different ways to make an embedded Smart Object within Photoshop. Smart Objects can be created from scratch, from layers within the file, or from external images and designs.
- To import new files, such as photos, as Smart Objects: Choose File > Place Embedded
- To start a file with a Smart Object: Choose File > Open As Smart Object, then select a file within your browser window, and click Open.
- To convert a selected layer into a Smart Object: Choose Layer > Smart Object > Convert to Smart Object
- To bundle multiple layers into one Smart Object: Select all desired layers and choose Layer > Smart Objects > Convert To Smart Object
- Although it is possible to create “nested” Smart Objects, or place a Smart Object within another Smart Object, we recommend against this practice. Especially if multiple designers are working on a file, nesting smart objects becomes confusing and could result in broken links within the file.
Mockup Walkthrough & Best Practices
To create a basic mockup using Smart Objects, first you need an image that will serve as your backdrop, preferably with an element you’d like to replace (i.e. a billboard, business card, or a phone screen).
1. Use the selection tool to highlight the part of the image you’d like to replace. Try to make the layer match the shape you’re replacing as closely as possible. Right click on that selection and choose New Layer Via Copy (or select Layer > New > Layer Via Copy).
2. Turn the new layer into a Smart Object (Choose Layer > Smart Object > Convert to Smart Object).
- Make sure the layer is in .psb format and is embedded within the file—not an externally saved .jpg.
3. In the working .psd file, apply all necessary transformations to achieve proper angle and appearance. The intention is for the smart object to look natural in the scene.
4. Create a Clipping Mask on the Smart Object layer in the .psd file to clean up the edges of your shape.
5. To test the efficacy of your work, try replacing the image or design in the Smart Object file. If it updates in the .psd file without warping or distorting, it’ll work for anyone else who uses that file!
Smart Object Quality Checklist
Finally, it’s best practice to quality check projects before finalizing and submitting your work. By double-checking your files, you can ensure that your design can easily be used and updated by others. Here are some of the quality checks we recommend:
- Make sure the Smart Object is in .psb format, and not an embedded .jpg, .tif, or .png file; otherwise, other creators won’t be able to use your design.
- Try replacing the image or design within Smart Object. Does the file update with the new content? Does it look natural? Great!
Good example of a Smart Object:
Poor examples of a Smart Object:
- If the Smart Object layer is excessively transformed, or if the shape of the open Smart Object .psb doesn’t match the shape of the Smart Object layer in the working file, the image or design will be visibly distorted.
- If there isn’t a mask, or if the mask is ill-fitting, visual elements from the Smart Object will extend beyond the intended working space (in this example, a laptop screen).
Used correctly, Smart Objects not only add to the versatility of a working Photoshop file, but also allow for creators to fine-tune the details of a design while protecting a selection of the content.
For more information about Smart Objects, please refer to Working with Smart Objects in Photoshop.
Last Published: July 27, 2020