February 2021 // The Post-Production Edition

Unlock the Power of Smart Objects in Photoshop | David Byrd


On every single commercial job that I have done, there is a creative team of talking heads that has very different opinions about how I should perform as their hired talking Photoshop monkey. Granted, as part of the proofing stage of the work they have commissioned, edits will likely be made. But what they don’t tell you is that they are, at any point in the process, going to ask for slight changes and alterations to what you have done. Unfortunately, you cannot rely on their requests to fall in the realm of the last thing you did in the editing process. They often will want you to make changes to the work you did at the very beginning. If you do not work non-destructively, then you have two viable choices when such a request is made: either save multiple PSD files of your work as you go, or start all over again from scratch.

Smart Objects are the first tool to working non-destructively because not only do they allow simple changes to be made to steps like reducing the highlights of that image, but they also will store many of the adjustments and filters you use on your image as Smart Filters. These Smart Filters do not actually make the change to the image directly; rather, they store those adjustments like a catalog on the Object and you can return to them at any point and make further adjustments. This simple addition to your workflow can save you worlds of time and increase your value to commercial clients. Time is money and when the creative team is on the horn with changes, if you can produce those changes quickly, you save them money—and they will hopefully spend that money hiring you for another job.

smart filters

But…Here is the bad news about Smart Objects: Not everything in Photoshop will work with/on a Smart Object. There are filters and steps that simply cannot be taken with a Smart Object because—to bring us full circle—a Smart Object is a file format that Photoshop has not always been engineered to deal with. As Photoshop has evolved, more and more elements of the program have been brought into alignment with each other. This includes the Smart Object file format, but alas, not all things are that progressive in Photoshop. Saving various stages of your work (as a PSD file) is still recommended, but that file can be filled with Smart Objects that allow you more flexibility and control of your own art.

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