Photoshop Top 40, Feature #18: Smart Objects

Do me a brief favor and ignore this feature’s name. Smart objects aren’t all that smart. And they aren’t objects. In other words, smart objects aren’t “smart objects.”

What “smart objects” are is envelopes. The kind that hold things. And keep them safe. Place an image or vector file into one of these envelopes, and nothing you do can cause that file harm. Which means you can apply nondestructive transformations, nondestructive filters, nondestructive everything. The world is your pixel-based oyster.

If you’ve never heard of smart objects, you’re in for a treat. But hold onto your hats, because this video offers way more than you can possibly absorb in a single sitting. Which is why I have an entire 8-hour video series devoted to this one feature. It’s called Photoshop CS4: Smart Objects. And it’s available to you now (right this second) at

All photographs used in this video come to us from image vendor Fotolia. The clouds photo is image #8215336 from Luiz. The lovely curly-haired model is image #12363549 from Valua Vitaly. For an exclusive dekeOnline deal, click this link.

(For a list of all Photoshop Top 40 videos thus far, click here.)

Photoshop Top 40 is available as a downloadable podcast from iTunes. Click here to subscribe. dekePod subscribers will get the videos automatically.

Next entry:Martini Hour 044, In Which Deke Contemplates the Solitary Life of the Artist (over Drinks With Frien

Previous entry:Photoshop Top 40: The Contest


  • Thanks for clearing that up

    A very helpful video as usual, but what was most helpful for me was where you said:

    ‘Do me a brief favor and ignore this feature’s name. Smart objects aren’t all that smart. And they aren’t objects. In other words, smart objects aren’t “smart objects.” ‘

    I always thought I was missing something, now I know I wasn’t

  • No offense…

    ...but with the white stroke the smaller logo looks even more rotten than with the drop shadow :(

    Apart from that, a great help as always. Thanks smile

  • Useful for some

    The smart objects seem useful for some cases, especially if you want to swap out different objects or if you want to provide a ‘package’ of the original assets, but I still am having a hard time getting excited by them.  I mean, PS keeping the original images and you can non-destructively modify them just doesn’t seem to be that ground breaking.
    I do use them, as I tend to resize objects and this prevents compounding degradation. 

    I also had a hard time remembering to use the Place command.  I would naturally go look in Import (or be looking for Open Smart Object in the menu list).


  • Thanks!!

    Thanks for sharing all this info on Photoshop.

  • How comes nobody noticed

    How comes nobody noticed that editing a SmartObject will indeed create a (new) temporary file on disk? They’re not at all “in memory only”, as you, dear Deke, keep repeating grin

    A file is created regardless of its origin and it can be found in the system’s or user’s “temp” folder, sitting there until the “master composition” is finally closed.

    Regular layer(s) converted into a SO become physical *.psb files (“Big File” format) named after that layer once you open them for editing. I presume Adobe’s engineers choose *.psb since a SO (file) may certainly exceed the 4GB limit a standard *.psd woudn’t be able to handle.

    RAW images on the other hand are exported (again) in their native format (dng, cr2, nef, you name it) and passed over to ACR just like Bridge would, and AI files are handled exactly the same way. So the idea of Illustrator turning into a “plugin” for Photoshop is nice, but not the case: Illustrator just opens the file passed over from PS, like PS opens a file passed over from Bridge. Dumb file tracking and API calls happen to do “the magic”.


    Make sure no image is currently open in PS.
    Create a new file, convert “Background” to a SmartObject using your favorit method which gives you the famous “Layer 0”. Doubleclick on its thumbnail to edit the SO. The new image window will read “Layer 0.psb” in its title bar/tab.

    Now choose “File > Save as” and the file dialog will take you to the temp folder and you’ll spot “Layer 0.psb” sitting there. You may “Save as” to this file w/o breaking “the link”—or just cancel out for the sake of this “demo” grin

    With a RAW image based SO doubleclick its thumbnail to bring up the ACR dialog. Click the “Save file” button (bottom left corner) and make sure to select “Same folder” as the target: again you’ll see the name/path of your temp folder.

    On Windoze the (user’s) temp folder is well hidden several folders deep inside the user profile. To browse that folder in Explorer type “%temp%” (w/o the quotes) into the location bar and hit enter/return. Within the mess of other temporary files you’ll also find the SO files.

    So all PS “memorizes” is the temporary file name(s) for each SO edited during a session and the fact it created one in the first place - those files are not even write protected and you can delete right under PS’s nose. If you do so, however, PS won’t open the “SmartObject” again during that file session cause the temp. file is gone. It won’t even complain about a missing file! You need to close and re-open the “master” composition to regain access to the SO, forcing PS to effectively creating a new temporary file.

    I just thought to straighten this out, since you happen to be very “picky” about other technical details.

    Have a nice day.


  • White line artifact?

    The left edge of the model’s image layer still appears in the image, at least in the movie.  How does one eliminate that?

  • That’s a guildeline

    Which you drag out from a ruler in Photoshop.

    It’s nonprinting and not a real part of the image.

    I probably should have hidden it at the end of the video.

  • Foresight

    IS better then hindsight; man you never stop.  Thanks Teach!

    Oh, and by the way, loved your B&W ski trip post!  You did ask “What’s amazing to me is the scant attention I paid to the act of photography during the trip. (I captured at most 300 photos in 7 days; a real photographer would have captured 300 in the first 2 hours.) My battery was giving me the red, blinky BS-still-lasts-for-3-days warning for the first 3 days. And yet, I had a field day in post. A really warm, hot-chocolatey field day, I might add. And really, wouldn’t you rather have a field day inside, where it’s warm and your knees will be safe? With Photoshop.”

    For me, personally all I can say is, sure the post is cozy and fun, yet would I rather… NO WAY!

  • I like the research you’ve done

    While I don’t mention the PSB temps in the Top 40 video, I mention them ad nauseum in my Photoshop CS4 Smart Objects series for

    But my understanding is that the temp files are just that—temporary files that Photoshop generates on-the-fly to satisfy the needs of a specific operation. Photoshop hands off a temp file to Illustrator or Camera Raw, receives the changes from either program, and then sucks the modifications back into the larger Photoshop composition. In time, the temp file disappears, and no one need be (unless they’re going to great lengths to research) the wiser. I would not label this magic, but rather dutiful allocation of resources.

    That said, I wouldn’t characterize smart objects as particularly efficient. They aren’t what you call speedy, they are buffered endlessly and without feedback inside a single comp, and they are indisputably difficult to use. In other words, slow, sloppy, and hard. Oh dear, that doesn’t sound good.

    Fortunately, smart objects make some of Photoshop’s most process-consuming functions flexible, so that you can tweak one layer or effect to satisfy the needs of another. No argument: smart objects could be better—and I hope to see Adobe streamline this feature over, say, the next 3 years—but I for one have found them to be absolute life savers as is.

  • ah, ok!

    Thanks, Maestro.  I didn’t recognize it as a guideline.  That’s easy enough to eliminate! wink

  • Stupid question…

    ‘Cause I’m pretty sure I already know the answer, but you can’t blame me for trying….
    Smart Objects isn’t on Photoshop 7, right? (yes, yes I know, my version is almost prehistoric….)

    but yeah… can anyone confirm this so I can’t stop looking for it lol

  • Smart Objects

    That’s a negative, Ghost Rider. They came around at CS Duece I believe? I could be wrong though, no one should listen to me.

  • Lynda Tutorials

    Hey Deke! I really joined this site specifically to thank you. A buddy of mine and I purchased the Lynda courses and are really pleased with what we are getting out of them. I dig your style man, it’s nice being eased back into all of this (I learned Photoshop 4 I think). One thing I would request, if that is cool I don’t know, is a tutorial on using an Intuos4 with Photoshop and/or InDesign. Although I have been using mine, I feel like my workflow could be improved with better knowledge. Any ideas as to where I might be able to learn more about that?

    Either way, thanks again, keep it up!



    Adobe Rook

  • Thanks for captivating the

    Thanks for captivating the time to converse this, I feel powerfully about it and love learning more on this subject. If probable, as you gain proficiency, would you mind updating your blog with additional information? It is very helpful for me.

  • Need mindless spam??? - Then you’ve come to the right place

    Too bad this “comment” software won’t “auto-delete” any post with a URL (in it).

  • its truly indeed is a very

    its truly indeed is a very helpful video tutorial.

    long term care blog

  • Finally A Smart Object!

    Does Hypnosis Work For Weight Loss

    Thanks for taking the time to put a great video together! I will never mistakenly believe that smart objects are actually smart ever again haha tongue laugh

  • Finally A Smart Object!

    Does Hypnosis Work For Weight Loss

    Thanks for taking the time to put a great video together! I will never mistakenly believe that smart objects are actually smart ever again haha tongue laugh

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