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If you're doing any design work or any compositing, and you've gotten multiple images, and you're making those images larger or smaller, you'll soon find out that the free transform command is a destructive command. So in this tutorial, I want to show you how to use smart objects, so that when you transform your images, you're not losing any image quality. We'll start over here with this left waterfall. You can see that I have it selected in my Layers panel. And if I just select Edit, and then Transform, and Scale.
And if we hold down the Shift key and the Option key, in order to constrain the proportions and scale from the center. If I make this image really small, and then I apply that transformation, if I change my mind later, and I want to go to Edit> Transform, and make my image larger again by scaling it up, when I scale it up, it's going to look terrible. So now I'll click the Check Mark.
And you can see how much information I've lost, because when I scaled the information down using free transform, Photoshop threw away all of the extraneous information, and then when I scaled it back up, Photoshop had to make up that information. So, I'm going to use the keyboard shortcut Cmd+Z to undo that transformation, and then Cmd+Option+Z to undo the transformation before that. I was just stepping back in history, on Windows of course, that would be Ctrl+Z to undo the last thing you've done, and then Ctrl+Alt+Z in order to step backwards again.
So this time, before I transform my layer, I'm going to convert my layer into what's called a Smart Object. In order to do this, I'll select the Layer menu, and then Smart Objects, and Convert to Smart Object. Now, the only way that I know that this is a Smart Object, is by looking at the Layers panel, and we can see the small additional icon on the thumbnail next to the layer. That is my smart object thumbnail. Now, with this layer selected, if I choose Edit> Transform and then Scale, and I hold down the Option and the Shift key, and we make this image really small, and then I tap the Return key or the Enter key to apply that transformation.
If I change my mind, and this time instead of the, using the menu item, I'm going to use the keyboard shortcut, which is Cmd on the Mac, Ctrl on Windows, plus the t key. That takes me right to free transform. We can see I've got the transformation handles here, so I'll hold down Option and Shift. We'll scale this right back up to like 100%, and you'll notice that when I release the cursor, and tap the enter key, or the return key in order to apply that transformation, I still have all of the original information.
So, what's going on? Well, as soon as you convert your layer into a smart object. Photoshop starts keeping track of all of that information under the hood, so that, when you scale your image down, Photoshop still has all of the high resolution information, it's just showing you a lower resolution preview. That way, you can change your mind, and you can scale your images, or skew them, or distort them, as many times as you want to, without losing any quality.
So for added flexibility when you're working with different layouts, especially when you're working with images that you know that you're going to transform, if you convert them into a smart object before applying any scaling or rotation, you won't lose any image quality. It might make your file a little bit larger, but to me the added flexibility is well worth it.
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