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In Photoshop CS5 Essential Training, author Michael Ninness demonstrates how to produce the highest quality images with fantastic detail in the shortest amount of time, using a combination of Photoshop CS5, Adobe Bridge, and Camera Raw. This course shows the most efficient ways to perform common editing tasks, including noise reduction, shadow and highlight detail recovery, retouching, and combining multiple images. Along the way, Michael shares the secrets of non-destructive editing, utilizing and mastering Adobe Bridge, Camera Raw, layers, adjustment layers, blending modes, layer masks, and much more. Exercise files are included with the course.
So as you start using Photoshop for more creative work instead of just fixing rectangular shaped images, you start doing things like layering and compositing. You are often going to be scaling and resizing and rotating content. One of the things you have to kind of just wrap your head around, especially if you're coming from other applications, like say Illustrator or InDesign, those products are vector-based and you can just scale things freely without losing quality. But of course, with Photoshop, images being made up of pixels primarily, Free Transform operations tend to be destructive. So let's just kind of do a review here. I've got my Regular layer selected in Layers panel.
I'm going to bring up the Free Transform mode, which is Command+T or Ctrl+T. That puts a bounding box around the pixels on that layer. I'm going to go up to a corner handle, I'm going to hold the Shift key down and I'm going to drag this dude here, really, really, really tiny. I'll press Enter or Return to apply that transformation. So I've scaled him pretty small. Well, now, I've changed my mind, I've decided that I'll open up this file tomorrow. I need him to be a little bit bigger or, in fact, I need him to be a lot bigger all the way back to where he originally was. Let's just pretend for a minute that I don't have this additional backup layer visible for me to actually go back to.
So again, I want to go back to Free Transform, Command+T or Ctrl+T. That puts the bounding box around the tiny version of this. I'll hold down the Shift key again to scale it back up proportionally. You can kind of guess what's going to happen, I'm going to get a very pixilated looking image. It will look different than this once I apply it. I'll go ahead and press Enter or Return to do so. But you can see the image quality went way down, because those pixels were thrown away when we did the scale down. They don't magically reappear just because you scaled the image back up. Once you do a Free Transform on just regular pixels, that is a destructive action.
Now the good news, there is a different way go about this that makes it nondestructive. It's very cool! So let's select this Smart Object layer. In order to have transformations being nondestructive, we need to turn a Regular layer and turn it into what's called a Smart Object layer. Easiest way to do that is to right-click on the name of the layer that you want to convert. We'll go ahead and do that, right-click on Smart Object. We're going to choose the Convert to Smart Object command from the contextual menu. Now what happens is Photoshop wraps this content that was on this layer, into a container base behind the scenes.
It's basically embedding the original version of this layer inside the Photoshop file directly. It puts it in this little special icon in the Layer panel there to let you know that that's a different layer than a Regular layer. It's a Smart Object layer. Now on the surface, nothing looks any different except that icon treatment in the Layers panel. But let's see what happens now. When we do the Free Transform on this Smart Object layer, Command +T, Ctrl+T, same bounding box, I'm going to hold down the Shift key, one little thing to notice, you see the handles, they are solid. On a Regular layer, the handles are clear, they are transparent or they are hollow.
On a Smart Object layer, that's another visual clue here to let you know this is just slightly different nuance here. Anyway, I'm going to go grab the handle, hold down the Shift key to scale up proportionally, make it just as tiny as we did the first time on the Regular layer. I'll hit Enter or Return to apply that. But now I decide I want to change my mind, I want to bring him back big. So again, I'll bring up the Free Transform, Command+T or Ctrl+T. I'm going to get the bounding box around that. I'm going to hold down the Shift key as I drag to make it big again. You can see right away there is a big difference, and I'll take it almost as close to where it was before.
I'm going to go ahead and hit Return or Apply and you see that I get my original high-resolution version back. Because when I did the original Scale on the Free Transform on the Smart Object layer, I was not throwing away those pixels. So again, a Smart Object embeds a copy of the layer that you converted into a Smart Object and keeps it around behind the scenes. So then when do in a scale or a Free Transform, it's always going back to that high-resolution version, downsampling or upsampling from that and then updating the result in your layer document here.
That gives you the ability to always go back and change your mind. So, Smart Object is a very, very important building block, especially when you're doing more creative artwork and compositing inside Photoshop.
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