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Most Adobe Photoshop artists don't make use of Smart Objects, and thus miss out on a potentially very powerful tool. With Smart Objects you can create a complex transformation once and then swap out the contents for any artwork you choose. In this workshop, Photoshop artist and author Steve Caplin shows you how you can use Smart Objects to enhance almost all your Photoshop work. Learn to simplify and speed up repetitive tasks, and create templates that can be repurposed as many times as you wish.
This distorted view of a photograph lying on a table is actually a Smart Object. If we wish we can further distort and even undistort this object, and Photoshop will always refer to the full set of layers contained within the Smart Object. What we're going to do here though is replace the contents with another photograph entirely. And here is the photograph we're going to use. Let's start by selecting it. We'll choose Select All and then Copy. So that image is now copied to the clipboard. Back to our original, and let's zoom in on this a little.
As I said, this is a Smart Object layer and it contains the three original layers that we used to build it. When we double-click on it, it opens up as a separate Photoshop document. Notice it's called PSD and that's the term that Photoshop uses for its internal document structure. And we can see it's indeed made of our three original layers, the backing the original photo and the texture on top. Let's go to Edit > Paste.
And this is the picture we just copied to our clipboard. We want it to appear behind the texture, so we'll drag it down, beneath the texture layer. And we only want it to show up where it overlaps the original photograph beneath. So let's make a Clipping Mask of the original photo, which we can do by going to Layer, > Create Clipping Mask. This means that as we move it around, this layer only shows up where it overlaps the layer beneath. And we can use this to our advantage.
By scaling it, we'll use Free Transform to fill the space. And as we can see, it only shows up where it overlaps our original photograph. So let's hit Enter to apply the free transformation. I'm going to make this smaller so we can see more of the image behind. Now let's move it out of the way. The image behind shows the full document that we're working on and it shows the original state of the Smart Object and that's because we haven't saved it yet. When we go to File > Save.
We can see instantly the new layer we just pasted in reappears in our Smart Object and it appears exactly in place with the same distortions we applied to the original object. But there's more to it than this. Let's work on the Smart Object again. And we'll go into Free Transform, once again, so we can further distort this. Now, if this were a regular layer, and we went into Free Transform having already applied the transformation to it, we'd expect to see a squared up Free Transform box around the edge.
Because it's a Smart Object, we get something slightly different. As we go into Free Transform, it loads up with the previous transformation intact showing it exactly as we last left it. Let's take this further, and let's take the image warp button. And what this allows us to do is let us apply a more free form transformation to our layer. We can grab the corners and we can lift them up for a kind of curling effect, and this goes to make the photograph just a little bit older, a little bit more used.
And lets bend our handles down a little bit here to distort it further, and again we can click Enter to apply that transformation. And you can see here why we had made the shadow so it fit our old photograph exactly. Although the photograph is now curled, the shadow isn't and that's the key to making a shadow successfully look as if our picture is lying on a flat surface. With the light coming from above, although the photograph is curled, the shadow lies in a straight line flat on our surface.
If we were to go into Free Transform once more, it will show us our transformation handles, as we would expect. If we then click on the Image Warp button, it loads up the Image Warp exactly as we last left it with all the handles in place, so we can adjust more if we chose to. Once again, if we double-click this old photograph, it opens up the Smart Object. And there it is with all our layers intact. We could replace this photograph with yet another photograph or we could choose to hide it. We can do that of course by clicking on the Eye icon, and when we now save this Smart Object, and I'm going to use the keyboard shortcut, Cmd + S on the Mac, Ctrl + S on the PC.
It will save it back into our distorted view of the object lying on the surface. The ability to replace the contents of one smart object with another is of tremendous benefit to the Photoshop artist. As it means we're able to create a complex image once and then repurpose it multiple times. It's also perfect when working for those clients who change their minds at the last minute. We no longer have to repeat all our work a second time.
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