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Every time that you perform a Transform command on an image, like scaling or distorting or rotating, you're degrading the image and if you transform an image more than once, it really can start to look poor, blurry and pixelated and you may not want to use it. There is a solution to this problem and that is to convert layers into Smart Objects before you transform the content. You can make a Smart Object out of one or more layers. In this case, let's make a Smart Object out of the flowers layer and the black matte layer behind it.
I'll show you what's on those layers. The first layer has these flowers and the second has just this plain black rectangle. And then there is a book behind them. I'll select both the flowers layer and the matte layer by holding down the Command key on a Mac or the Ctrl key on a PC, and clicking the second layer. And then I'm going to combine those into one Smart Object by holding the Ctrl key as I click on a Mac and right- clicking on a PC to bring up this menu, where I see Convert to Smart Object.
I can select that command from here or from the Layers panel menu. I'll click that and now you don't see the matte layer here in the Layers panel. It's been combined with the flowers layer and put inside a Smart Object that's represented by this icon here on the layer thumbnail. Because this is a Smart Object, I can transform more than once without harming image quality. Let me show you. I'm going to press Command+T on a Mac, that's Ctrl+T on a PC, to bring up my Free Transform bounding box. And then I'm going to move my mouse over one of the corners of the box, hold down the Shift key to Constrain Proportions and drag down to make this image really small.
I'll release the mouse and release the Shift key and then I'll go up to the Options Bar, and I'll click the checkmark to commit the transform. So, let's say that later I decide gee, I don't like this. I'd like the flowers to be big again. So again, I'll press Command+T on the Mac, Ctrl+T on the PC, I'll hold the Shift key and I'll drag from one of the corner points to scale the image up. I just want to be careful not to go more than 100% up, because that would be asking Photoshop to create image information for me.
So, I'm keeping my eye on the W and the H fields in the Options bar to make sure I don't go higher than 100%. I'm going to click the checkmark in the Options bar and you can see that even though, I have transformed that image twice in a very extreme way, it still looks fine. What's happening here is that when I created that Smart Object, Photoshop took the image information about the original image and tucked it away or embedded it inside the Smart Object. And then when I transformed the Smart Object, Photoshop referenced that original information and rerendered the image.
You can see how useful Smart Objects are when you're transforming, but there are some things that you can't do to a Smart Object. For example, if I get my Paintbrush and I try to paint on this layer, I'm going to get a warning saying that I can't do it unless I rasterize the Smart Object, which means turn it back into a regular layer. If I don't want to do that, I'll press Cancel, and I have yet another warning saying that I can't use the Brush tool on a Smart Object. So I'll say okay. Basically you can't do any pixel-based editing directly on the Smart Object and you can't access the layers that have been embedded inside the Smart Object, unless you do this.
I am just going to double-click on the layered thumbnail on this Smart Object layer, and I get this message reminding me that after I edit the contents of this Smart Object I should save it to the same place so that my changes are updated in the file I'm working in. I'll say OK and Photoshop goes ahead and opens a second image for me. This one is called flowers2.psb and you can see it's different than plant.psd, which is the original image I was working in a moment ago. Here in this psb image, if I look in the Layers panel I see that I have my original layers back again, the flowers layer and the matte layer.
So, let's say I want to paint on the flowers layer. I've got my Paintbrush selected over here in the toolbox. In the Options bar I've set the Painting Mode to Color, so that I can paint on this image and still retain its shading. I've lowered my Opacity to about 50% and I'm going to come in with the blue paint that's in the foreground color box, and just paint a little bit of blue on this. I could do other pixel-based editing too. For example, I could get the Dodge tool and I could come in and dodge some here making the image a little bit lighter.
When I'm all done with my edits, I'll make sure to save in the same location. I'll choose File and Save and then File > Close. That takes me back to my original image, plant.psd, and I can see the changes that I just made inside the Smart Object here in my main file. I'd like to show you one more thing about Smart Objects and that's something new in Photoshop CS4. In the past if you added a layer mask to a Smart Object, the mask would not be linked to the object. And that would be a problem if you moved the object around, because the mask wouldn't go with it.
Now, in Photoshop CS4 layer masks are linked to Smart Objects. To show you that, I'm going to get my Rectangular Marquee tool here and I'm going to drag a rectangular selection inside of the photo. Then I'm going to add a layer mask, by clicking the Create New Layer Mask icon at the bottom of the Layers panel. You can see the layer mask here and you can see its Link icon and in the image, you can see that it's hiding the edges of this image. Just to make that look a little better, I have my Masks panel open here.
This is a new panel in Photoshop CS4. If yours isn't open, you can open it from the Window menu at the top of the screen, and I'm going to drag my Feather slider over to the right to just soften the edge of that mask. Now let's say that I need to move the photo over a little bit. If I get my Move tool and I drag the photo, the mask goes with it and it still looks good. I can go the other way and the mask goes with it. The change is that in the last version of Photoshop, there was no Link icon here between the mask and its Smart Object.
So without that Link icon, which I've just turned off by clicking, if I moved the image the mask would not go with it and that doesn't look right, as you can see. So I'm going to undo that by pressing Command+Z on the Mac or Ctrl+Z on a PC and I'll link the mask back to its Smart Object by clicking between the two and then I'll drag my image back into place. And that's what I wanted to show you about Smart Objects. As you can see they come in really handy when you are transforming. Just be sure to convert layers to a Smart Object first and you can transform as many times as you like.
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