Home > Adobe, Photoshop > Photoshop CC 2014: All About Smart Objects (and Linked Smart Objects)

Photoshop CC 2014: All About Smart Objects (and Linked Smart Objects)

Screen Shot 2014-07-10 at 4.30.37 PMSmart Objects, gotta love them. Photoshop CC 2014 introduces some new features to smart objects, so I thought I’d do a more comprehensive review of them…

We should all be familiar with what smart objects are at this point. In Photoshop, a Smart Object is basically a type of layer that contains another image file. That is to say, a smart object appears as a layer in Photoshop, but is really another Photoshop files–with its own layers, or even its own smart objects, or is an Illustrator file. You can tell a layer is a Smart Object because there’s a little icon in the layer thumbnail. There are many advantages to using Smart Objects, most of which revolves around non-destructive editing. You can, for instance, resize a Smart Object layer down and up again, and the layer will sample the flattened image from the embedded information, preventing pixel degradation.

I am classifying the functions of Smart Objects in Photoshop CC 2014 into 3 categories. I’m making the names up for these, just for clarification. This may not be official Adobe terminology.

  • Embedded Smart Objects: This is how Smart Objects got started. Basically, a graphic file is embedded into Photoshop and displayed as a layer in a Photoshop file.  Any changes made to the Smart Object is saved back into the smart object layer, and the layer’s appearance automatically updates. The keyword here is Embedded!
  • Linked Smart Objects: Linked Smart Objects is the new function, and hence the differentiation in naming. A Linked Smart Object behaves exactly like an Embedded Smart Object, except that the source file, instead of being inside your photoshop file, is another Photoshop file, or Illustrator file, sitting somewhere on your computer. This is a Smart Object whose content are referenced from external files. If you know how linking works in Illustrator or InDesign, you know exactly how this works.
    One of the early misconceptions I had abut how Linked Smart Objects would work is that you would be able to link to a Smart Object inside another Photoshop file. That’s not how this works. You have to link to an external file. Again, you can’t link to a Smart Object Layer
  • Smart Object Instances: A Smart Object Instance is when you make a copy of a Smart Object. Smart Object Instances, whether the original is linked or embedded, are tied to the original Smart Object. That is to say, if you make changes to the Smart Object Original, the Instance will be updated to be the same. Within Photoshop, there is no real hierarchy to distinguish between an Original, and an Instance. You can double click on any instance to access the original smart object information.
  • Smart Object Copies:  If you’ve created a Smart Object, but want to make a copy to edit independently, use Create New Smart via Copy. It would look the same as an Instance (at least until you change it),  but it is its own smart object.

Making Smart Objects and Smart Object Babies.

  • Embedded Smart Objects: File > Place Embedded…, or Drag a file into an open Photoshop file, or convert a layer (or multiple layers) into a smart object.
  • Linked Smart Objects: File > Place Linked… The supported list of file types is actually quite long.
  • Smart Object Instances: Drag an existing smart object into the New icon in the layers panel, or Alt+Drag a copy of it like you would a normal layer. New Layer Via Copy
  • Smart Object Copies: Use the New Smart Object via Copy command.

Linked Smart Objects Statuses

This is an exciting new feature. Let’s talk about it. Linked Smart Objects works like links in InDesign or Illustrator, but Photoshop Doesn’t have a Links Panel. so it all happens in the Layers Panel. Poor Layers Panel, doing so much heavy lifting.

Screen Shot 2014-07-10 at 5.47.12 PM

  • Linked Smart Objects: Created through the File > Place Linked… command. A smart object will be created, but it links to an external file. or Alt+Drag a file into an open photoshop file. Dragging will create an Embedded Smart Object, Alt+Drag will create a Linked Smart Object.
  • Modified Linked Smart Object: When you modify a Smart Object Source, the Smart Object will automatically update. Unless the file is closed. If you open up a photoshop file and see the yellow warning icon, it means the original image source has been modified. You can update the link to get the latest appearance, or do nothing.
  • Broken Linked Smart Object: Photoshop keeps track of the location of the linked source by the relative path of the files. If it can’t find the file, it will look for the source with the absolute path location. If it’s still not found, it will look for saved aliases (mac only, and i have no clue what that is). Then if that’s still not found, it will look for the source in the same folder location. Then, after all that, if it still can’t find the source, you get the red question mark, and you’ll have to Resolve Broken Link yourself.

Doing things with Smart Objects

So now you know all about smart objects, but you have to manage them and work with them as well, here are some things you might want to do.

Smart Object Commands

Smart Objects are Layers, so naturally you’d fine the menu drop down commands under Layer > Smart Objects > Here are the available commands. Most are available via right click on the layer  as well

  • Convert to Smart Object: Converts the selected layer/layers to a Smart object. Congradulations, you’ve embedded a file into itself!
  • New Smart Object via Copy: Makes a copy of an existing Smart Object, but instead of it becoming an instance that shares the same information as the source, this becomes a new, independent smart object.
  • Reval in Finder: For Linked Smart Object only. Reveal the location of the original, linked file.
  • Update Modified Content: For Linked Smart Object only.  If a file that’s acting as a Linked Smart Object source has been modified while your photoshop file was closed, the link will need to be updated.
  • Update All modified Content: For Linked Smart Object only. Do it for All the modified links.
  • Resolve Broken Link…: For Linked Smart Object only. If a file has gone missing, you’ll need to resolve the broken link. Photoshop automatically searches a few different places for the link source, but sometimes it needs a little help.
  • Edit Contents: Edits a smart object
  • Replace Contents: Replaces the smart object with another smart object.
  • Export Contents: Exports the smart object contents and makes it into a file.
  • Embed linked: For Linked Smart Object only. Embed the link, so you don’t have to worry about it going missing.
  • Embed All Linked: For Linked Smart Object only.  Embed them all! Carry around that one, giant, photoshop file.
  • Convert to Linked: Change an Embedded Smart Object into a Linked Smart Object. Photoshop will ask you to save out a new file.
  • Stack Mode: Some kind of blend mode thing for image stacks. More in another post.
  • Rasterize: Smart Object speak for flatten


  • Use the Properties Panel to see the  properties of linked smart objects. You can also embed or edit the smart object from here.
  • Use File > Package to package your photoshop file and all of the linked assets. Photoshop will prompt you for a file location, where it will create a folder and make a copy of your file and make a copy of all the links. The package function in photoshop does not package fonts.
  • Rasterize a Smart object to flatten it back into your Photoshop file. Photoshop always stores a flattened image of the smart object with its transformations. So even if a link becomes lost or is modified, you can always rasterize the smart object and get a normal layer.
  • Work with Layer Comps. If you embed or link a smart object into your photoshop file, and that Smart Object is a Photoshop file with Layer Comps setup, you can use the Properties Panel to easily and quickly switch between layer comps of your smart object to update its appearance. And of course, each instance of a smart object can display a different layer comp, minimizing the need to make new smart object via copy.
  • Screen Shot 2014-07-10 at 6.37.04 PM
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