By: Karl Rosencrants, Shutterstock Contributor

A Smart Object is a layer that contains stored information from vector or raster images. They have the ability to preserve an image’s source content, hence making the image editing process faster and easier.

For a better understanding, we’ll walk through creating and editing a Smart Object. Create a new document, fill in the background, and create a text layer.

With the text layer selected, click Layer > Smart Objects > Convert to Smart Object. You will see the thumbnail in the Layers palette change from the typical “letter T in a field of white” to the actual text displayed with a small document icon in the lower right-hand corner. This indicates that the layer is a Smart Object. Nice work Dr. Frankenstein, you just created life and gave your layer a brain.

To see what a Smart Object is all about, double click on the thumbnail preview of the Smart Object Layer. A dialog box will appear explaining the need to save your work (I’ll get to this a little later). Click Ok.

A new document window will open. This is the content of the Smart Object you previously created. As you can see, the text is back to being a text layer and the background is transparent. Using your type tool, select the text and change the word. If the new word is too large for the document window, resize it to fit. Only visible content will be displayed in the original layout. Now that you have changed the text within the Smart Object, you will notice that the original document has not changed.

The changes you make within your Smart Object will not become visible in the original document until you save your work inside the Smart Object. Save now. Watch in wonder as the original layout updates. Close the Smart Object window.

Now that you have a basic understanding of how to set up and make changes, let’s examine how to apply different commands to Smart Objects.

Warping Text

The Warp command is a great way to bend and manipulate layers into custom shapes. But with a standard text layer, your warps are limited to a list of pull down choices with minimal variation.

However, if you convert the text layer into a Smart Object and then activate the Warp command, you can freely warp the layer without limitations. You will still be able to edit the text by simply double-clicking the thumbnail preview in the Layers palette, changing the text inside the Smart Object document window, and saving.

Smart Objects are not just limited to holding text. Any information that is typically in a layer can be contained in a Smart Object.

In this layout example, each element is on its own layer, including the baby photo. That layer has been converted into a Smart Object and then treated with layer styles. In this scenario, be sure to convert the layer into a Smart Object before applying the layer styles. Then warp the Smart Object layer to give it a “page curl” effect to enhance the layout’s graphic.

After showing this image to the client, she loved everything about it except the photograph. The good news? The layer style and warp work did not have to be done all over again.

To make such a change, double click on the Smart Object and the image will open in its own document window. You will see that the image will not be warped and no layer styles applied, because those changes were applied to the layer after it was converted to a Smart Object.

Within the window, simply replace the current photograph with another. Click File > Save, and then close the window. Your design is now updated with the new photograph and hasexactly the same layout as before. Editing your design layouts has never been so easy.

Smart Objects also come in handy when applying filters to your Layers. Usually when filters are used, you’re stuck with the results and don’t have any option to adjust them later on. This problem is eliminated with Smart Objects.

To demonstrate this, create a document and insert a photograph. Convert the photo into a Smart Object by clicking Layer > Smart Object > Convert to Smart Object.

To soften the look, apply Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur. Find what looks good, and click apply. Looking in the Layers palette, you will find something new. Instead of the filter just being applied and the results taking place, a Smart Filter Layer Mask with a Smart Filter gets listed under the Smart Object layer.

You can continue to apply filters to the Smart Object, and they will continue being listed under the Smart Filters Mask area.

These Smart filters can be turned on and off like layer styles. Double clicking on them will reopen the filter dialog box so you can make any necessary adjustments. Even the order of the filters can be changed, which will change the order of the filters applied, and therefore change the overall look of the image. By selecting the Smart Filters Layer Mask in the Layers palette, you can use a black brush to paint away some of the effects. This Layer mask works just like any other mask; where the mask is white, the effect can be seen and where the mask is black, the effects will be hidden.

Smart objects are a great tool – practice and get acclimated, and the layout and adjustments to your designs will become much easier and faster.