How To Edit Smart Objects In Photoshop

How To Edit Smart Objects In Photoshop
How To Edit Smart Objects In Photoshop_600717c8b56b6.jpeg

How To Edit Smart Objects In Photoshop

How To Edit Smart Objects In Photoshop, and how to easily replace its contents so you can use smart objects as reusable templates!

Written by Steve Patterson.

Two powerful advantages of using smart objects in Photoshop are that we can edit their contents, and we can even replace their contents, and have our changes instantly appear in the document. Editing the contents is great for when you want to keep the same image inside the smart object and just change its appearance. But we can also replace the contents with a completely new image, making smart objects perfect for creating reusable templates! Let’s see how it works.

I’ll be using Photoshop CC but everything is fully compatible with Photoshop CS6.

If you’re not yet familiar with smart objects in Photoshop, you’ll want to read through the first tutorial in this series where I cover what smart objects are and how to create them. And with that, let’s get started!

Download this tutorial as a print-ready PDF!

What we’ll be learning

To help us learn about editing and replacing a smart object’s contents, we’re going to convert an image into a smart object and then place it inside a frame. Once it’s in the frame, we’ll learn how to edit the image inside the smart object, and then how to replace it with a different image.

Here’s the first image I have open in my document. I downloaded all of the images for this tutorial from Adobe Stock. This is the frame that I’ll be placing the other image into:

Layers panel, we see that I also have a second image sitting on a layer above it. I’ll turn the second image on by clicking the top layer’s visibility icon:

second image. I’ll convert this image into a smart object and then place it inside the frame:

Placing the image in the frame

Selecting the frame

To place the image into the frame, we first need to select the area inside the frame. I’ll turn the top image off so we can see the frame by once again clicking the layer’s visibility icon:

” alt=”Selecting the Polygonal Lasso Tool from the Toolbar in Photoshop” width=”251″ height=”142″ data-lazy-src=”https://pe-images.s3.amazonaws.com/basics/cc/smart-objects/edit-replace-contents/polygonal-lasso-tool-photoshop.png” />

Selecting the Polygonal Lasso Tool from the Toolbar.

To select the area inside the frame, all we need to do is click with the Polygonal Lasso Tool in each of the four corners, starting in the upper left, then the upper right, down to the bottom right, and then in the bottom left. To complete the selection, click again on the starting point in the upper left corner. A selection outline now appears around the inside of the frame:

” alt=”Turning the top layer in the document back on in Photoshop” width=”301″ height=”188″ data-lazy-src=”https://pe-images.s3.amazonaws.com/basics/cc/smart-objects/edit-replace-contents/layer-visibility-icon-photoshop.png” />

Turning the top image back on in the document.

And the same selection outline now appears in front of the second image. In a moment, we’re going to place the top image into the selection using a layer mask. But before we do, we first need to convert the layer into a smart object:

” alt=”Right-click (Win) / Control-click (Mac) on the top layer in the Layers panel” width=”287″ height=”188″ data-lazy-src=”https://pe-images.s3.amazonaws.com/basics/cc/smart-objects/edit-replace-contents/right-click-layer.png” />

Right-click (Win) / Control-click (Mac) on the top layer.

Then choose Convert to Smart Object from the menu:

” alt=”The smart object icon in the layer preview thumbnail in Photoshop” width=”287″ height=”188″ data-lazy-src=”https://pe-images.s3.amazonaws.com/basics/cc/smart-objects/edit-replace-contents/smart-object-icon-photoshop.png” />

The smart object icon.

Related: How to create smart objects in Photoshop

Adding a layer mask

To place the smart object into the selection, we’ll use a layer mask. Click the Add Layer Mask icon at the bottom of the Layers panel:

” alt=”The smart object appears inside the frame after adding the layer mask in Photoshop” width=”640″ height=”483″ data-lazy-src=”https://pe-images.s3.amazonaws.com/basics/cc/smart-objects/edit-replace-contents/smart-object-in-frame.jpg” />

The result after adding the layer mask.

And in the Layers panel, we see the new layer mask thumbnail beside the preview thumbnail. The reason we converted the layer into a smart object before adding the layer mask was to keep the smart object and the mask separate from each other. If we had added the mask and then converted the layer to a smart object, the mask would have become part of the smart object. We need to keep them separate, so we converted the layer to a smart object first and then added the mask:

” alt=”Unlinking the smart object from its layer mask in Photoshop” width=”287″ height=”148″ data-lazy-src=”https://pe-images.s3.amazonaws.com/basics/cc/smart-objects/edit-replace-contents/link-icon.png” />

Unlinking the smart object from its layer mask.

Click the smart object’s preview thumbnail to select the smart object:

” alt=”Selecting the Free Transform command from the Edit menu in Photoshop” width=”282″ height=”124″ data-lazy-src=”https://pe-images.s3.amazonaws.com/basics/cc/smart-objects/edit-replace-contents/select-free-transform-photoshop.png” />

Going to Edit > Free Transform.

To resize the image within the frame, press and hold the Shift key on your keyboard, and then click and drag any of the corner handles. The Shift key locks the aspect ratio of the image as you drag so you don’t distort the original shape. If you need to move the image inside the frame, click anywhere inside the Free Transform box and drag the image into place:

” alt=”The image inside the smart object now fits within the frame” width=”640″ height=”483″ data-lazy-src=”https://pe-images.s3.amazonaws.com/basics/cc/smart-objects/edit-replace-contents/image-in-frame.jpg” />

The image now fits nicely within the frame.

Download this tutorial as a print-ready PDF!

How to edit the contents of a smart object

Now that we’ve placed the image into the frame as a smart object, let’s learn how to edit the smart object’s contents. Think of a smart object as a Photoshop document within your Photoshop document. And pretty much anything that we can do in the main document, we can do in a smart object.

To open a smart object and edit its contents, make sure your smart object is selected in the Layers panel. Then go up to the Layer menu in the Menu Bar, choose Smart Objects, and then choose Edit Contents:

” alt=”Double-clicking on the smart object thumbnail to edit its contents” width=”287″ height=”188″ data-lazy-src=”https://pe-images.s3.amazonaws.com/basics/cc/smart-objects/edit-replace-contents/select-smart-object.png” />

Double-clicking on the smart object thumbnail.

The smart object document

The smart object opens in its own separate document:

” alt=”The smart object open as a .psb, or Photoshop Big, file” width=”629″ height=”123″ data-lazy-src=”https://pe-images.s3.amazonaws.com/basics/cc/smart-objects/edit-replace-contents/document-tabs.png” />

Smart objects open as PSB (Photoshop Big) files.

Editing the contents

Since smart objects are actual Photoshop documents, there’s really no limit to what we can do with them. All of Photoshop’s tools, commands, filters, and other features, like layers and adjustment layers, are available to us for editing a smart object’s contents. For this tutorial, we’ll keep things simple and look at a few quick examples.

Let’s say I want to flip the image inside the frame so that the woman is facing the opposite direction. I can do that by flipping the image in my smart object. I’ll go up to the Edit menu, then I’ll choose Transform, and then Flip Horizontal:

” alt=”The image in the smart object is now flipped horizontally” width=”700″ height=”392″ data-lazy-src=”https://pe-images.s3.amazonaws.com/basics/cc/smart-objects/edit-replace-contents/photoshop-image-flipped.jpg” />

The image in the smart object is now flipped.

Saving the changes

To have our changes appear in the main document, we need to save and close the smart object’s document. To save it, go up to the File menu and choose Save:

” alt=”Closing the smart object’s document” width=”290″ height=”115″ data-lazy-src=”https://pe-images.s3.amazonaws.com/basics/cc/smart-objects/edit-replace-contents/file-close-photoshop.png” />

Going to File > Close.

Back in the main document, the smart object in the frame updates to show the flipped version of the image inside it:

” alt=”Reopening the smart object’s document in Photoshop” width=”275″ height=”188″ data-lazy-src=”https://pe-images.s3.amazonaws.com/basics/cc/smart-objects/edit-replace-contents/reopen-smart-object-photoshop.png” />

Reopening the smart object’s document.

The contents reopen in the same “Photo.psb” document, and with the change that I made previously:

” alt=”Again choosing the Flip Horizontal command” width=”273″ height=”120″ data-lazy-src=”https://pe-images.s3.amazonaws.com/basics/cc/smart-objects/edit-replace-contents/photoshop-flip-horizontal.png” />

Going back to Edit > Transform > Flip Horizontal.

This flips the image back to its original direction:

” alt=”Clicking the New Fill or Adjustment Layer icon in the Layers panel” width=”275″ height=”190″ data-lazy-src=”https://pe-images.s3.amazonaws.com/basics/cc/smart-objects/edit-replace-contents/new-fill-adjustment-layer-icon.png” />

Clicking the New Fill or Adjustment Layer icon.

And then I’ll choose Black & White from the list:

” alt=”The Layers panel in Photoshop showing the Black and White adjustment layer in the smart object” width=”275″ height=”217″ data-lazy-src=”https://pe-images.s3.amazonaws.com/basics/cc/smart-objects/edit-replace-contents/black-white-adjustment-layer-photoshop.png” />

The Layers panel showing the adjustment layer.

And in the document. we see the image now in black and white. You can customize the black and white conversion using the sliders in the Properties panel, but for our purposes, I’ll stick with the default settings:

” alt=”The image inside the smart object now appears in black and white” width=”636″ height=”479″ data-lazy-src=”https://pe-images.s3.amazonaws.com/basics/cc/smart-objects/edit-replace-contents/image-black-and-white.jpg” />

The image in the frame now appears in black and white.

Using a Photo Filter adjustment layer

What if, instead of converting it to black and white, I just want to adjust the colors in the image to cool it down a bit? For that, we can use a Photo Filter adjustment layer. I’ll once again reopen my smart object by double-clicking on its thumbnail:

” alt=”Deleting the Black and White adjustment layer in the smart object” width=”275″ height=”196″ data-lazy-src=”https://pe-images.s3.amazonaws.com/basics/cc/smart-objects/edit-replace-contents/delete-adjustment-layer.png” />

Deleting the Black & White adjustment layer.

Since adjustment layers are non-destructive, deleting the adjustment layer instantly restores the original colors in the image:

” alt=”Clicking the New Fill or Adjustment Layer icon in the Layers panel” width=”275″ height=”190″ data-lazy-src=”https://pe-images.s3.amazonaws.com/basics/cc/smart-objects/edit-replace-contents/new-fill-adjustment-layer-icon.png” />

Clicking the New Fill or Adjustment Layer icon.

And this time, I’ll choose Photo Filter from the list:

” alt=”A Photo Filter adjustment layer is added to the smart object” width=”275″ height=”211″ data-lazy-src=”https://pe-images.s3.amazonaws.com/basics/cc/smart-objects/edit-replace-contents/photo-filter-adjustment-layer.png” />

A Photo Filter adjustment layer is added in the smart object.

In the Properties panel, I’ll choose one of the cooling filters from the Filter menu:

” alt=”Applying the Photo Filter to the image in the smart object” width=”704″ height=”394″ data-lazy-src=”https://pe-images.s3.amazonaws.com/basics/cc/smart-objects/edit-replace-contents/smart-object-photo-filter.jpg” />

The effect of the Photo Filter adjustment.

I’ll save my changes by going up to the File menu and choosing Save. Then I’ll close the smart object by going up to the File menu and choosing Close. Back in the main document, the image in the frame now appears with the Photo Filter applied. And that’s how to edit the contents of a smart object:

How to replace the contents of a smart object

Now that we know how to edit the contents, let’s learn how to replace the contents of a smart object. Replacing the contents means we can use smart objects as templates for different layouts or effects. We already have our smart object in the frame, so let’s see how to replace the image inside the smart object with a different image.

First, make sure you have your smart object selected in the Layers panel. There’s no need to open it. We just need to select it:

” alt=”Choosing Replace Contents for the smart object in Photoshop” width=”261″ height=”111″ data-lazy-src=”https://pe-images.s3.amazonaws.com/basics/cc/smart-objects/edit-replace-contents/smart-objects-replace-contents.png” />

Going to Layer > Smart Objects > Replace Contents.

Navigate to the image that you want to replace the contents with. Click on it to select it, and then click Place:

new image. The only problem is that the new image is too big to fit in the frame, so we’ll fix that next:

” alt=”Selecting the Free Transform command from the Edit menu in Photoshop” width=”282″ height=”124″ data-lazy-src=”https://pe-images.s3.amazonaws.com/basics/cc/smart-objects/edit-replace-contents/select-free-transform-photoshop.png” />

Going to Edit > Free Transform.

Then, I’ll press and hold my Shift key as I drag the corner handles to fit the new image into the frame. Again, the Shift key locks the aspect ratio of the image in place:

” alt=”How to replace the contents of a smart object in Photoshop” width=”642″ height=”485″ data-lazy-src=”https://pe-images.s3.amazonaws.com/basics/cc/smart-objects/edit-replace-contents/replace-smart-object-contents-photoshop.jpg” />

The result after replacing and resizing the smart object’s contents.

And there we have it! That’s how to edit and replace the contents of a smart object in Photoshop! For more on smart objects, learn how to open and place images as smart objects, how to scale and resize images without losing quality, how to use editable smart filters, or how smart objects make it easy to transform and distort type! You’ll also find many more tutorials in our Photoshop Basics section.

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