Types of Smart Object Layers

There are two types of Smart Object layers for you to work with inside Photoshop; embedded and linked. An embedded Smart Object will never make changes to the original file. When you embed a Smart Object into a layer in Photoshop, you can perform as many edits as you wish to the embedded Smart Object without altering the source file. A linked Smart Object is different.

When you place a linked file into Photoshop, you get a new linked Smart Object layer which is dynamically linked to the source file. Changes you make to this linked Smart Object will alter the source file. Provided you have made changes onto separate layers, the edits needn’t be destructive. The edits can be reverted in either the document containing the linked Smart Object or inside the original document. See below.

It is useful to know that the icon on the Smart Object layers will reflect the type of Smart Object; embedded or linked.

Smart Object Layer Icon - linked Smart Object Layer Icon - embedded

Create embedded Smart Objects

There are several ways for you to create embedded Smart Object layers in Photoshop:

  • Navigate to File > Open as Smart Object;
  • Navigate to File > Place Embedded (or Place depending on the version of Photoshop);Smart Objects Open as Smart Object Menu
  • Pasting an image from Illustrator, or similar vector graphic application;
  • Dragging or opening a PDF file directly into Photoshop;
  • Converting one, or more, existing layers to Smart Objects. To convert a normal layer, or layers, to a Smart Object layer, do any of the following:
    • Select the layers you want to convert to a Smart Object layer;
    • Right-click then choose Convert to Smart Object;
    • Navigate to Layer > Smart Object > Convert to Smart ObjectSmart Object Layers - covert to Smart Object menu

Smart Object Layers - covert to Smart Object right-click

I am confident there are additional methods for creating Smart Objects. If you know of any, please let me know in the comments section below.

Creating linked Smart Objects

There are fewer options for creating linked Smart Objects:

  • Navigate to File > Place Linked;
  • Select the file from your computer and select Place.

Smart Objects Place Linked

You can also create a linked Smart Object by dragging and dropping a file into an open Photoshop document while holding down the Alt/Option key.

Remember, linked Smart Objects are dynamically linked to the source file. Any changes made in the source document will be reflected in Photoshop and vice versa. A file with a linked Smart Object will be smaller in size than a file with an embedded Smart Object. When a file is embedded in a Smart Object, it is a full-resolution copy of the original. A linked Smart Object creates a small low-resolution preview copy of the source file. When you save a copy of the Photoshop document, the linked Smart Object is replaced with an appropriately sized copy of the source file and merged into the newly saved copy. The original Photoshop file keeps its preview file.

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