Use smart objects in Photoshop

Final result

Smart objects are one of the most powerful features of Photoshop. In this lesson, you will prepare a layout of several computer screens, and then add layers of smart objects to them. After everything is set up, you can change the pictures on all screens, updating only the original layer. Each smart object can consist of multiple layers. Thanks to this, you can easily and quickly change your presentation.

1. Preparing the layout

Step 1

I will start with three different screens. You can find individual photos of each of them on PhotoDune or GraphicRiver, and you can also use any number of devices in your composition. The file for this lesson is divided into layers for the devices themselves, their shadows and highlights.

Translator’s Note: As a free alternative, you can use the layout from

Step 2

Prepare a separate layer for each screen. Choose a tool Rectangle (Rectangle Tool) and draw a rectangle of the same size as the screen itself. Alternatively, you can use the tool Rectangular area (Rectangular Marquee Tool) and fill the selection with pixels. No matter what method you choose, as long as the rectangle is on a separate layer.

Draw a rectangle the same size as the screen. Fill with any image and place on a separate layer.

I prefer to use shape layers, as they are easier to edit with the tool. Free transform (Free Transform). You can activate it by clicking Ctrl + T.

Step 3

Make the same layer for each screen. Forms can fill in any color. We will use these shapes as masks for smart objects. Now you should have something like this:

Step 4

Now it would be nice to organize our layout. Renaming and organizing layers will save a lot of time in the future. In the screenshot below, I marked the layers for each device with different colors. To change the color of the layer, right-click on the eye icon and select the desired color.

You can also create layer groups for each product. Select all layers belonging to the same device and in the drop-down menu on the layers panel select A new groupfrom layers (New Group from Layers). Group color is very simple. Right click on the group and select the desired color.

2. Set up smart objects

Step 1

This tutorial uses a screenshot of the Tuts + website. Drag it into the document with our layout. Place a new layer above the layer with the shape for the computer screen (note the translator – in the screenshot it is named “Desktop Screen”). There are three ways to convert it into a smart object:

  1. Go to menu Layers> Smart Object> Convert to smart object (Layers> Smart Objects> Convert to Smart Object).
  2. Click the drop-down menu in the layers panel and select Convert to smart object (Convert to Smart Object).
  3. Right click on the layer and select Convert to smart object (Convert to Smart Object).

Author’s Note: Do not change the size of the layer before converting it to a smart object.

Step 2

Now you can resize the smart object to fit the screen size of the device. Click Ctrl + T and use dots along the edges of the image. When working with smart objects, you can notice a small hint: the points for the smart object are filled with black color, and when you edit a normal image, they are empty. Do not touch the bottom of the screenshot yet. If you want, change the name of the layer.

Step 3

Duplicate the smart object by dragging it onto the special icon of the new layer at the bottom of the layers panel.

Step 4

Drag a copy of the smart object by placing it above the laptop screen. As in the previous step, use Free transform (Free Transform) to resize the screenshot. Here also do not touch the bottom of the photo.

Step 5

Make another copy and place it above the tablet screen. Resize it again. Do not worry about the excess length of the smart object.

Step 6

Now that all the layers are in place, you can remove the excess. This will hide the protruding parts of the images, but will not cut the screenshot itself. First select the smart object layer, then click on the drop-down menu and select Create obtravovochny mask (Create Clipping Mask). You can use the keyboard shortcut Alt + Ctrl + G.

There is also an alternative way. Click between two layers while holding down Alt. If you see that the cursor has changed view – you are at the right point.

Hold down the Alt / Option key and click between layers to create a clipping mask. You will see the cursor change to a double circle icon.

After the clipping mask is created, the screenshot will fill the aspect ratio of the screen. You will also notice that the layer thumbnail is shifted slightly to the right, and next to it there is a small arrow. This indicates that the smart object is “cropped” by the layer below it. That is why we created special layers at the very beginning.

You should have something like this layout:

3. Editing the smart object

Step 1

Now that smart objects and their copies are in place, you can change the image on all three screens by updating the original layer. Double click on the smart object thumbnail to edit it. You will see the following message. Once you get used to working with smart objects, you can tick and turn it off.

The smart object opens as a separate, special file with the extension .psb:

Step 2

To edit a smart object, I just take a new screenshot and place it above the existing one. There is no need to replace the original image, as smart objects support layers.

Step 3

Close and save the .psb file. Now a new screenshot will appear on all three screens. There is no need to edit the other two smart layers, as they are a copy of the original.

You can add or edit an image as many times as you like. You can also store multiple screenshots in a smart layer to quickly present various photos in a single Photoshop document.


Such layouts are a great way to present different designs. Due to the fact that the smart layers are copies of the original, all three screens are updated immediately. And with the ability to store multiple screenshots in one layer, you can organize everything in one neat PSD file.

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