Smarter Objects in Photoshop

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It’s like Christmas morning for designers around world. Adobe has just rolled out an update to Photoshop CC (14.2) that, among other things, allows users to create linked Smart Objects!

This feature has been on my wish list for a very long time so I’m am incredibly excited to incorporate this into my workflow. A couple years ago even I wrote a blog post on managing common elements in Photoshop and I’ll be happy retire that method in favour of linked Smart Objects.

Fair warning, I’m so excited about this that I’m writing this post only an hour into downloading the update but I can already see some major advantages. Over time and through experience I’m sure my personal workflow using linked Smart Objects will evolve.

How to use linked Smart Objects

Using linked Smart Objects is simple. If you have updated to Photoshop CC 14.2 under the file menu you will have a Place Linked… option. Clicking this option will open up the file navigation window where you simply browse to the file you would like to link to.

In addition to Photoshop files (PSDs and PSBs) the feature also supports Illustrator files, PDFs and RAW Photos.

Once your linked Smart Object is placed in the main document, any edits to that linked file will automatically be reflected when you have your document open. If you’re document is close there will be an alert on the layer the next time you open it up that will allow you to update.

Something to note if you’re collaborating with others, you’ll want to make sure you include all linked files when you share (I typically have an ‘Includes’ folder where I save all Smart Objects), or if you’re working on a network drive that your linked files are stored on the network rather than your local workstation.

Impact on performance

Since we’re now referencing external files I can see a positive impact on performance as well as file size.

As an example, my co-worker Andy Patrick often struggles with computer performance on one particular project where he’s managing a 1GB PSD. The PSD has many embedded Smart Objects which addes a lot of bulk to the file. With this new approach of linked Smart Objects he could decrease the master file size and dramatically improve computer performance.

Another major impact this approach will have is saving hard drive (or server) space. Sharing elements like headers and footers will mean that individual layouts will be much smaller in size. We can take this a step further by moving to a much more modular approach to designing in Photoshop and share other common elements (widgets, social share elements, etc.) across multiple files.

Improved workflow

After only an hour or so of thought put to this I can already imagine how even things like handing files over to development can be improved by this new feature.

For example, in our current workflow, the development team will sometimes create a sliced version of a comp as their own working file.* In situations where the client comes back with last minute creative changes we might end up having to update two files, one for dev and the other to show the client. Having shared components across both files will now make it quick and painless to make updates like these.

Photoshop catching up

I do believe that we continue to transition to a world where our dependence on Photoshop is decreasing in favour of tools like Typecast, designing in browser by building pattern labs and the ability to rapidly prototype with frameworks like Zurb and Bootstrap.

It’s taken a long time for Adobe to catch up and bring these types of improvements to their product but these updates are very much welcome!

*this is not an approach I endorse, I personally prefer to use Photoshops ‘Generate Image Assets’ feature or third party software like Slicy.

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