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Design

Using the New Linked Smart Objects in Photoshop CC 2014

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Difficulty:BeginnerLength:MediumLanguages:
Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

In earlier versions of Smart Objects, we embedded image data into the PSD file. Now, Adobe has upgraded Smart Objects in Photoshop CC 2014 so we can also link them to external files. In this tutorial, we will use new features from the latest Linked Smart Objects to design a flexible brochure. We will use Photoshop as our main tool and Illustrator to design its logo.

Tutorial Assets

We are going to use some royalty-free images. You'll find them inside the completed PSD files. You can use it to compare with your final work. We are also going to use the free font Alef from Google Fonts.

In the process, we will use Adobe Bridge to browse asset images. Remember to update your Adobe Photoshop, because we are going to use the latest features from version CC 2014.

1. Preparing the Canvas

Step 1

First, we will start by making a new file (Control-N) for our brochure. Select the preset International Paper with size A5.

Linked Smart Object - Make new file

The default setting uses 300 pixels/inch for its resolution. It means that every 1 inch × 1 inch square contains 300 pixels. This is the ideal setting for printing. However, since this is just a simple tutorial, we may want to lower the resolution a bit. Set it to 150 pixels/inch. Lower resolution means fewer pixels. Fewer pixels mean faster processing time for Photoshop.

Linked Smart Object - Resolution 150 ppi

Here's the canvas we have.

Linked Smart Object - Our canvas

Step 2

Hit Control-R to reveal the rulers on the top and left side of the canvas. These rulers will help us to identify the cursor's position and to place design elements accurately. Right-click the ruler and then select Millimeters to change its unit.

Linked Smart Object - Set ruler unit

Step 3

Activate the Marquee Tool. Make a new rectangular selection measuring 11 mm × 11 mm on the top-left corner of the canvas. To make a perfect rectangular selection, drag the cursor while holding the Shift key.

Linked Smart Object - Make rectangular selection

Step 4

Click and drag the ruler onto the selection edge to make a new guide right at 11 mm horizontally and 11 mm vertically.

Linked Smart Object - Make new guides

Linked Smart Object - Make new guides

Step 5

Do the same in the lower right corner of the canvas. Draw a 11 mm × 11 mm rectangle in the lower right corner and create new guides around it.

Linked Smart Object - Another guide on the other side

2. Add a Background

Step 1

Open the stock photo available inside the source files. This photo was provided by deathtothestockphoto. Click File > Save As and then save this as a PSD file. Select Photoshop in the Save as Type option. We save this in a PSD format (not JPG) for easier modification in the future.

Linked Smart Object - Save as a PSD file

Step 2

Drag the PSD file onto the canvas we have created in Photoshop. We drag to place the file in the canvas. Remember that we don't intend to copy the image and then paste it, but we intend to link the file in the canvas. We can call this canvas a container file.

Linked Smart Object - Import as a Smart Object

You can also use the menu, File > Place Linked. In the next dialog box, select the file you want to insert.

Linked Smart Object - Place linked file inside the container file

Step 3

After the image file is placed inside the canvas, you will see a bounding box. You can resize the image file dimensions by dragging its handles around. No need to worry about making a mistake while transforming it. Since the image file is saved as a Smart Object, you can always redo or apply another transformation without destroying the image quality.

Linked Smart Object - Transforming layer

To resize while maintaining the image aspect ratio, drag the handles while holding down the Shift key.

Linked Smart Object - Transforming layer

Step 4

Hit the Enter key to confirm the transformation process. If you're still not satisfied with the result, apply another transformation by hitting Control-T. Now, take a look at the Layers panel. The background layer that we added previously has a small icon in the lower right corner. This icon indicates that the layer is linked to another file.

Linked Smart Object - Icon in Smart Object layer

3. Add Content

Step 1

Let's add a footer into our design. Open the logo file available with this tutorial. The logo file comes from deathtothestockphoto. It is an EPS file, so you should open it in Adobe Illustrator to retain its vector capabilities. Select one of the logos. Copy it by hitting Control-C.

Linked Smart Object - Select the vector logo

Step 2

Make a new file in Adobe Illustrator (Control-N).

Linked Smart Object - New file in Illustrator

Step 3

Hit Control-V to paste the logo.

Linked Smart Object - Paste logo

Step 4

Save the logo file in the same folder as our brochure.

Linked Smart Object - Save logo

Step 5

Let's go back to our brochure PSD file. Place the vector logo into the canvas using the menu File > Place Linked. In the next dialog box, select the file. Open it as a Smart Object with Crop To Bounding Box selected.

Linked Smart Object - Open vector logo in Photoshop

Step 6

Change the size of the vector logo. Place it in the bottom right corner of the canvas.

Linked Smart Object - Placing logo

Step 7

Activate the Type Tool and then click and drag to make a new text box. Fill it with two or three short paragraphs, followed by the company website address in large text. For the font type, use Alef from Google Fonts.

Linked Smart Object - Add text

Step 8

Add another text box on top of the canvas. Use the same font for consistency. Set its font size to be bigger, since this is the brochure's main title.

Linked Smart Object - Add title text

4. Edit the Linked Smart Object

Step 1

For now, we have two Smart Objects, in the logo and the background. We are also aware that the Smart Object layer is linked to the original file. Let's try to modify them and see what happens.

First, change the background content. Activate the Smart Object background. Open the Properties panel. Click Edit Contents. You can also directly double-click the layer to edit its content.

Linked Smart Object - Edit Smart Object

You may find this dialog box. Photoshop will request you to save the file in the same area. Just click OK.

Linked Smart Object - Warning from Photoshop

Step 2

The background layer will be opened as a separate PSD file. The next thing that we are going to do with the background is to edit a portion of the photo to add more contrast in the text. Take a look at the following image. The black text is very close to the window.

Linked Smart Object - Text and background

In the background layer file, select some parts of the background and then hit Control-J to duplicate it.

Linked Smart Object - Edit background

Step 3

Hit Shift-Up Arrow to move it upwards.

Linked Smart Object - Edit background

Step 4

Select the lower part of the image using the Marquee Tool.

Linked Smart Object - Edit background

Step 5

Hit Control-T and then change its size until we have a cleaner table surface.

Linked Smart Object - Edit background

Step 6

Erase unneeded areas using the Eraser Tool with a soft, big brush.

Linked Smart Object - Edit background

Step 7

We're done editing the background layer file. Save and then close it. The brochure's background is automatically updated.

Linked Smart Object - Latest background

Step 8

Let's try another way to edit the background layer. Close the brochure file. We know that the background layer is linked to a PSD file. So, why don't we edit the PSD file directly? In Adobe Bridge, double-click the background PSD file to open it in Photoshop.

Linked Smart Object - Change background

Step 9

Grab another image from deathtothestockphoto—you will find it with the source files of this tutorial. Paste it to our PSD file. Save the PSD.

Linked Smart Object - Change background

Step 10

Let's open the brochure file in Photoshop and see what happens next.

Linked Smart Object - Change background

Step 11

In the Layers panel, you will find an exclamation mark icon inside the background Smart Object layer. This icon warns us that there's a problem with the layer. In Properties panel, you will also find a similar exclamation mark icon.

Linked Smart Object - Updating background linked file

Step 12

We know that the content of the linked file is already updated. We can instruct Photoshop to update the data layer by clicking Layer > Smart Object > Update Modified Content.

Linked Smart Object - Updating background linked file

Take a look at the canvas. The background is automatically updated.

Linked Smart Object - Updating background linked file

Step 13

Click the Edit Contents button to edit the file.

Linked Smart Object - Updating background linked file

Step 14

Perform a transformation (Control-T) into the new image.

Linked Smart Object - Updating background linked file

Save the background file. Return to the brochure file and then update the background smart layer.

Linked Smart Object - Updating background linked file

Step 15

To add contrast in the footer, add a simple rectangle at the bottom. Use the same color as the color of the logo.

Linked Smart Object - Add footer
Linked Smart Object - Select footer color

So far, here's the design we have.

Linked Smart Object - Current result

If you want to, you can still edit the background and maybe move the image a bit.

Linked Smart Object - Reedit background

5. Different Color Scheme

Step 1

We have changed the background image. Now, let's change the color scheme. In this version, the color of the logo and the text will be inverted. First, we want to add a simple rectangle for the text background. Use the Shape Tool with the Shape option selected in the Option Bar. Set the Fill to #231f20.

Linked Smart Object - Add text background

Click and drag to draw a simple rectangle in the bottom of the canvas.

Linked Smart Object - Add text background

Step 2

Change the text color to white.

Linked Smart Object - Change text color

Step 3

We also want to edit the vector logo and change its color.

Linked Smart Object - Edit vector logo

We can do this by activating the vector logo Smart Object in the Layers panel. From the Properties panel, click the Edit Contents button.

Linked Smart Object - Editing vector logo

We can also browse for files associated with the logo vector and then open them in Photoshop.

Linked Smart Object - Editing vector logo

Right-click the brochure file and then select Show Linked Files.

Linked Smart Object - Show linked files

Adobe Bridge will show you a list of files that linked to the container file. As you can see below, there are two files that are linked to this PSD, background and logo. Double-click the logo file to edit it using the appropriate program, in this case Adobe Illustrator.

Linked Smart Object - Open vector logo file

Step 4

Select all the background shapes.

Linked Smart Object - Select logo background

Change their color to black. Do this again to all of the shapes behind the text.

Linked Smart Object - Change its color to black

Invert the text color to white. Save and then close the vector file.

Linked Smart Object - Invert text color to white

Step 5

Let's return to our brochure file. We now have an inverted logo that matches our current color scheme.

Linked Smart Object - Footer with inverted logo

6. Organizing the Files

Step 1

By linking files, instead of embedding files, we use several connected files in our design project. Of course, we don't want one of them missing. Therefore, we need to organize them carefully. Make sure you put all of them in one folder. As you can see below, they are all placed in a folder named brochure package.

Linked Smart Object - Organizing linked files

You should also understand how Photoshop handles all related files. From the official help site, Photoshop will first search the files in the last absolute position. If Photoshop failed, it will search again in the same folder as the container file.

Linked Smart Object - How Photoshop locates linked files

Step 2

Let's see what happens if one of the linked files is missing. Remember that currently we have two files linked to the main PSD file.

Linked Smart Object - Misssing linked file

What if we accidentally remove the logo from the place of origin, which is in the same folder as the file container?

Linked Smart Object - Misssing linked file

Step 3

Right-click the main PSD file and then select Show Linked Files. A warning message appears, and reminds us that there are files missing.

Linked Smart Object - Misssing linked file

If we open the container file in Photoshop, a dialog box will pop up and tell us about the missing files.

Linked Smart Object - Misssing linked file

Click the Choose button to try searching for the missing file. Once you have found it, select it and then click the Place button.

Linked Smart Object - Misssing linked file

A check mark icon indicates that the missing linked files have been found.

Linked Smart Object - Misssing linked file

You can choose to ignore the warning dialog box. If you do so, inside the Layers panel and Properties panel, you will find a question mark icon tells you about the loss of the associated file.

Linked Smart Object - Misssing linked file

Click the Edit Contents button or double-click the layer and then try to find the missing file manually.

Linked Smart Object - Misssing linked file

So, make sure to always put the container file and associated files in the same folder. Another advantage of using the related file is a smaller file size. As you can see on the status bar, the container file size is 14.43 MB.

Linked Smart Object - Linked Smart Object file size

Step 4

You can always use the earlier method with Smart Objects, which is to embed the files. Embedding means you place the image data directly in the container file.

Linked Smart Object - Embedded Smart Object

You can embed all Smart Objects by clicking Layer > Smart Objects > Embed All Linked.

Linked Smart Object - Embed All Linked

You won't see a link icon in the layer's thumbnail or the Properties panel. Instead, you will see a regular old Smart Object icon.

Linked Smart Object - Embed Smart Object

You will also notice the difference in the file size between the Embedded and the Linked Smart Objects. Because embedded means you place all the image information in one container file, you will get a very big file size. In this case, Embedded Smart Objects generate 70 MB while Linked Smart Objects generate 14 MB.

Linked Smart Object - Embedded Smart Object file size

7. Linking One File to Several Design Files

Step 1

In this tutorial, we have linked two files, PSD (Photoshop) and AI (Illustrator), to a brochure file. Actually, you can also link those files to another file for a multiple design project, for example linking the vector logo to a business card file.

Linked Smart Object - Reuse one file in multiple design projects

Step 2

This way, we can simply edit the vector logo, and the result will automatically be updated in both container files, brochure and business card. In this case, we change the text logo from a to s.

Linked Smart Object - Reuse one file in multiple design projects

The vector logo in the brochure is automatically updated too.

Linked Smart Object - Reuse one file in multiple design projects
Linked Smart Object - Reuse one file in multiple design projects

Conclusion

From this lengthy tutorial, we can see that the new Linked Smart Objects in Adobe Photoshop offer us more freedom to work non-destructively. This new feature will be very helpful for those who work as a team. For example, one can focus on the layout, the other on the logo, and the other can focus on photo manipulation for the image background. I hope you can find new tricks to use this new feature. If you succeed, let me know in the comments area.

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