Mastering Photoshop Smart Objects: Blending Layers Without Masking

When it comes to mastering the art of blending layers (or any of Photoshop’s most important tools and techniques), there are three stages of Enlightenment.

Stage 1: You Have (Almost) No Idea What You Are Doing. You muddle through and get the job done, but it takes way too long and doesn’t quite look right.

Stage 2: You Find Something That Works. You develop a set of moves that achieves a professional result, but it’s still labor intensive.

Stage 3: You Figure It Out. You come to understand how all those little checkboxes and sliders actually relate to each other (and to the image you’re working on), and make Photoshop do the work for you. You get pro results with minimal effort.

If you’re at Stage 1 or Stage 2 with blending layers, check out the video below. It shows the amazing power of Smart Objects to help you create nondestructive blending effects without spending any time fussing around with selections or masks. And even cooler: you canĀ animate the blending effect. Check it out!

Posted on: June 3, 2016

Bart Van de Wiele

Bart started his career as a graphic designer specialising in print, e-publishing and image retouching. After 7 years he started working as an Adobe Certified Instructor providing classroom training and consulting using various Creative Cloud products. He's a renowned speaker at conferences in Europe, Australia and the United States and has written many articles on Adobe's print and e-publishing products. Bart joined Adobe in 2015 as a Solution Consultant where he supports the Creative Cloud enterprise business and is a public speaker at Adobe marketing- and other PR events.

5 Comments on Mastering Photoshop Smart Objects: Blending Layers Without Masking

  1. Very very cool. Can you please explain why converting the moon image to a smart object removes the background?

  2. Hi Susan! When creating a smart object Photoshop merges all layers you selected into a new nested composition, which we call a smart object. This composition (a nested .psb file) has its own canvas and will always be visualised using that compositions transparency settings.

    E.g. if you lower a layer’s transparency to 40%, you only see this in the canvas, but you don’t see the layer thumbnail become transparant. If you select that same 40% layer and convert that into a smart object you WILL see its thumbnail change since it’s now a nested composition and photoshop is representing that new composition with its actual transparent and opaque regions.

    So when making certain areas transparent using the “blend if” sliders (which is basic transparency, not a blending mode which reacts differently) you get the exact same effect. The newly generated smart object layer thumbnail will represent that layer with its actual transparent and opaque areas, resulting in a layer without its background.

    Hope this helps šŸ˜‰

  3. Great tips. Can you clarify two things? When I cropped my photo, I lost the full width of the background layer as well. What did I do wrong? Second, it’s not clear to me as a PS animation novice how you created the keyframe markers in the last steps. Thanks!

    • Hi Nick!
      Before you commit to the crop, be sure to uncheck “delete cropped pixels” at the top of the screen. This way you’ll crop the canvas, and nog the image size.
      Animating is simple. Open the properties for the layer you wish to animate. Move the timehead to the timing where you want the animation to start. Click the stopwatch icon for the property you wish to animate (e.g. position), this generate a keyframe that locks that position value in time. Move the playhead to the point where you want the animation to end, and then just move the layer. The moment you release Photoshop will generate a second keyframe automatically.

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  1. Smart Objects and Blending Layers in Photoshop – a Creative Pro tutorial and notes | Michael Kelleher's Website

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