How To Transform Type With Smart Objects In Photoshop

How To Transform Type With Smart Objects In Photoshop

Written by Steve Patterson. In this tutorial, we'll learn how to enable Distort and Perspective transformations for text in Photoshop by converting Type layers into Smart Objects! I'll be using Photoshop CC here, but since Smart Objects were first added to Photoshop way back in CS2, everything we'll be covering applies to any version of Photoshop from CS2 and up.

There's lots that Photoshop lets us do with Type layers on their own when it comes to transformations. We can scale them, rotate them, skew them, warp them, and flip them horizontally and vertically. Yet two of the more interesting types of transformations, Distort and Perspective, are not available with Type layers.

The traditional way of getting around this problem is to rasterize the type; that is, convert it into pixels. But by doing so, we lose the ability to edit the text, so that's not a great solution. A better way is to simply convert the Type layer into a Smart Object. A Smart Object is like a virtual, indestructible container that holds the contents of the layer inside of it. Anything we do to the layer at that point is done not to the layer itself but to the Smart Object. Photoshop lets us apply all types of transformations to Smart Objects, including Distort and Perspective, which means that once we've converted a Type layer into a Smart Object, anything we can do to a Smart Object, we can do to our text! Let's see how it works.

Get the PDF version of this tutorial!

Adding The Text

Here's an image I've opened in Photoshop. I downloaded this one from Adobe Stock just to use as an interesting background for this tutorial:

An image open in Photoshop CC. Image © 2016 Steve Patterson, Photoshop Essentials.com
An image open in Photoshop CC.

I'll add some text in front of the image. To do that, I'll select Photoshop's Type Tool from the Toolbar:

Selecting the Type Tool in the Toolbar. Image © 2016 Steve Patterson, Photoshop Essentials.com
Selecting the Type Tool.

Next, I'll choose my font in the Options Bar along the top of the screen. I wanted something futuristic looking to match the image, so I downloaded a font called Orbitron from Adobe Typekit. I've set the font size to 72 pt:

Selecting the Type Tool in the Toolbar. Image © 2016 Steve Patterson, Photoshop Essentials.com
The font options in the Options Bar.

Still in the Options Bar, I want the text to appear centered in the image, so I'll choose the Center Text option for the alignment. And finally, I've chosen white as the color for my text. I'm going through this rather quickly just so we can get to the main topic of this tutorial, which is how to add Distort and Perspective transformations to the type:

Choosing the Center Text alignment option and white for the color. Image © 2016 Steve Patterson, Photoshop Essentials.com
Choosing the Center Text alignment option and white as the font color.

With all of my font options selected, I'll click below the center of the image with the Type Tool and add my text. I'll type the word "SPACE". To accept the text when I'm done, I'll press Enter on my keyboard's numeric keypad. If I didn't have a numeric keypad, I'd press Ctrl+Enter (Win) / Command+Return (Mac) on the keyboard:

Selecting the Type Tool in the Toolbar. Image © 2016 Steve Patterson, Photoshop Essentials.com
Adding some text in front of the image.

The text is a little too small at the moment, so I'll quickly resize it using Photoshop's Free Transform command. To select it, I'll go up to the Edit menu in the Menu Bar along the top of the screen and choose Free Transform. I could also press Ctrl+T (Win) / Command+T (Mac) on my keyboard to select it using the shortcut:

Choosing the Free Transform command from under the Edit menu. Image © 2016 Steve Patterson, Photoshop Essentials.com
Going to Edit > Free Transform.

This places the Free Transform box and handles around the text. To make the text larger, I'll press and hold the Shift key on my keyboard, as well as the Alt (Win) / Option (Mac) key. Then with the keys held down, I'll click on one of the corner handles and drag it outward. Holding the Shift key tells Photoshop to lock the aspect ratio of the text as I'm resizing it (so it doesn't end up looking distorted), while the Alt (Win) / Option (Mac) key resizes the text from its center rather than from the corner.

While I'm here, I'll also click inside the Free Transform box and drag with my mouse to move the text around, making sure I have it centered with the image. When I'm done, I'll press Enter (Win) / Return (Mac) on my keyboard to accept the transformation and close out of the Free Transform command:

Resizing and repositioning the type with Free Transform. Image © 2016 Steve Patterson, Photoshop Essentials.com
Resizing and repositioning the text with Free Transform.

The Problem: Distort And Perspective Not Available

So far, so good. I've added the initial text. If we look in my Layers panel, we see the text sitting on a Type layer above the image. We know it's a Type layer because of the big letter "T" in the thumbnail:

The Layers panel showing the new Type layer. Image © 2016 Steve Patterson, Photoshop Essentials.com
The Layers panel showing the new Type layer.

At this point, I'd like to give the text more of a 3D look to it, as if it's leaning towards the horizon. In other words, I'd like to change its perspective. If I was working with a normal pixel-based layer, I could do that easily by applying a Perspective transformation. But things aren't always as simple as they should be, even in Photoshop, and unfortunately, the Perspective transform mode is not available to us when working with Type layers. Neither is the Distort transform mode, another one that I could have used here (although Perspective would work better).

All of Photoshop's transform modes can be accessed by going up to the Edit menu at the top of the screen and choosing Transform. But if I do that, notice that Distort and Perspective are both grayed out, meaning they're not available. That's because I currently have a Type layer selected in the Layers panel:

The Transform menu showing Distort and Perspective grayed out with Type layers. Image © 2016 Steve Patterson, Photoshop Essentials.com
The Transform menu showing Distort and Perspective grayed out for Type layers.

The Solution: Converting The Type Layer Into A Smart Object

As I mentioned earlier, the traditional way of dealing with this problem is to rasterize the Type layer, which converts the type from vectors into pixels. But the problem with this approach is that once we've converted the type into pixels, it's no longer editable. Also, pixels are resolution-dependent, meaning we can only do so much with them before we start to lose image quality. If we start stretching and reshaping pixels, we run the risk of softening the edges, making our text look dull. Type layers, on the other hand, are made from vectors which are resolution-independent. No matter what we do to vectors, the edges remain crisp and sharp. So, to keep our text editable and looking great, we need a way to enable Distort and Perspective without converting it to pixels.

How do we do that? We do it by converting the Type layer into a Smart Object! Photoshop gives us a few different ways to convert a Type layer into a Smart Object, but one of the quickest ways is to first make sure you have your Type layer selected. Then, click on the small menu icon in the upper right corner of the Layers panel:

Clicking the menu icon in the Layers panel. Image © 2016 Steve Patterson, Photoshop Essentials.com
Clicking the menu icon in the Layers panel.

Choose Convert to Smart Object from the menu that appears:

Choosing the Convert to Smart Object command in the Layers panel. Image © 2016 Steve Patterson, Photoshop Essentials.com
Choosing the Convert to Smart Object command.

Nothing will seem to have happened to the text, but if we look again in the Layers panel, we see that the Type layer's thumbnail has changed. Instead of the "T" that was there before, it's now showing the actual contents of the layer. And, a small Smart Object icon now appears in the lower right of the thumbnail, telling us that the Type layer is now a Smart Object:

The Layers panel converted to a Smart Object. Image © 2016 Steve Patterson, Photoshop Essentials.com
The Layers panel showing the Type layer converted to a Smart Object.

Now that we've converted the Type layer into a Smart Object, let's see what happens if I try to apply Distort or Perspective to it. I'll go back up to the Edit menu at the top of the screen and choose Transform, and this time, we see that nothing is grayed out! I'm free to choose any of Photoshop's transform options, including Distort and Perspective:

Both Distort and Perspective are now available after converting the Type layer to a Smart Object. Image © 2016 Steve Patterson, Photoshop Essentials.com
Both Distort and Perspective are now available after converting the Type layer to a Smart Object.

Distort

Let's quickly see how Distort and Perspective work. I'll start by choosing Distort:

Choosing the Distort transform option. Image © 2016 Steve Patterson, Photoshop Essentials.com
Choosing the Distort option.

In Distort mode, we can reshape the text by grabbing any of the four corner handles of the transform box and dragging them around independently in any direction:

Reshaping the type using the Distort transform mode. Image © 2016 Steve Patterson, Photoshop Essentials.com
Distort mode lets us drag the corner handles independently.

Perspective

That's not really what I wanted to do here, so I'll press the Esc key on my keyboard to cancel out of Distort mode.

What I want to do is make the text look like it's leaning in toward the horizon, and for that, I'll need to be in Perspective mode. I could use Distort to create the effect, but it would take a bit more effort. Perspective will make it easier. I'll once again go up to the Edit menu, choose Transform, and this time, I'll choose Perspective:

Choosing the Perspective transform option. Image © 2016 Steve Patterson, Photoshop Essentials.com
Choosing the Perspective transform option.

Like Distort, Perspective mode lets us click on any of the four corner handles and drag them around. The difference is that in Perspective mode, we can only drag vertically or horizontally, and the corner opposite the one you're dragging will move along with it, in the opposite direction. For example, if I click on the top left corner and drag it upward, notice that the corner in the bottom left corner also moves, except that it moves downward, which makes the text look like it's closer to us on the left than it is on the right:

In Perspective mode, dragging the top left corner up moves the bottom right corner down. Image © 2016 Steve Patterson, Photoshop Essentials.com
Dragging the top left corner up moves the bottom left corner down at the same time.

That's not the effect I'm going for, though, so I'll undo it by going up to the Edit menu and choosing Undo, or by pressing Ctrl+Z (Win) / Command+Z (Mac) on my keyboard:

Choosing the Undo command under the Edit menu. Image © 2016 Steve Patterson, Photoshop Essentials.com
Going to Edit > Undo.

This keeps me in Perspective mode but returns the type to its original shape:

The text after undoing the previous step. Image © 2016 Steve Patterson, Photoshop Essentials.com
The text after undoing the previous step.

I'll click again on the handle in the top left corner, and this time, I'll drag it inward towards the right, causing the handle in the top right corner to move in as well, creating my pseudo-3D effect:

Dragging the top corners inward in Perspective mode. Image © 2016 Steve Patterson, Photoshop Essentials.com
Dragging the top left corner inward moves the top right corner inward at the same time.

I like the effect so far, but I think the type needs to be stretched a bit more vertically. To do that, I'll need to switch from the Perspective transform mode to Scale. A quick way to switch between modes while the transform box is still active is to simply right-click (Win) / Control-click (Mac) anywhere inside the document and choose the mode you need from the menu. I'll choose Scale:

Switching from the Perspective transform mode to Scale. Image © 2016 Steve Patterson, Photoshop Essentials.com
Switching from Perspective mode to Scale.

In Scale mode, I'll click on the bottom center handle and drag it downward to stretch the type vertically:

Scaling the type in Photoshop. Image © 2016 Steve Patterson, Photoshop Essentials.com
Scaling the type by dragging the bottom center handle downward.

When I'm done, I'll press Enter (Win) / Return (Mac) on my keyboard to accept the transformations and close out of Transform mode:

The type after applying Perspective and Scale transformations. Image © 2016 Steve Patterson, Photoshop Essentials.com
The type after applying Perspective and Scale transformations.

Blending The Type With The Image (Optional)

At this point, I like the shape of the type, but the solid white color is looking pretty bland and out of place compared with the rest of the image. I'll quickly add a couple of effects to help blend it in. Since we're going beyond the scope of this tutorial (and we still have one more important topic to cover), I'll go through this quickly. If you don't want to follow along here, feel free to skip to the next and final section, Editing The Type Inside The Smart Object.

First, to blend the text in with the image, I'll change the Smart Object's blend mode from Normal to Overlay. The Blend Mode option is found in the upper left of the Layers panel:

Changing the Smart Object's blend mode to Overlay. Image © 2016 Steve Patterson, Photoshop Essentials.com
Changing the Smart Object's blend mode to Overlay.

This allows the light rays behind the text to show through, and it boosts contrast in the letters:

Changing the Smart Object's blend mode to Overlay. Image © 2016 Steve Patterson, Photoshop Essentials.com
The effect after changing the blend mode to Overlay.

Learn The Five Essential Blend Modes For Photo Editing In Photoshop

It's an interesting effect on its own, but there's so much black in the image that it's causing lower areas of the text to disappear. To fix that, I'll click on the Layer Effects ("fx") icon at the bottom of the Layers panel:

Clicking the Layer Effects icon in the Layers panel. Image © 2016 Steve Patterson, Photoshop Essentials.com
Clicking the Layer Effects icon.

Then I'll choose Outer Glow from the list of effects:

Choosing an Outer Glow layer effect. Image © 2016 Steve Patterson, Photoshop Essentials.com
Choosing an Outer Glow layer effect.

This opens Photoshop's Layer Style dialog box set to the Outer Glow options. First, I'll click on the color swatch and change the color of the outer glow to green (to match the green in the image). I'll increase the Opacity value to 50% so we can see the glow a bit easier, then I'll increase the Size of the glow to around 60px:

The Outer Glow options in the Layer Style dialog box. Image © 2016 Steve Patterson, Photoshop Essentials.com
The Outer Glow options in the Layer Style dialog box.

I'll click OK to close out of the Layer Style dialog box, and now with the outer glow applied, we can once again make out the shapes of the letters:

The result after applying the Outer Glow effect to the type. Image © 2016 Steve Patterson, Photoshop Essentials.com
The result after applying the Outer Glow effect.

Editing The Type Inside The Smart Object

I mentioned earlier that one of the main benefits of converting the Type layer into a Smart Object is that it keeps the text fully editable. So how do we edit the text inside a Smart Object?

Normally, we would simply click on the text with the Type Tool, but we can't do that in this case because the text is actually inside the Smart Object. Instead, to get to the text, we need to double-click on the Smart Object's thumbnail in the Layers panel:

Double-clicking on the Smart Object thumbnail in the Layers panel. Image © 2016 Steve Patterson, Photoshop Essentials.com
Double-clicking on the Smart Object thumbnail.

This opens the Smart Object, and the text will appear on its own in a separate document. The checkerboard pattern behind the text (which is how Photoshop represents transparency) is making the white letters a bit difficult to see, but that's okay, it's only temporary:

The text opens in a separate document. Image © 2016 Steve Patterson, Photoshop Essentials.com
The text inside the Smart Object opens in a separate document.

To edit the text, I'll once again select the Type Tool from the Toolbar. I could also select it by pressing the letter T on my keyboard:

Selecting the Type Tool in the Toolbar. Image © 2016 Steve Patterson, Photoshop Essentials.com
Selecting the Type Tool.

Then, I'll double-click with the Type Tool on the text to highlight it and, in keeping with the outer space theme, I'll change the word "SPACE" to "ALIEN":

Editing the text inside the Smart Object. Image © 2016 Steve Patterson, Photoshop Essentials.com
Editing the text inside the Smart Object.

To save the change, we need to save the document by going up to the File menu at the top of the screen and choosing Save, or by pressing Ctrl+S (Win) / Command+S (Mac) on your keyboard:

Saving the Smart Object document. Image © 2016 Steve Patterson, Photoshop Essentials.com
Going to File > Save.

Then, since we no longer need the text document, we can close it by going back up to the File menu and choosing Close, or by pressing Ctrl+W (Win) / Command+W (Mac):

Closing the Smart Object document. Image © 2016 Steve Patterson, Photoshop Essentials.com
Going to File > Close.

This returns us to the main document which instantly updates with the changes we made to the text:

The same effect after editing the text. Image © 2016 Steve Patterson, Photoshop Essentials.com
The same effect after editing the text.

And there we have it! That's how to easily apply Distort and Perspective transformations to type, while keeping the text fully editable, simply by converting Type layers into Smart Objects! For more ways to combine Smart Objects with type, check out Applying Smart Filters To Editable Type In Photoshop!