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Create Photoshop Templates For Photo Effects

Written by Steve Patterson. In this Photoshop tutorial, we’re going to learn how to create and then reuse a photo effect as a Photoshop template using Smart Objects and Smart Filters. Smart Objects were first introduced in Photoshop CS2, and Photoshop CS3 takes them even further with Smart Filters. Both of these recent additions to Photoshop have the potential to completely change how you work inside the program, since they give you an amazing level of flexibility that simply doesn’t exist without them.

To get the most from this tutorial, you’ll need to have Photoshop CS3, since it’s the only version of Photoshop (so far anyway) that comes with Smart Filters, although you can still do quite a bit simply with Photoshop CS2 and Smart Objects. Of course, you can still read through the tutorial even if you have an older version of Photoshop, if only to see what sort of features you’ll be getting if and when you decide to upgrade.

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What are Smart Objects and Smart Filters?
If you’ve ever used a page layout program before, you’ll be familiar with how Smart Objects work. When you convert an image into a Smart Object in Photoshop, you’re no longer working on the image itself, even though it still looks like you are. Instead, you’re working on a reference to the image, with the actual image stored safely in a separate file that Photoshop creates. The Smart Object is basically a container that displays the reference to the actual image. This is what allows us to create templates from Photoshop documents that use Smart Objects, since when we’re done creating our effect with the original image, we can tell Photoshop to simply replace the image inside the Smart Object container with a different image, or more precisely, we tell Photoshop to reference a different image, and just like that, Photoshop swaps one image with another and the entire effect is instantly recreated using the new image, without having to redo any of the work!

So what are Smart Filters then? Essentially, they’re the same as Photoshop’s regular filters that we find under the Filter menu in the Options Bar. In fact, they’re exactly the same. The only difference, as we’ll see, is that when you apply a filter to a Smart Object, Photoshop converts it into a “smart” version of the filter, with the difference being that Smart Filters remain completely, 100% editable! Normally, when you apply one of Photoshop’s filters to an image, the image itself is physically altered by the filter, and if you want to change the filter settings, you’d have to undo your steps all the way back to just before you applied the filter (assuming you haven’t run out of History states) and then apply it again with the new settings. Not so with Smart Filters! With a Smart Filter, you can go back at any time, change the settings in the filter’s dialog box, and have the new settings applied to the image instantly without damaging or even touching the image in any way. If you’re familiar with how Adjustment Layers work in Photoshop, Smart Filters work essentially the same way.

As I mentioned, ideally you’ll have Photoshop CS3 for this tutorial, but there’s still plenty of things you can do when creating photo templates simply with Photoshop CS2 and Smart Objects. In fact, the only thing you can’t do with Photoshop CS2 is apply a filter to a Smart Object, at least not if you still want to be able to use the effect as a photo template.

A couple of things to point out before we begin. First, even though we’ll be creating a simple photo effect here, one that works very well with wedding photography, the effect itself is not the focus of this tutorial, although you’re certainly free to recreate the same effect if you choose. The purpose of this Photoshop tutorial is to show you how to go about creating an effect using Smart Objects and Smart Filters so that you can then apply the knowledge to your own photo template creations. Second, in order to use a different photo with the template, it’s important that the new photo matches the original in terms of image size, orientation, and resolution. If the original photo used was an 8×10 portrait at 300ppi resolution, any photo you replace it with should also be an 8×10 portrait at 300ppi resolution, otherwise you’ll end up with unexpected results.

If you’re simply using photos you took yourself with the same digital camera and haven’t resized or cropped them, then all you’ll need to make sure of it that you don’t try to replace a photo in portrait orientation (taller than it is wide) with one in landscape orientation (wider than it is tall). If you need more information on image resolution and document sizes, be sure to visit our Digital Photo Essentials section of the website.

Okay, enough talking. Let’s get started!

Step 1: Open The First Image You Want To Use

Before we can use our photo effect as a template, we first need to create the effect, so open the first photo you want to use with it. Here’s the photo I’ll be starting with:

A photo of a young bride smiling.
The original image.

With my image now open in Photoshop, if I look in my Layers palette, everything seems normal. I have one layer, the Background layer, which contains my image:

Photoshop's Layers palette showing the original image on the Background layer.
Photoshop’s Layers palette showing the original image on the Background layer.

We’re going to convert the image into a Smart Object next!

Step 2: Convert The Image Into A Smart Object

Here’s where things get a little different than if we were simply creating this effect once with no intention of using it again with other images. To be able to use this Photoshop document as a template, we need to convert our image into a Smart Object, which, as I mentioned on the previous page, will mean we’ll no longer be working on the image itself. Instead, we’ll be working on a reference to the image. The actual image will be safely stored in a separate file, untouched and unharmed by whatever crazy things we do next.

To convert the image into a Smart Object, go up to the Layer menu at the top of the screen, choose Smart Objects, and then, in Photoshop CS3, choose Convert to Smart Object, or if you’re using Photoshop CS2, choose Group into New Smart Object. Nothing will seem to have happened to your image, but if we look in the Layers palette again, we can see a few changes with the Background layer. For one thing, it’s no longer named “Background”. Photoshop has renamed it “Layer 0″. More importantly though, if we look closely at the layer’s preview thumbnail, we can see that it now has a white highlight box around it, along with an icon in its bottom right corner. That icon is telling us that the image has now been converted into a Smart Object:

Photoshop's Layers palette showing the image on the Background layer now converted into a Smart Object.
Photoshop’s Layers palette showing the image on the Background layer now converted into a Smart Object.

Step 3: Duplicate The Layer

Now that our image has been converted into a Smart Object, let’s duplicate it. Duplicating a Smart Object is no different from duplicating a normal layer, and the easiest way to do it is with the keyboard shortcut Ctrl+J (Win) / Command+J (Mac). If we look again in the Layers palette, we can see that we now have two layers, the original "Layer 0" on the bottom and the new "Layer 0 copy" above it, both of which contain a copy of the Smart Object :

Photoshop's Layers palette showing the newly created copy of the Smart Object layer above the original.
Press “Ctrl+J” (Win) / “Command+J” (Mac) to duplicate the Smart Object layer.

It’s important to note here that even though we’ve duplicated the Smart Object, we don’t really have two separate Smart Objects. Both of them are referencing the exact same photo, which means that when we replace the original image with a different image, as we’ll do at the end of the tutorial, both layers will then show the same new photo. If we were to create 3, or 5, or 10 or more copies of the Smart Object and then replace the image, since they’re all copies of the exact same Smart Object, they would all show the new photo!

Step 4: Resize And Reposition The Image On The New Layer With Free Transform

Let’s move and resize the image on our newly created copy layer. Again, there’s no difference between moving and resizing a Smart Object and a normal layer. Press Ctrl+T (Win) / Command+T (Mac) to bring up Photoshop’s Free Transform box and handles around the image on the new layer. Then hold down Shift+Alt (Win) / Shift+Option (Mac) and drag any of the four corner handles inward to resize the image until it’s about 60% of its original size. Holding “Shift” constrains the width and height proportions of the image as we resize it so we don’t accidentally distort its shape, and holding “Alt” (Win) / “Option” (Mac) tells Photoshop to resize the image from its center:

Resizing the image with the Free Transform handles in Photoshop.
Resize the image to about 60% of its original size with Free Transform.

I’m also going to move the image down a bit by clicking anywhere inside of the Free Transform box (except for on the small target icon in the center) and simply dragging the image down with my mouse. As I drag, I’m going to hold Shift which will force the image to move down in a straight line, preventing me from accidentally moving it left or right:

Dragging the image down a little with Free Transform.
Drag the image down a little by holding “Shift” and dragging it straight down with your mouse.

Press Enter (Win) / Return (Mac) when you’re done to accept the transformation and exit out of Free Transform.

Step 5: Add A Stroke To The Resized Image

As we’ve seen so far, working with Smart Objects isn’t much different from working with normal layers, and the same is true even when adding Layer Styles. Click on the Layer Styles icon at the bottom of the Layers palette (in Photoshop CS2 it looks like a circle with an “f” inside, and in Photoshop CS3 it’s simply the letters “fx”) and select Stroke from the bottom of the list:

Clicking on the 'Layer Styles' icon at the bottom of the Layers palette and selecting 'Stroke' from the list.
Click on the “Layer Styles” icon and select “Stroke” from the list.

This brings up Photoshop’s Layer Style dialog box set to the Stroke options in the middle column. Change the Size of the stroke to 1 px and the Position to Inside, then click on the red color swatch to the right of the word “Color”, which will bring up Photoshop’s Color Picker, and choose white as the stroke color:

Change the stroke options circled in red.
Change the stroke options circled in red above.

Click OK to exit out of the Color Picker, but don’t exit out of the Layer Style dialog box just yet. We have a couple more layer styles to add first, which we’ll do next.

Step 6: Add A Drop Shadow

Click directly on the words Drop Shadow on the left of the Layer Style dialog box:

Clicking on the words 'Drop Shadow' on the left of Photoshop's Layer Style dialog box.
Click directly on the words “Drop Shadow”.

This changes the options in middle column of the Layer Style dialog box to the Drop Shadow options. Lower the Opacity of the Drop Shadow to around 40% so it’s not so intense. Set the Distance to 0px, leave the Spread set to 0%, then increase the Size to around 40px, although you may want to experiment with a higher value if you’re using a high resolution image:

Photoshop's Drop Shadow layer style options.
Change the Drop Shadow options circled in red above.

Step 7: Add An Inner Glow

Click directly on the words Inner Glow on the left of the Layer Style dialog box:

Clicking on the words 'Inner Glow' on the left of Photoshop's Layer Style dialog box.
Click directly on the words “Inner Glow”.

This changes the options in middle column of the Layer Style dialog box to the Inner Glow options. Lower the Opacity of the Inner Glow to around 40%, again so it’s not as intense. Click on the yellow color swatch directly below the word “Noise”, which brings up Photoshop’s Color Picker, and select white as the glow color. Click OK to exit out of the Color Picker, then set the Size of the glow to around 40px. Again you may want to experiment with a higher Size value if you’re using a high resolution image:

Photoshop's Inner Glow layer style options.
Change the Inner Glow options circled in red above.

When you’re done, click OK in the top right corner of the Layer Style dialog box to exit out of it. Here’s my image after applying all three Layer Styles:

The image after applying the three layer styles in Photoshop.
The image after applying the Layer Styles.

So far, everything we’ve done with our image can be completed in either Photoshop CS2 or Photoshop CS3. What we’re going to do next is a Photoshop CS3 exclusive, at least until Photoshop CS4 comes out.

Step 8: Add A Gaussian Blur Smart Filter To The Bottom Layer

Here’s the part of the tutorial that you need to be using Photoshop CS3 for (don’t worry if you’re using Photoshop CS2, we’ll get back to you in a moment). We’re going to apply a Smart Filter to our Smart Object. Now I should clarify something before we continue. You can apply filters to Smart Objects in Photoshop CS2, just as you would apply them to a normal layer. The difference is that in Photoshop CS2, when you try to apply any filter to a Smart Object, Photoshop will pop up a warning message telling you that the Smart Object must be rasterized before the filter can be applied.

What that means is, the Smart Object will be converted back into a normal layer once again, which means it will no longer be a Smart Object, which means you will no longer be able to simply replace one photo with another inside of it. Which basically means, you lose the ability to use the Photoshop document as a template. So in other words, if your goal is to create a document that can be used as a template and you’re using Photoshop CS2, don’t use filters. There’s still lots of other things you can do with your Smart Objects in CS2, but using filters isn’t one of them. Not if you’re making a reusable template, anyway.

Having said that, if you are using Photoshop CS3, click on “Layer 0″ (the bottom layer) in the Layers palette to select it. Then go up to the Filter menu at the top of the screen, choose Blur, and then choose Gaussian Blur. This brings up the Gaussian Blur dialog box. I’m going to set my Radius value at the bottom of the dialog box to around 9 pixels. If you’re using a high resolution image, try 12-14 pixels:

Applying the Gaussian Blur filter to the bottom layer in Photoshop.
Apply the Gaussian Blur filter to the bottom layer.

Click OK when you’re done to exit out of the dialog box. Here’s my image after applying the filter. Notice how the image in the background is now nicely blurred out:

The image after applying the Gaussian Blur filter in Photoshop.
The background is now blurred out after applying the Gaussian Blur filter.

Nothing we did here was out of the ordinary. We selected and applied the Gaussian Blur filter to the copy of the Smart Object on the bottom layer in exactly the same way we would have applied it to a normal layer. But if we look in our Layers palette, we can see that something out of the ordinary has definitely happened:

Photoshop's Layers palette showing that the Gaussian Blur filter applied to the Smart Object on 'Layer 0' has been converted into a Smart Filter.
The Layers palette showing that the Gaussian Blur filter applied to “Layer 0″ has been converted into a Smart Filter.

By applying the filter to a Smart Object, the filter has been converted into a Smart Filter! If we look below "Layer 0", we can see that it now says “Smart Filters”, and below that is a list of all of the filters we’ve applied to the Smart Object. In this case, we’ve only applied one filter, the Gaussian Blur filter, and we can see it listed there. If we had applied several other filters to the Smart Object on that layer, they would each be listed under the words “Smart Filters”. We’ve now successfully applied a filter to the Smart Object without having to convert it back into a normal layer. What’s more, as we’ll see when we go to replace the photo with a new photo, the Gaussian Blur filter will now automatically be applied to any photo we use with our template!

Smart Filters have numerous advantages, and we’ve only scratched the surface with them here with our discussion on how to use them when creating templates. We’ll look at more of the amazing possibilities they offer in other tutorials.

We’ll see how to replace our photo with another next!

Step 9: Replace The Photo With A New Photo

At this point, our basic photo effect is complete. You can save the document now if you wish. We’re now going to see how incredibly easy it is to use our Photoshop document as a template by replacing our existing photo with a new photo! This works with both Photoshop CS2 and Photoshop CS3 (welcome back, Photoshop CS2 users!).

Keep in mind what I mentioned at the beginning. When replacing one photo with another inside a Smart Object, you need to make sure that both photos have the same width and height dimensions, the same orientation (portrait or landscape), and the same resolution, otherwise things won’t work out the way you expect. If you try to replace one photo with another and suddenly the new photo is either too large or too small inside the document, something was different between them, and you’ll need to correct that before trying again. You’ll find lots of information about image size and resolution in our Digital Photo Essentials section of the website.

Assuming that the next photo you want to use with your template does use the same dimentions, orientation and image resolution as the original, let’s swap them! Select either “Layer 0″ or “Layer 0 copy” in the Layers palette. It doesn’t matter which one you select since, as I mentioned previously, they’re both copies of each other and both referencing the exact same photo, so replacing the image inside one of them will automatically replace the image in both. Then, with either of them selected, go up to the Layer menu at the top of the screen once again, choose Smart Objects, and this time, choose Replace Contents:

Selecting 'Replace Contents' from the Smart Objects menu inside Photoshop.
Go to Layer > Smart Objects > Replace Contents.

A dialog box will pop up allowing you to navigate to the new photo on your computer. Once you’ve located it, double-click on it to select it, and instantly, the original photo is replaced with the new photo inside the document! All of the Layer Styles we applied to the top layer have been applied to the new image, and if you’re using Photoshop CS3, the background image on the bottom layer even has the Gaussian Blur filter applied to it, all without redoing any of the work:

The new photo has replaced the original in the document.
The original photo is instantly replaced with the new photo inside the document.

And there we have it! Thanks to Smart Objects in Photoshop CS2 and the new Smart Filters in Photoshop CS3, it’s easy to create photo effects that can be reused as templates any time you need them! Check out our Photo Effects section for more great Photoshop effects tutorials, or see below for other tutorials you may be interested in!

Download our tutorials as print-ready PDFs! Learning Photoshop has never been easier!

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