Photoshop Smart Filters are one of the greatest things about Smart Objects. When you apply a filter effect to a Smart Object layer, you automatically create a Smart Filter. You can edit the filter(s) as many times as you like, without damaging the original pixels.
In this tutorial, you’ll learn how to use two copies of the same Smart Object to create the product mock-up, then apply a filter to de-focus the background. Once everything is set up, you can easily update the image in the Smart Object to change the scene.
1. Prepare the Mock-Up
As you can see in the Layers panel, this file is organized into its component parts. You may not need all of these layers, but more layers gives you more flexibility and more control over the final output.
For our purposes, it’s important to have one layer as the “screen” layer. It should be a transparent layer, containing a filled rectangle the size of the phone’s screen.
To create this layer, you can carefully select the screen area using the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M), then fill the selection in a new layer above the Phone layer. To refine the selection, use Transform Selection under the Select menu to get it just right. You can fill the selection with any color, as it won’t be visible in the final mock-up.
2. Prepare the Smart Object
Drag a photo into the mockup PSD. It should be a high-resolution image, so it can fill the background without enlarging. Drag the layer to the bottom of the layers stack. Optional: rename this layer “Scene”.
Convert the Scene layer to a Smart Object. There are three ways to do this:
- Go to the Layer menu to Smart Objects > Convert to Smart Object.
- Click the flyout menu on the Layers panel and choose Convert to Smart Object.
- Right-click the layer in the Layers panel and choose Convert to Smart Object.
You’ll notice that the layer now has a tiny icon in the lower right of its thumbnail, indicating that this is a Smart Object layer. Make a copy of the Smart Object layer by dragging it to the New Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers panel.
Drag the copy up above the Screen layer. Use Free Transform (Command-T) to scale the image so that it’s approximately the size of the phone screen. It should overlap slightly.
Clip the Scene copy layer to the Screen layer. This will mask off the part of the image that extends beyond the edges of the screen, but it won’t actually crop the image. First, select the “Scene copy” layer, and then click the flyout menu on the Layers panel and choose Create Clipping Mask. You can also use the keyboard shortcut Command-Option-G.
Alternately, you can hold down the Option (Alt) key and click between the two layers. You’ll see the cursor change to double circles to let you know you’re in the right spot.
Once the clipping mask is created, the image should fill the dimensions of the screen. You’ll also see the layer thumbnail has shifted slightly to the right, and has a small downward arrow. This indicates the “Scene copy” Smart Object layer is “clipped” to the layer below.
3. Add and Edit the Smart Filter
Select the background “Scene” Smart Object layer. Go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur. Enter a value for the blur Radius to give the background a de-focused look, as in the image below.
When you apply a filter to a Smart Object layer, a Smart Filter is automatically created below the Smart Object, with a Layer Mask built in.
You can paint on the Smart Filter Mask or otherwise edit it, to obscure parts of the filter effect. In this case, we want to bring the foreground of the scene into a little sharper focus, because it’s closer to the viewer.
Select the Smart Filters mask in the Layers panel. It will have a thin double line around the thumbnail to indicate it’s active. Choose the Gradient Tool (G) and make sure a linear black-to-white gradient is selected in the Control Panel. Drag the Gradient Tool vertically through the image so that the black part of the gradient starts at the bottom of the mask. As with any type of layer mask, remember: “black conceals, white reveals.”
Once the gradient is applied, you will see it in the Smart Filters thumbnail in the Layers panel:
You can Option (Alt)-click on the mask’s thumbnail to see the full mask in the PSD. Option-click again to return to the normal view.
Here is the finished mock-up. You can see that the beach and the water in the foreground (i.e. at the bottom of the image) are more in focus than the bridge and the sky. The black part of the gradient obscures the filter effect, and transitions to the full blur in the top half of the image. You can keep experimenting with the placement of the gradient to get it just right.
The great thing about Smart Filters is that they are non-destructive. You can edit them infinitely without causing permanent damage to the pixels in the image. Let’s say you want the Blur effect to be a little stronger. Double-click the effect’s name below the Smart Filters mask in the Layers panel to bring up its settings again. Adjust the radius and click OK.
If you had applied the Blur filter to a regular pixel layer, you wouldn’t be able to go back later and change the settings. This is the advantage of using Smart Objects with Smart Filters.
You can also change the Blending Mode of a Smart Filter, making it even more versatile. There is a small icon to the right of the effect’s name in the Layers panel. It looks like two sliders. Double-click this icon to bring up the Blending Options
Choose a Mode from the drop-down menu. You can also change the Opacity. Most Blend Modes won’t be practical for a mock-up like this, but it can be fun to experiment.
4. Edit the Smart Object
Now that the mockup is is all set up with a Smart Object and a Smart Filter, you can change both the phone screen image and the background at the same time, by editing the original Smart Object.
Double-click the Smart Object thumbnail to edit. You’ll see the following message. Once you become accustomed to working with Smart Objects, you can choose to turn off this warning dialog.
The Smart Object opens as a separate, special file. The file extension is .psb.
I’m just going to drag a different landscape photo on top of the existing one. There is no need to flatten the image, as Smart Objects can have multiple layers.
Close and save the .psb file. Now the new landscape will appear on both the phone screen and the background. This effect works because the Smart Object on the phone screen is a copy of the original.
Depending on the image you use, you may want to edit the blur effect, or adjust the gradient on the Smart Filters mask.
Smart Filters give you infinite ways to modify the look of your Smart Object layers. The best part is that you can do so without damaging the original pixels of the Smart Object. Experiment to your heart’s content!
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