How to Use Smart Filters in Photoshop CS6 - dummies

How to Use Smart Filters in Photoshop CS6

By Barbara Obermeier

Smart Filters is one of the best features of Photoshop CS6. Smart Filters are applied to your image nondestructively. Technically, the filters are applied to your pixel data, but Photoshop always retains the original pixel data inside the Smart Object. Then, each time a filter is edited, Photoshop installs the original pixel data and reapplies the filter.

  1. Create a Smart Object by doing one of the following:

    • Choose File→Open as Smart Object. Select your file and click Open.

    • In an existing file, choose File→Place. Select your file size and position the image to your liking, and double-click on the image or press the Commit button in the Options bar in Photoshop.

    • Select a Background or layer in the Layers panel and choose Layer→Smart Objects→Convert to Smart Object.

    • Select a layer in the Layers panel and choose Filter→Convert for Smart Filters.

    • Copy and paste Illustrator content as a Smart Object into Photoshop.

  2. Select your desired filter from the Filter menu.

    Any filter applied to a Smart Object becomes a Smart Filter.

    Your Smart Filter is appended beneath your Smart Object layer.

    [Credit: © Image #16961638]
    Credit: © Image #16961638

    You can also apply the Shadows/Highlights adjustment as a Smart Filter. It is found under the Image→Adjustments submenu.

    When you add a Smart Filter to a layer, Photoshop automatically adds a layer mask. Technically, when a layer mask is applied to a Smart Filter, it’s called a filter mask. Correspondingly, an alpha channel appears in the Channels panel.


    By default, the entire filter is displayed, as evidenced by an all-white filter mask. But the application of a filter mask enables you to selectively hide and show the effects of the filter. If you made a selection on the layer before applying a Smart Filter, the mask will reflect that selection.

    Note that the Properties panel enables you to control and fine-tune masks of all types, including layer masks, vector masks, and filter masks.

  3. Edit the filter as often as you like by simply double-clicking the filter name in the Layers panel.

    You can also right-click (right-clicking or Control-clicking on the Mac) the filter name to access a context menu from which you can select Edit Smart Filter.

    Your filter’s dialog box appears, enabling you to adjust the parameters, as desired. You can’t edit single-step filters (those that don’t display a dialog box but are automatically applied). You can, however, double-click to reapply certain filters, such as Clouds and Difference Clouds, that reside in the Render filter submenu.

  4. If desired, adjust the blend modes and opacity settings of the Smart Filter by right-clicking (right-clicking or Control-clicking on the Mac) on the filter name in the Layers panel to access a context menu. From that menu, select Edit Smart Filter Blending Options.

    In the dialog box that appears, select your desired blend mode from the Mode pop-up menu. Adjust your opacity by entering a percentage or moving the slider. This is a great way to tone down the effect of the filter and achieve a more subtle appearance. Doing so is similar to fading a filter, only better because you can infinitely edit the settings.

  5. Add as many filters as you need to the Smart Object.

    Filters reside in a grouped stack.

  6. (Optional) If you no longer want the filter, delete it by selecting it in the Layers panel and dragging it into the trash at the bottom of the panel.

    To delete an entire Smart Filter group (multiple filters), grab the Smart Filters name in the Layers panel and drag it into the trash. You can also delete the filters by right-clicking (right-clicking or Control-clicking on the Mac) the filter name and selecting Delete Smart Filter from the context menu that appears.

    You can also delete all filters by right-clicking (right-clicking or Control-clicking on the Mac) the Smart Filters name in the Layers panel and choosing Clear Smart Filters from the context menu.