Linked vs. unlinked smart objects

In his recent video release of Sean’s Favorite Photoshop Techniques, Sean uses the TKActions V6 panel to duplicate a smart object layer to make unlinked smart objects. This allows the smart objects in these layers to be independently manipulated to achieve different results on the different layers. Because unlinked smart object layers can be so useful, I programmed this as the default for the “Duplicate Layer” button on the Combo/Cx modules when it is used to duplicate a smart object layer.

For anyone used to using the V6 panel who has gotten used to this behavior, it’s easy to forget that unlinked smart object is NOT the default in Photoshop. The Photoshop keyboard shortcut to duplicate a layer, CTRL/Command+J, produces a linked smart object instead. So does the menu command Layer > Duplicate Layer… In the video below, Sean goes over the difference between linked and unlinked smart objects. It’s a bit complicated, but an important distinction to keep in mind when working with smart objects.

Personally, my use of duplicate smart objects is similar to what Sean shows in the video to double-process a single RAW file. That’s why the default for the “Duplicate Layer” button is to create unlinked smart objects. Hope you agree with this choice and will give this feature a try if you’ve not already done so.

8 thoughts on “Linked vs. unlinked smart objects

  1. Tony, I think you made the right decision to make unlinked duplicates rather than linked ones. It offers the option of blending the two layers.


  2. I just wanted to say that going through Sean’s Favorite Photoshop Techniques video really got me to understand not only how Smart Objects work, but why to use them – completely integrating the power of Lr /Camera RAW with the power of Photoshop.  The only problem is that sometimes the files can become so large that they can’t be saved in a standard Psd file.  Fortunately, I was able to track down Sean’s short video on how to convert Psd files to Psb.  I should add that while none of these techniques make my photographs any better, they do give me tools to more fully actualize my vision.  Many thanks to both you and Sean for your commitment and generosity in sharing.

    Kerry Gordon, PhD., RP


    1. I agree that smart objects do take a lot of extra space. Sometimes, once I’m sure they’ve served their purpose, I’ll either rasterize the layer(s) (right-click the layer and choose this from the context menu) or create a merge visible layer of the results and actually delete the smart object layers. I know this defeats the ability to go back and do additional edits to the smart objects, but usually the image reaches a point that doing additional edits on the smart objects could ruin the edits I made afterwards. Since smart objects can significantly increase file size, they can slow down the whole developing process at some point, so that’s usually the point where I start looking for alternatives. However, in some situations, smart objects are an easy way to experiment with different options, so they are a useful tool.


  3. It was definitely the right choice for you to do it that way IMHO. Doing linked would have been a nuisance not only when using it for double (or more) developing the original, but also when it’s used following the Stamp Visible button for either multiple use of the ACR sliders, or doing filter related function, like sharpening.

    Question. I learned that Apple creates a depth map in the iPhone Portrait mode, which can be fished out of HEIF pkg. I can visualize many good applications of a depth map as a mask. However, it uses the 2 built-in lenses and multiple shots to create it. Have you given any consideration to depth maps in a TK panel, even if we (the users and beneficiaries of your mask creating magic) would have to take special steps (e.g. zoom in/out) when shooting the picture?

    Thank you for the GREAT TK v6, and looking forward to #7 or whatever your next magic will be. I did have the pleasure of spending workshop time with Sean, would be great to doi the same with you as well!

    Bob Kenedi Naples FL. (A very happy user of the panels and reader of the blogs.)


    1. Bob–You bring up a good point that could maybe use additional clarification. Linked smart objects are NOT linked with regard to the filters you apply to them. Applying a smart filter to one linked smart object does NOT change the other smart object it is linked with. So even with linked smart objects, you could do separate Carmera Raw filters on them and achieve different results. “Linked” and “unlinked” only refers to the object that’s actually embedded in the smart object to begin with, such as the RAW file when opening converted RAW files as smart objects. It’s only when you go back and edit the embedded object (the RAW file) that the linkage matters. So you’re probably wondering what the embedded object is in the case you describe: Merge Visible > Convert to Smart Object > Duplicate the Smart Object. Well, it’s actually that duplicate .psd document that Sean shows in the video. You can get to it by double-clicking the smart object’s thumbnail. You don’t actually know it’s there (like the RAW file), but PS is keeping track of it and will create it as a new document if you double-click the smart object thumbnail. But the same link/unlinked rules apply to these duplicate .psd documents with smart objects that are created inside Photoshop. Linked smart objects will be affected the same if the embedded object is changed. With unlinked smart objects, only the smart object that gets changed will be affected. I hope that makes sense. It’s a bit complicated. Playing with some linked and unlinked smart objects can sometimes help in understanding how these work.

      With regard to depth maps, I guess it would depend on whether Photoshop can actually read these depth maps. The panels only work in Photoshop, and can only access data available to Photoshop. I don’t know really know if this metadata can be accessed inside PS or not. I’m sure Adobe is probably looking in to this and will likely include ways to use or access this date in future updates.


  4. Hi Tony,

    A very nice clarification on the two types of smart objects by Sean.

    This begs the question, when is it best to use each one?




    1. Unlinked smart objects are good for double-processing a RAW file as Sean demonstrates in the vid. I’m not sure of a great use for linked smart objects within the same document. Since updating one does the same to the other, I can’t, off the top of my head, see a reason to have both, but with Photoshop it’s always hard to say. There’s almost always someone out there using a particular function and posting a video about how great it is.


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