Linked Smart Objects can revolutionize your workflow in Photoshop. In a previous article (find here) I talked about smart objects in general; what they are, how to use them, and why I tend to avoid them. With this article, we’ll be getting specific and delving into Linked Smart Objects, one of the most underused yet indispensable Photoshop features which could, hand on heart, transform the way you use Photoshop. Bold claim, I know.

What Do Linked Smart Objects Do?

Let’s imagine that you’re creating some advertising material for your business. You’ve got three different documents (a poster, flyer, and social media add) all of which use the same photograph with different graphical elements. Suddenly, you notice an issue with the photo that must be fixed. Oh no! Now I’ve got to add the fixed image back to all the other documents. That would be the case if you didn’t use a Linked Smart Object.


A Linked Smart Object is a reference to the original;  change the original, and that will be reflected in the reference. As such, using our example, if you’d placed that photo as a Linked Smart Object (File > Place Linked) then all you’d have to do is change the original, and the rest would automatically change as well.

If you’re still a little confused, check out the video in this article, click here.

a michael Kors watch sits next to two screen shots of the layers panel in photoshop. Demonstrating the use of linked smart objects
Photo by Square Mountain Photography

So how can you apply this to retouching your photos in Photoshop? The image above depicts a very simple way to use this method. On the left, you can see the final image. On the right, you can see two screen grabs of the layers panel, which represent two separate Photoshop documents. One was used to composite the various elements of the watch together and the other contains all the final adjustments. In essence, you have two Photoshop documents which combine to create the final image.

How Can This Transform Your Photoshop Experience?

This all sounds well and good but I bet you’re wondering “why on earth would I do that!?”. Even with a powerful computer, when you start doing large complex edits Photoshop can become extremely slow. If working in 16 Bit, Prophoto RGB and using Smart Objects, Photoshop’s performance will rapidly decline. Linked Smart Objects can eliminate this issue by splitting your document up.

clouds of liquid inside Photoshop, next to the layers panel. AN example of using linked smart objects
Photo by Square Mountain Photography

If I avoid those three will I be ok? Yes, and no. 99% of the time if you were to work in 8 Bit, SRGB, and didn’t use any Smart Objects, you’d probably be alright. That said, you may at some point encounter issues from working in 8 Bit Rather than 16 Bit. As a still life photographer, I’m regularly using subtle gradients which are prime breeding ground for things like banding, 16 Bit is a big help here.


So performance is the big one. By splitting up your edit across multiple documents you put a lot less strain on Photoshop and as a result are able to work much faster. Performance, however, is not the only benefit.

a baileys bottle in photoshop next to it's corresponding layers. Used to demonstrate the use of linked smart objects
Photo by Square Mountain Photography


Additional Benefits Of Linked Smart Objects

Having an organized workflow within Photoshop is crucial, especially if working on documents which involve a large number of layers. Imagine you’ve created a stunning piece of Digital Art, which has 100 layers! Now imagine trying to alter one element and hunting through all those layers. With Linked Smart Objects you can separate up your layers and have a more logical flow. Within my still life photography, I combine so many different elements and use such a large number of layers, that working in this way has become essential.

Another seemingly trivial but significant benefit to Linked Smart Objects is the ability to apply filters. That may sound boring but think about it for one second. There are lots of uses for being able to apply filters to what is essentially a group of layers. One such example would be to Liquify that layer without having to flatten the corresponding layers.

the final comped version of Baileys image with corresponding layers next to it. Demonstrating linked smart objects
Photo by Square Mountain Photography



The previous three photos have been a prime example of the value of Linked Smart Objects. The final image, which you can see above, is a combination of 2 Photoshop Documents, 15 original images and countless layers. Linked Smart Objects allowed me to work without worrying about performance issues and to keep the whole edit well organized.


If you’ve suffered from poor Photoshop performance when creating complicated edits, in future, try splitting the document up. You’ll find that Photoshop is much faster and you’ll be able to use those linked layers to your advantage in other ways.

If you have any questions, be sure to put them in the comments below.