You can copy an object from Illustrator and paste it into Photoshop as a Smart Object. I often used this feature sparingly because I never really understood what was happening under the hood. The tutorials I’ve seen that describe the process made no effort to explain what was really happening. I’ve since poked around with it and figured it all out. Now I love Smart Objects.
So here’s what’s really going on with smart objects:
• When you copy something from Illustrator and paste it into Photoshop as a Smart Object you get something you can scale non-destructively and edit again as a vector. A smart object made with a vector source is rasterized in Photoshop. Of course, Photoshop rasterizes it; it’s a raster program. However, Photoshop holds onto the original Illustrator information and keeps it as part of the Photoshop file. If you scale up a smart object, Photoshop—rather than scaling and re-sampling the pixels— refers to the original vector information it’s keeping in the background, applies the transformation to that and then re-rasterizes.
• You can take a moment and edit the original contents of the smart object by sending it temporarily back to Illustrator. Double-clicking the smart object icon on a smart object layer in Photoshop opens the original vector in Illustrator. Note: what opens is not your original Illustrator file when you made the thing in the first place. It’s a new file. It’s a “temporary file”.
• This file has no link to the original AI file in which it was created. The information has been saved as a sort of mini-AI file within the Photoshop file and that is what opens in AI.
• When you’re finished editing the smart object in Illustrator you need to hit Save. Note: this is not saving the file the way AI usually saves files. It doesn’t create a file on your hard drive. Instead, your changes are sent back to Photoshop and replaces the original content of the smart object.
• After you “save” the file and send it back to PS, you can, if you like, save the changes you made from AI to a new AI file for safe keeping. Though technically it’s already safe inside your Photoshop doc, and can be sent back to AI at any time, you may want to keep a copy as a native AI file. In that case, just hit “Save As”, name it and save it. Doing this will have no effect on your Photoshop document, or that smart object.
• After editing and saving a smart object in AI, the program stays open as does the file in it… and it’s still “connected” to Photoshop. If you make further changes to the smart object in AI and save again, it will automatically update in Photoshop, again. This will continue to work until your ‘break the link’ by using “Save As”.
• In Photoshop, not all of the filters are available to work on a smart object and will be grayed out. If you apply a smart object-friendly- filter you will you are actually applying a “Smart Filter”. Smart filters are parametric and editable and you can use them non-destructively on smart object layers. Unlike a regular filter, smart filters are indicated in the Layers Panel nested below the layer it’s applied too. You can double-click on the listed Smart Filter to edit its parameters!
• GOTCHA: When editing a Smart Object in AI, if you change the position of the object on the artboard, you will find its position when saved back into Photoshop will change as well. When editing a smart object in AI, try to work on it right where it’s placed for you.