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How to Move and Copy Smart Filters in Photoshop

In this tutorial, we look at how to move and copy Smart Filters in Photoshop. Whilst Smart Filters are a great tool to help you work non-destructively, they can seem confusing at first. One area of confusion that comes up a lot is when it comes to moving and copying Smart Filters. To help illustrate what’s happening we will use the example image below. You can also see a screenshot of the Photoshop Layers Window.

Image showing two smart object layers in the photoshop layers window

In the screenshot of the Photoshop Layers Window you can see two Smart Object layers, ready to work with Smart Filters. If you’re not sure how to create these, see my tutorial “What are Smart Filters”.

Adding a Smart Filter

Photoshop only allows you to add Smart Filters to Smart Object layers. That’s why we need to create Smart Object layers before trying to add a Smart Filter.

Then, if the filter you are trying to add to the Smart Object isn’t a Smart Filter, Photoshop disables it in the menu. The exceptions to this are third party filters and plug-ins. If you try to add one of these that can’t work as a Smart Filter, Photoshop displays a warning message.

After adding a Smart Filter to a Smart Object, the Smart Filter looks and acts like a regular filter.

If we select one of the Smart Object layers in the Layers Window, we can add the Camera Raw filter from the Photoshop Filter menu. This adds the filter to the Smart Object and opens the filter dialog to apply changes.

Moving the Smart Filter

After adding a Smart Filter, you can move it to another Smart Object. The easiest way to do this is by clicking and dragging the Smart Filter in the Photoshop Layers Window. After dragging it over the Smart Object you want to move it to, release the mouse to drop it into location.

Smart Filter moved to the second Smart Object layer

After moving the Smart Filter to another Smart Object, you will see it listed below the new Smart Object. If you can’t see it, make sure you have the layer expanded rather than collapsed using the arrow to the right of the layer.

The Importance of Smart Filter Order

You may already know that the order of layers in an image is important. A layer appearing at the top of the layer stack in the Photoshop Layers Window will affect all the layers below it. If we move the same layer to the middle of the layer stack, it still applies to the layers below it but not those above.

These rules also apply to the Smart Object layers and they act just like regular layers. Place them above other layers and they cover the layers below them (because they are pixel based). If you only want them to appear in part of the image you will need to use a layer mask to hide or reveal them.

As well as the layer order being important, be aware that the order of the Smart Filters can be important when editing.

Smart Filter Order when using multiple filters on the same smart object

Here you can see two Smart Filters added to the same Smart Object. You will then see the effect of both filters on the Smart Object as you might expect. But if you were to open one of these filters to make changes, you might not see the effect of the other Smart Filter.

When editing a Smart Filter, Photoshop only shows the effect of the Smart Filters below it. In the above example, if you were to open the Camera Raw Smart Filter you wouldn’t see the effect of the changes made using the Viveza 2 plug-in. To see the effect of the Viveza 2 filter when editing the Camera Raw filter, you would first need to reorder the Smart Filters, so that the Camera Raw filters is on top. You can do this by clicking and dragging with your mouse.

Copying a Smart Filter

Now that we’ve covered the moving and ordering of Smart Filters, we can look at how to copy them. There are two methods we can use to copy a Smart Filter:

  1. Copy the Smart Object together with the Smart Filter.
  2. Copy only the Smart Filter.

Which is best will depend on what you intend to do, but it’s likely that only copying only the Smart Object will work best in most instances.

Duplicating the Smart Object and Filter

When you duplicate or copy a Smart Object, you are also copying any Smart Filters applied to that Smart Object.

To create a second copy of a Smart Object, right-click on the Smart Object layer in the Photoshop Layers window. You can then select the “Duplicate Layer…” option in the popup menu. You then see a dialog where you can enter the name of the new Smart Object layer. After you have duplicated the Smart Object, you can delete or move the individual Smart Filters.

An alternative way to duplicate a Smart Object layer is to click on the layer in the Photoshop Layers Window to select it. You can then use the keyboard shortcut “Cmd + J” on a Mac, or “Ctrl + J” on a PC.

To delete a Smart Filter from a Smart Object you can click and drag the filter, dropping it on the trashcan or dustbin icon at the bottom of the Layers Window. Alternatively, right-click on the Smart Filter using your mouse and select “Delete Smart Filter” in the popup menu.

Duplicating Only the Smart Filter

If you only want to copy the Smart Filter, you will need to use your mouse and keyboard together.

Hold down your Option key on a Mac, or Alt key on a PC. Whilst holding the key down, click and drag the Smart Filter you want to copy. When you release the mouse, it creates a copy of the Smart Filter.

Be aware that you can only drag and copy the Smart Filter onto another Smart Object layer. You can’t copy it to a regular layer.

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Summary of Moving and Copying Smart Filters

In this tutorial we have looked at several methods you can use to move and copy Smart Filters. We’ve also covered some related points including the ordering of Smart Filters, and that you can only copy them to Smart Object layers. Keep these points in mind and working with Smart Filters will become easier.

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