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How to use vector files in Photoshop

Photoshop cc allows users to work with vector graphics through the use of smart objects and changes in the shape and pen tools. More experienced users will be familiar with smart objects (which were introduced to Photoshop back  in 2005), but in case you are not, read on to learn more.

What is a smart object?

Adobe describes Smart Objects as “layers that contain image data from raster or vector images, such as Photoshop or Illustrator files. Smart Objects preserve an image’s source content with all its original characteristics, enabling you to perform nondestructive editing to the layer.”

This means you can scale, rotate, skew, and distort the image as much as you want without altering the original data or losing any of the image’s quality.

You can also apply filters to the image and later on, edit these filters without losing any of the original image’s quality or altering the original image.

Open or Convert to Smart Object

Go to “File” in the Photoshop menu and choose “Open as smart object,” choose your selected image to open.

You can also convert any image into a smart object. Open the image or import it into your document, find the layer it resides on and right-click on the layer. Choose “Convert to Smart object” and you’re done! You are now free to enlarge or shrink that graphic without losing quality.

You can also convert any object back into a rasterized image (right-click on the layer > Rasterize Image) which you can then draw and alter in Photoshop (or paint, dodge, burn, or clone) , which I have messily demonstrated below:


 “You can’t perform operations that alter pixel data—such as painting, dodging, burning, or cloning—directly to a Smart Object layer, unless it is first converted into a regular layer, which will be rasterized.”

The advantages of working with smart objects

Use smart object to make universal changes across all duplicated objects from that source file. This can be a huge time saver. By duplicating your smart object in Photoshop (Choose your smart object layer > duplicate) all duplicates will share the same source file which you can then make changes to, affecting all other duplicates as well.

You can also make duplicates without sharing the same file source by right-clicking on the layer and selecting “New smart object via copy.” You can then make changes to both source files without affecting other duplicates. See my demonstration below. I used this to colorize different parts of each graphic without affecting the other.


If you are still confused about the value of using smart objects, this video by PSDtuts+ demonstrates smart objects in Photoshop very well. PSDtuts+ has a whole series on Photoshop basics which you can watch for free on their YouTube channel.

Creating vector shapes in Photoshop

You can also create vectors with the shape and the pen tool in Photoshop as Adobe has replaced the standard shape layers with a new vector layer workflow. It’s very basic and you will probably want to use a program better suited to creating vectors like Illustrator. This article by shows you how you can make interesting vector shapes and backgrounds using basic Photoshop drawing tools.