Today’s Question: What’s the difference between a Smart Object in Photoshop and a Smart Filter layer?
Tim’s Quick Answer: There is no difference at all. When you use the command to convert an image layer for a Smart Filter, you’re simply converting the layer to a Smart Object.
More Detail: A Smart Object in Photoshop enables you to apply adjustments with greater flexibility. For example, if you apply a creative filter to a Smart Object layer, the filter doesn’t actually alter the source pixel values. Instead, the filter operates something like an adjustment layer, in that the adjustment settings are separate from the source pixels.
One of the key benefits of a Smart Object is that you can return to the settings at any time to make changes, much as you can modify the settings for an adjustment layer at any time.
In Photoshop the use of a filter on a Smart Object is often referred to as using a Smart Filter. When you want to apply a filter effect as a Smart Filter, you can convert the current image layer for Smart Filter use by going to the menu and choosing Filter > Convert for Smart Filters. However, what this command is really doing is converting the current layer to a Smart Object. Then, when you apply a filter to that Smart Object layer, you’ll effectively be applying a Smart Filter.
In other words, instead of using the Convert for Smart Filters command you could use the normal command for converting an image layer to a Smart Object. That command is found on the menu at Layer > Smart Objects > Convert to Smart Object.
Both the “Convert to Smart Object” and “Convert for Smart Filters” commands to the exact same thing. The result in both cases will be that the current layer will be converted to a Smart Object, and if you then apply a filter to the Smart Object layer it will be applied as a Smart Filter.
So, the two commands are duplicative, just available in both places on the menu as something of a convenience, so that whether you’re thinking from the perspective of a layer or a filter, you’ll still have access to the Smart Object feature.