What is the difference between a smart object and stamp visible?

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I can't understand why someone would ever use stamp visible now that smart objects are available. When would you use stamp visible instead of a smart object. For context I am a photographer and only use Photoshop for photo editing and basic compositing.
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Samantha Ohlsen

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  • unsure

Posted 4 months ago

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Cristen Gillespie

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One reason I'll use a Stamp Visible layer instead of a Smart Object layer is when I want to add a bit of sharpening to a composite. I could take all those layers, many of which are quite possibly SOs already, and wrap them into another SO, but then I'm hiding them all.  I'm sharpening for a particular output and I'm only adding one highly disposable layer to the mix. It's just easier for me to stamp visible, convert the layer to an SO (without all those other layers wrapped inside), and sharpen for the particular output.

When I add a Stamp Visible layer, my layers that got me to that point stay visible to me should I want to see what I have done up to that point. If I'm careful enough, I won't be working in such a way I can't relatively easily dispense with that stamped layer and get back to the layers that created it.

But there's no hard and fast rule if both will do the job (they won't if you have a reason to need to work directly on a pixel layer). You decide as you go which is likely to make it easier for you. So many different situations and conditions can arise when you do a variety of tasks and your workflow has to be both open and very flexible, that you may find it better suits you to have one or more points along the way where you commit to the stamp visible layer and simply recognize that going back won't be quite as simple as going forward.  '-} Or you may feel more comfortable nesting Smart Objects several layers deep.

The best part about Photoshop is it rarely removes features entirely and has multiple closely related ways of performing tasks, thus allowing us to guide our own workflows, not be guided by them.

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Samantha Ohlsen

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Thanks Christen for your response. Are you able to explain the difference between a smart object and stamp visible? I have tried to google the topic and cannot find a clear answer.
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Cristen Gillespie

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Well I'm not an engineer, but a Smart Object is actually a kind of instruction-based wrapper. It wraps up the layer(s) and protects the contents from transformations or filters. It carries instructions for how you intend to transform the image, or what the result of a filter would be, but while it displays the results, it doesn't change the pixels themselves. They won't be changed until they're output—saved to another format or printed. The pixels (or vectors if, for instance, we bring in an Illustrator object as a Smart Object) are untouched unless we unwrap the Smart Object and edit the contents directly.

Because a Smart Object isn't a pixel layer, but instructions that tell the program how to display results as if the pixels had actually been changed,  it's really the opposite of Stamp Visible. A Stamp visible layer is made when the program copies all the visible layers and merges the copies into one pixel-based image layer. You can paint on it. You can run filters and transformations directly on it. It's old school technology. Everything you do to it will alter the pixels themselves so long as you leave it as a pixel-based layer without converting it to another SO. There will be no getting back to the original if you do that (apart from using History, which PS still won't save with the file).

Is that what you wanted to know?
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Samantha Ohlsen

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Sorry I am only at a beginner level of photoshop.

Unfortunately its probably aimed at someone with a lot more experience than me in Photoshop. I was sort of looking for advice of when to use either a smart object or a stamp visible. I hadn't even heard of a stamp visible until I watched a recent PixImperfect Youtube video. This tutorial had the guy merge layers using stamp visible and then he converted that to a smart object? Why?

I am usually doing portrait retouching with a blemish removal layer, followed by multiple curves adjustments, frequency separation for skin tone adjustment, maybe some liquify and sharpening at the end. The last 3 of those tasks often causes issues with organisation of layers and therefore I often use smart objects to group up my layers to add an effect. 
(Edited)
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Cristen Gillespie

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I'm afraid there's no easy answer to when to use one or the other. 

Some people say never, ever do anything destructive to your image. But you wouldn't edit it if you didn't mean to destroy some or all of the original pixels.  When to use one or the other would be "when it has the fewest consequences if you want to edit it a month later." I'm afraid that's very like the answer I always got as a beginner to any question I asked — It was always "it all depends."

The first place I see in your workflow above to use one or the other would be when you planned to liquify. Then it's pretty straightforward that that would be the right time to put all your layers into a new Smart Object layer. You want to liquify the composite of image and adjustments, but you don't want to be so destructive about it that you can't edit that filter a month later, and you would have to start the edits from the raw file if you needed to.

You could use a stamp visible layer, then convert that to a smart object in order to run Liquify. But that stamp visible layer will block all the layers below it. If instead they're in the Smart Object, you can open that to edit it, and then the liquify filter will be on top of those edits, not hiding them underneath a solid image layer. You'll still get a mask for the filter should you need it because you only are running one filter.

Use Stamp Visible layers if you can't use the tools you want to use on a Smart Object, but must directly affect the actual pixels. Consider using Stamp Visible layers when you are going on to a new phase and are pretty confident that you won't need to edit what's beneath or it will be easy enough to toss the Stamp Visible layer if you need to re-edit something below. They're less complicated or restrictive. Files with a lot of Smart Objects tend to be much larger, as well, and numerous basic functions you might perform can cause some filters to have to rerun, which can be very, very slow.

But experience is the only teacher. Just try to think about the consequences. A Smart Object prevents you from using some tools and can hide a lot of layers from you, making editing clumsy. (It has other more complex problems, but I think you're not ready for most of those.)  A Stamp Visible layer won't prevent you from using any of the tools, but it will hide the layers below it. If you think you're definitely going to need to edit them again, you don't want to block those edits with a Stamp Visible layer if you can help it.
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Samantha Ohlsen

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Thanks Cristen, that response really helps explain all the issues at my level. Thanks so much for your patience and your detailed responses.
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Cristen Gillespie

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You're welcome. Most of us were once new at this.  '-}

You'll get there. Your level will rise as you encounter new problems and start to learn about new solutions. There's no single pathway to anything in Photoshop. It's more art than technology, and you'll be surprised by how clever some of the artists out there are in finding ways to get where they want using tools you never thought of using that way. 

I'm a terrible problem-solver. I have to try everything I hear about and eventually I arrive at a "solution" to different sets of problems. But even after 20 years, I'm still working at learning ways that are new to me and may be better than what I've been doing up to now.

Plus, of course, PS doesn't stand still so we have to constantly learn new techniques and/or refresh our skills when using the old ones if the new ones are failing in some respect. Stay as open to techniques new to you as you are now and you'll quickly become much more comfortable with what you're trying to do.  :)
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David Converse

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I've been using Photoshop since version 2.5 and never, ever, ever use Smart Objects. I have no need for them with my workflow. :shrug:
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Cristen Gillespie

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I suppose being a johnny-come-lately (PS version 5) I have found them enormously useful. But then, if I began PS before you could have more than a background layer and channels to work with, I'd be pretty adept at a lot of things I find easier now since we had most of the basics we have today by the time I started.

It's also not very easy to re-edit an AI object or a filter without using an SO, but I'm sure if I got it right the first time, I'd have no need to re-edit anything. <g>