Adobe Photoshop CS3 Smart Filters

Let me start this article with a resounding ‘FINALLY’! I’ve been waiting to say that for the past few incarnations of Adobe Photoshop, so it feels great to get it off my chest. The grand masters have at last heeded the voice of the huddled masses, and made Adobe Photoshop CS3 a program everyone should be excited about and well-worth the upgrade.

So what has me beaming with joy about this newest release, you ask. Is it the ultra-slick interface? This is definitely cool, but no. Could it be the expandable palettes and the death of the palette well? This is a feature worthy of it’s own article, but not the topic of this article. In truth, there are so many new and updated features in Adobe Photoshop CS3 that writers like myself will be hammering at our keyboards for awhile. The feature that I am absolutely ecstatic about is (drum roll…….)… EDITABLE FILTERS!

That’s right, my friend. No longer are we required to simply accept a filter application at face value. Adobe Photoshop CS3 has introduced the Filters Smart Object, allowing you to apply, edit, adjust opacity and even apply blending modes to single or multiple filters on a single layer. The Smart Object comes complete with its own layer mask, so you can paint away the filter effects from the areas you want to retain. For those who have been wishing for editable filters, you’ll already have a good idea of what this means to your workflow. For the rest of us, let me break it down for you visually and take a quick glance at what is now possible in this incredible program.

Let’s begin with an image of a model in casual conversation. This image is available on

In previous versions, the user would have to convert the Background layer to a standard layer manually or duplicate the background layer in order to apply a filter. With CS3, you can simply have the image open, go to the Filters Menu and select ‘Convert to Smart Filters’. Photoshop will change the Background layer for you and prep it for the upcoming filter applications.

On the first run, a dialog box appears telling you what Photoshop is about to do to your image. You can simply check the box in the lower corner if you do not want to be told over and over again.

Click OK. In the lower corner of the image icon in the Layers palette, a Smart Object thumbnail appears telling you it is ready to have filters applied.

Let’s give it a test run. I’m going to apply a Gaussian Blur to the image, with the thought in mind to blur the background of the image but retain the sharpness in the model’s face. Since the Smart Object is attached, simply go to Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur as you would normally.

The Blur command is now added to the layer, but as an editable object that can be manipulated or completely deleted without harming the actual layer pixels. You can paint in the mask with black over the areas where you would like to reduce the amount of blur, or turn the blur on and off by clicking the small eye to the left of the filter in the object.

If you want to re-apply the filter or edit the original settings, simply double-click the name in the Layers Palette and the dialog box will reappear, allowing you to edit the settings as needed.

To the right of the filter name is another little icon that is perhaps the coolest contraption for filter fans to date. Double-clicking this little item opens a separate dialog box that allows you to adjust the opacity of the filter, and change the Blend Mode for the filter itself! This means you can apply the filter in Multiply, Overlay, Soft Light, et. al. and get totally different effects that, potentially, have not been available before without 30 layers and a lot of experimentation! For instance, in this example I have changed the opacity of the blurred background and deepened the colors with a Multiply blend mode setting. The mask allowed me to retain the focus on the model’s face with no alteration in color or definition.


But wait… that’s not all. You can also add more editable filters to the list, and alter them in the same way, or delete the effect of a filter altogether!

In this example I’m going to select the Filter Gallery from the filter menu and add another effect to the image. Since the mask is in place, the only area affected with be the outside edges, just like the blur.

The Filter Gallery dialog opens, and allows for viewing the effect and altering the actual filter settings in advance, just as was the case in CS2.

Once again I’m going to click the small icon to the far right of the filter’s name. Photoshop CS3 has 2 new opacity settings called Lighter Image and Darker Image, found at the bottom of the menu. With the Blend Mode set to Lighter Image, I’ll reduce the opacity of the filter to 35%. This adds a light grain to the blurred areas.

Let’s take a look at the Layers Palette. Note that every setting is resident only in the original layer. This is incredibly efficient compared to earlier incarnations… and best of all I can go back at any time and edit the Smart Object as needed.

Whenever Adobe releases an update to Photoshop, I invariably get posed the question ‘Is it really worth the price of admission?’ The answer in this case is a resounding affirmative, if for no other reason than the ability to edit filters. Trust me, there are more  reasons to grab it than I care to count at this writing. Simply put, if you buy one software package this year then make sure Adobe Photoshop CS3 makes it into your shopping cart and into your life. This bad boy ROCKS.

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