What Are Smart Layers?

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When using ON1 Photo 10, you may have seen the word “smart layer” pop up from time-to-time. Maybe this is in a window that pops up, asking you to choose settings, or possibly when trying to use a tool that is grayed out. I’m here to help you demystify what smart layers are, how to use them, as well as why you may want to start working with them in your post-processing.

The Benefit of Smart Layers

Smart layers are regular layers with an added bonus: they save the edits from other modules (such as ON1 Effects or Enhance) so that you can go back and re-edit those adjustments later on. In a normal layer (an image without the smart layer conversion) any edits you make in modules other than ON1 Layers will be “burned in” to the layer and cannot be changed or re-edited once you have applied your settings.


The example on the left shows an image in ON1 Layers without a smart layer. The example on the right, however, shows the layer set to a smart layer.

How Smart Layers Work

In order to create a smart layer you need to open and save your file as a PSD with the “smart layer” box checked. This is the default setting in ON1 Photo 10. However if you are opening up and editing an original file and do not first convert the layer into a smart layer, then any edits made to your image will not be re-editable.image-2


To open a photo as a smart layer, be sure to put a check in the box in the “Copy Options” section.

When you open up a photo directly into ON1 Effects as a smart layer, then there’s really nothing that you should have to fret over. Every time you open and re-open the file into ON1 Effects you will be able to re-edit any adjustments you made previously to the image.

In Layers, a layer is visibly a “smart layer” if it has a gear icon to the right of it in the layers panel. And, when opening a photo into ON1 Layers, you don’t have to worry so much about whether or not the layers is automatically a smart layer. If it opens up as a regular layer, you can easily convert it to a smart layer at any time by clicking on the gear icon at the bottom of the panel.


To convert a layer to a smart layer, click on the gear icon at the bottom of the layers panel. Note: this icon will also simplify an existing smart layer (in other words, it will remove the smart layer and you will lose the ability to re-edit the settings in other modules).

Then, after your layer is a smart layer, you can bring it into another module to adjust and enhance your photo. And if you need to re-edit any of those settings, just double-click on the module name under the smart layer in the layers panel to re-open the image into that module.

When to Use Smart Layers

Smart layers are a great way to ensure that you have access to your original edits. If you are working on a photo and bring it directly into ON1 Effects, I recommend making sure that your settings are set to use smart layers all the time in order to maximize the ability to re-edit your file. If you are working from ON1 Layers, then I would recommend converting a layer to a smart layer only after you are finished with the photo in ON1 Layers and are ready to work on the layer in other modules. This is because some tools, such as the Transform and Crop tools, will only work on a regular layer. In fact, these tools are grayed out with smart layers, and if you try and use them then your smart layer will need to be “simplified”, which would remove the ability to re-edit any changes you made to the layer in other modules. My advice is to crop, retouch, and transform your layer before editing the photo in Effects or Enhance.


If you attempt to use a grayed-out tool with a smart layer, ON1 will ask you to first simplify the layer. Doing this will remove the ability to re-edit the layer in modules.

What About File Size?

One question you may have in the back of your head is “what about file size?” The good news is that you are much better off working with smart layers than with a standard layer! In a standard PSD file, the amount of layers you have in a document is one of the factors which adds to an increase in file size. Without the use of smart layers, each time you edit the image in another module, ON1 creates a new layer. However, with smart layers, adding an adjustment means you are embedding the edits as data into a single layer.

As an example, I have a PSD file where I have created two versions: one with a smart layer, and one without. Both images have the exact same settings applied to them, first in ON1 Effects, and then in ON1 Enhance. The image with no smart layers has three layers, which increases its file size by about 64 MB.

Note: The exact file size and differences in your images will depend on many factors, including image resolution, how many layers are in the file, how many modules used, etc.


The figures on the top represent the photo with smart layers applied, and a file size of 191.3 MB. The photo without smart layers, however, is 255 MB (63.7 MB larger).

Overall, smart layers are a very powerful and versatile tool to use in ON1 Photo 10. They not only make the editing process more flexible, they also help keep file size down to a minimum.

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