Preset Previewer and Layers panel

Know Your Photoshop Presets

Create a Preset “Previewer” for your photos

Recently Creative Live had their Photoshop Week with professional instructors such as Chris Orwig and Ben Willmore. Creative Live, if you don’t already know them, streams free classes on a variety of subjects that creatives are involved in, and sells access to those classes afterwards. Even though I’m reasonably advanced in Photoshop, there is always some feature I’ve forgotten to take advantage of, or a way to use it that I’ve never thought about. Ben Willmore had a tip for creating a file with presets applied to an example image. I’d once had a plug-in for Photoshop actions that used previews I created so I had some idea what “ACF6A25” did before I ran the action. I knew having previews could save a lot of time; I simply hadn’t remembered to take the time to create those previews.

So one evening while watching Dr. Who reruns, I decided this was just the right amount of mindless activity that let me both relax with the TV and do something useful. I chose to catalog the presets for the Color Lookup Adjustment layer. That’s one I don’t use very often, mainly because I never can remember what “Fuji F125” is going to do to the different colors and tones in my image. Color lookup tables—abbreviated as either CLUTs or LUTs— are common to the film industry, and can be used to mimic film or darkroom techniques with just one click. Chris Cox from Adobe created starter files to help us make our own LUT presets that anyone with a Creative Cloud subscription can get, and I’ve had a bit of fun doing just that. (Choose Help > Browse Add-Ons, and look for them in the Photoshop free section.) But why am I trying to run before I can walk?—the shipped presets were designed by professionals and all I have to do is figure out what type of photo each works best with. Making a preset “viewer” turns that time-consuming effort into quick work.

Screenshot of ExportColorLookupSample
Creative Cloud subscribers can pick up free sample files from Chris Cox that demonstrate how to create your own LUTs.

I picked a landscape almost at random. The way this type of file gets created, I can later easily swap out the landscape I used for any other photo. I created my standard 10×8 file and dragged the photo from Bridge into the file to set it as a Smart Object. If you want to keep your file size reasonably small, you can resize a duplicate photo to a smaller size before dragging it in, but if you have a size photo that you commonly work with, I’d suggest you take the file size hit and retain the actual size. It will make it easier for you to work with this file later on.

After adding one Smart Object, I copied the layer (Cmd/Ctrl-J) 3 times. I dragged the topmost layer to the far left position, using Smart Guides  to show that I was keeping it aligned (View> Show> Smart Guides, or Cmd/Ctrl-U). It also helps to hold down Shift after you start dragging—drag sideways and then hold down Shift, and the file can’t move up or down on the page. Drag up and then hold Shift, and the file can’t move left or right on the page.

Files about to be distributed
Three files are stacked on the left; one file is aligned with them to the right.

I next selected all four Smart Object layers in the Layers panel, then clicked on the Distribute horizontal centers icon in the Options bar to get all 4 layers to space themselves evenly between the first and last photo. After creating one row, I duplicated the entire row and moved it below the first, and repeated this process to fill the page.

Screenshot of Align icons

Image of 4 distributed images
Horzontally distributing images across a document

Next I added a Color Lookup Adjustment layer to the first photo. I used the icon in the bottom of the Adjustment Layers panel to clip it to the photo so it would only affect that photo (or press Cmd-Opt-G/Ctrl-Alt-G), and then applied the first preset. I renamed the photo layer in order to see at a glance what preset corresponded to each photo, but of course, you could also just open the Adjustment layer to see the name. If there are more presets than you have layers in your file, save the first file, then immediately save it again with the same name and “2” to indicated it’s continued from the first file. This time you’ll edit the exiting Adjustment layers to apply new presets. When all of presets have been used in your file(s), you can simply delete any extra layers.

Color Lookup Properties
Select the icon at the bottom left to clip the Adjustment layer to the layer below.
Example of Smart Objects with different presets
After creating a Preview file, you can see at a glance what each Adjustment layer preset will do to this image.

The reason for using a Smart Object becomes evident when you want to see how these presets will affect a completely different photo. All you have to do now is right-click on the photo’s layer in the first file and choose Replace Contents from the context-sensitive menu. In the dialog that opens, navigate to the image folder you want, select the photo you want, and click Place. Because your example photo is a Smart Object that you copied many times, all of your Smart Objects will be updated to show the new photo you chose with all your Adjustment layers still intact.

Menu with Replace Contents
Right-clicking on a Smart Object layer displays the Replace Contents command.
Smart Object contents replaced with another image
Use the Replace Contents command to display a different photo with the same presets applied to it.

Do this with each file for that Adjustment layer’s presets that you have. If your replacement photo isn’t the same size as the original, it won’t fill the layout exactly the same, which is why I suggested you stick as closely to your typical photo size as possible. Any scaling you do to the original Smart Object is remembered and applied to the replacement image. You can see that if you use a small photo and don’t scale it, then replace it with a large photo, which also won’t be scaled, the large photo won’t fit. And vice versa. Scale a large photo down, then use a very small one, and it might wind up so small after scaling you can barely see it. I didn’t say this was the perfect Preset Previewer, but it’s a lot better than not having any Preset Previewer. You might even want to make one set each for horizontal and vertical orientations. The more you do up front, the more useful the files will be in the future.

Swapping contents with the wrong size
If you replace a Smart Object’s contents with an image that has very different dimensions, you’ll have to manually resize each Smart Object to fit the space.

This setup works great so long as your presets are added with Adjustment layers. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work with any of the 3rd party plug-ins that I have, such as Topaz, Nik, or On1 Perfect Effects. These plug-ins always see the whole document, even if each layer is mostly empty after you scaled the original Smart Object. Borders and vignettes follow the document, not the Smart Object layer. Fortunately, unlike Photoshop they all have a way to preview their presets on your current image. However, like playing scales on the piano before playing the piece, creating preview files of presets for some of your plug-ins can help you know what to look for when using the filter presets. But demonstrating that is for another time.

3rd party borders don't fit
Adding a border inside a 3rd party plug-in (such as On1’s Perfect Effects shown here) to one Smart Object in the document doesn’t work.
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