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One of the greatest things about Photoshop is the ability to create different effects using the various settings found in Adobe Photoshop. Using filters is the main method that many designers and artists use to create these effects. You can create any look or effect inside of Photoshop, provided that you find the right combination of filters and settings. A minor adjustment could mean the difference between creating something mediocre, or creating something truly outstanding.

Filters are fairly easy to control, and each one has their own menu with different settings. Almost all of them have a preview capability that you can see before you commit to your settings. In previous versions, this was a great advantage, because you would save yourself from having to go back and undo something that you did. The problem is that if you went too far and didn’t have a lot of history states, you could only go back so far. If your design or artwork couldn’t be fixed or your settings couldn’t be undone, then you would have to backtrack and possibly even start all over. The downside to having 100 history states is that this eats up a lot of memory and slows down Photoshop’s performance, even on the most powerful computer.

You could use a layer mask to hide effects in certain areas and only have them affect the area that you wanted, but you are still faced with the problems mentioned above. Imagine making a complex mask around a certain area, and having to start all over again because you couldn’t undo a few filter settings.

Adobe came up with a great feature called Smart Filters, which makes life much easier. In the example below, I downloaded this car image from Stock.xchng® found here. We are going to have to convert this image for use with Smart Filters.

Go to Filter> Convert for Smart Filters. It will give you a message about turning the image into a smart object, but that is fine. It just means that we can’t paint directly on the image, or use the Liquify, Vanishing Point, or Lens Blur Filters. Just keep that in mind before converting your image. What is great about your image being a smart object is that if you still need to use these settings, you can simply double-click the smart object layer of your image, and it will open up a second window with your original image, where you can still apply any of the grayed out filters that I mentioned earlier. Just remember to choose File> Save when you are done to commit to your changes.



This is all we need in order to set our image up for use with Smart Filters. Now, whenever we use our filters, they will automatically show up as Smart Filters in our Layers Panel. This will give us a lot of flexibility to create some great effects.

For this example choose Filter> Blur> Motion Blur. I set the angle to 14° and the distance to 60 pixels. You should get results like the example shown below:



If you need to adjust your settings, all you have to do is double-click the Smart Filter sub-layer and the dialog box will come back up with the same settings and options that you had before, allowing you to make adjustments where they are needed. You can do this as many times as you would like. Also, notice the mask icon above the smart filter layer and below the Smart Object image. This will allow you to mask out areas of your Smart Filters, giving you more control.

Take the Quick Selection Tool, and make a selection of the car image. You can toggle the Blur Filter Layer off if it will make it easier for you to make the selection. It doesn’t have to be absolutely perfect, but try to get close. Hold the Option or Alt key and click on the mask icon above your Smart Filters. Make sure black is your foreground color and hold option or alt and press delete. This will fill your selection with black on the mask, masking out the blur effect. To make it smoother, while still on your mask, for to Filter> Blur> Gaussian Blur. 10 Pixels should be enough to soften the transition of your mask. Click on the image icon of your image layer to go back to normal image mode.



This gives you the idea of motion, but if the car were really moving, the wheels would have a blurred circular motion. Using your Quick Selection tool, make a selection around the front wheel. Again, it doesn’t have to be exact, and hit Command or Control + J to paste your selection on its own layer. Repeat this step for the rear wheel.

Next, we want to convert both of these new layers for Smart Filters, enabling us to have the same flexibility as the car layer. We are going to apply a radial blur to each wheel layer. Go to Filter> Blur> Radial Blur. With smart filters, our lives are going to be so much easier, because we are going to have to position the center of our circular blur over the wheel in each layer, in order to get the effect of having circular motion. Your layers should look similar to the example below:



Notice how the center of our radial blur is in the bottom-right of our image. This makes the center of the blur form over the wheel. This will make it look like our wheels are spinning. You will definitely have to re-open your radial blur smart filter for each wheel several times to adjust the center of your radial blur in just the right place.

Another tip to make this look more realistic is that you will want to set the blur to a higher value for the front wheel, because it is closer to you. I set my front wheel’s blur to a value to 20, and the rear wheel to a value of 13. The rear wheel is farther away, so a smaller value for our blur will give us an even effect for both wheels, making the effect look more natural. The result should look like the example below:


Smart Filters give us a tremendous amount of flexibility, allowing us to go back and make changes as many times as we want. This saves us time and effort, memory, and frustration.