How to use Smart Objects in Krita?

Greetings Everyone 🙏🏼

This is the first quick tip tutorial post of this year. Today we are going learn about File Layers in Krita, for those who are coming from Photoshop “Smart Objects” may be a familiar term.

In my recent advertising illustration project, I had to paint lots of small elements on a page. The page size was huge and the final layout was not fixed yet. The illustration was also going to be adapted to web and print media, that meant that the elements would be resized and moved around a lot across many files. Painting in groups and layers adding transform masks and transparency masks helps but once I changed an element in the main layout I would need to copy this group and layer to all others. Not a good thing when you are on the clock. And advertising tends to involve lots and lots of iterations.

So here comes the “File Layers” feature in Krita to my rescue. It basically helps us to add a file as a linked reference into a document, and when the external file changes it also updates the instances of this file inside all of our .kra file when we open them. We can also convert any group or layer into a file layer on the fly while working. This makes it really easy for us to break down the illustration elements of a project into multiple separate containers linked to a main file. We can then open these containers or file layers in Krita and work on them separately. This also becomes a boon if your file dimension is really huge. The file dimension of this project was 12k x 5k pixels. So this made total sense.

Method 1 – Adding external file

To add an existing external file as a file layer, just drag it inside your document and a context menu will appear. Click on the “Insert as a new file layer” option. Or you can click on the plus icon in the layer docker and click on the “Add File Layer” option. It will open a dialog box and then click on the folder icon to browse and add your file. You can choose the scaling options according to your needs. Click “Ok” . Now you will have a File layer in your document.

Video showing the drag and drop method of adding file layer in Krita

Method 2 – Converting from layers

The first method was to add an external file, let us see how to convert the part of the document as file layer. Select and right click on any specific layer of groups layer. Then in the context menu go to “convert” menu and then click on “To File Layer”. A dialog box will open asking you where to save this file layer. Browse and choose a location and save as .KRA file if it is a group (to preserve the layers inside the group) or .PNG file if it is a single layer. The layer or group will be converted as a referenced file layer in place. Now you can close the document and work on the file layer you saved. Next time you open the main file the file layer will get updated.

To edit a file layer quickly click on the folder icon besides its name. This will open it in Krita for editing. And when you save the file it will get automatically updated in the main file

Video showing converting an existing group into a file layer. Note: the document is mirror view mode.
I forgot to about it while working, hence the text is mirrored.

We can add transform masks or filter masks on the file layer to adjust or resize it. This makes it easy to separate large groups into individual elements, which then can be used in other documents, while at the same time keeping the original content intact. As far as I know this type of non-destructive workflow via file linking is not yet present in any other free and open source software other than Krita.

Do you use file layers in your workflow? Did you find this tutorial useful? let me know in the comments. If you find this post helpful and want to buy me a coffee for sharing it just check out my page on Kofi or donate through my PayPal page. Or you can also buy my paintings as a print from here.

That was it for this tutorial, see you next time in another quick tip. 👋🏼 Bye.

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