Photoshop mockups are images that model your design in a realistic context. Whether you’re presenting your work to a client or iterating, mockups are a helpful tool to show how a design might appear (or be used) in the real world. In five simple steps, learn how to use mockup files like a pro.
1. Find, download, and open a mockup
To jumpstart your search, check out our list of some of the best free and paid mockup resources. Once you find the mockup of your dreams, download the file. Many mockup files arrive in folders containing other items (legal terms, author information, etc). Open the file ending with .psd.
For this example, I’ve downloaded this mug mockup from Graphic Burger.
2. Learn the layers
Great mockups include many layers, each labeled to describe its contents. Check to see what each layer does by toggling on/off its visibility by clicking on the eye icon to the left of the layer name. Toggle off the layers you don’t need.
Here, I’ve left the “Change mug color” layer toggled off, since I want the mug to stay white.
3. Open the Smart Object
Notice that some layers come with a fancy little document icon, and upon mouse hover, “Smart Object thumbnail” appears. These are Smart Objects, which let you make nondestructive transformations to the layer, bring in vector art, and have your changes update in files where that Smart Object is used.
To customize the mockup, you’ll be editing Smart Objects. Double click the Smart Object you want to edit, which will opens a separate window in Photoshop for the Smart Object contents.
4. Edit and save the Smart Object
Think of the window that opens for the Smart Object as a flattened view of the mockup surface. There, create the design you wish to model. Drag over images and add text if needed. Toggle the visibility off (or delete) any layers you don’t want to appear in the mockup. Then, save the file (just Save, not Save As). As soon as it is saved, the mockup will update to reflect the design in the Smart Object—head over to that Photoshop window to check it out.
Here’s the editing view of the Smart Object…
…and, as soon as I save this Smart Object, the mockup updates to reflect the design:
5. Add finishing touches
In the mockup file, do anything else you need to make it yours! Customize the background color, add text, crop the canvas, move layers around (be sure to watch out for shadows and lighting effects)…the possibilities are infinite.
Here, I’ve changed the background color, added some hippos and text, and adjusted the mug scaling.
Then, export the mockup image in the file type you need, and, in case you want to modify your mockup again later, save your mockup as a .psd file. That’s all there is to it. Have fun mocking up your work!
Avoiding common mistakes
- Saving Smart Objects. Check if your Smart Object is saved by looking for an asterisk next to the file name in the Photoshop window tab. If there is an asterisk, changes have been made that aren’t yet saved. Your mockup won’t reflect those changes until the Smart Object is re-saved.
- Moving and transforming items. When moving items or scaling them in the mockup make sure all associated layers are transformed at the same time. To do so, select all other relevant layers at the same time by holding down Shift while clicking on them. Otherwise, object filters, shadows, and other effects will not match up.
- Adding items. Reflect the scene in perspective and lighting when you add items to the mockup (Adobe Dimension is particularly good at helping with this). For instance, with the example above, I made the hippos’ shadows run left, since the mug shadow runs left, and the lighting on the hippos’ backs comes from the top and right.
- Save your mockup file in a project folder. Keep in mind that any saves you make to your freshly downloaded mockup merely overwrite the downloaded file, which lives in the folder you keep your downloaded files (for most Mac users, that might be the Downloads folder). If you want to keep your mockup handy in a different folder, use “Save As” and select the folder where you want it to live. It’s a good idea to start any mockup project by doing this so you don’t realize later that you emptied your Downloads folder along with that mockup you worked so hard to build.
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