Is there a way to save the editing steps you do to an image inside Photoshop, while keeping a link to the original image?

The way I envision it is being able to save a file alongside (not necessarily, but with a link to) the original image. When you open the file, Photoshop will load the linked image, and apply the saved steps to the image (kind of like an action, but with the added ability to link to a file, which makes it less of a hassle).

This would be very useful as currently, when I finish editing a JPEG and want to save the result in a format that I can easily edit later, I end up with a PSD file that is at least 10x as large as the original file I started with. And sometimes the file size can reach 100x the original or more.

It makes not sense for me to store a huge uncompressed and layered image, when the original image and final use image are going to be JPEG/PNG.

I am aware of some ways to reduce PSD file size (such as using adjustment layers for blending modes instead of duplicating the base layer), and I'm also aware that Lightroom operates on virtual copies, which is similar to what I'm talking about.

My question is whether there is any good way to achieve this in Photoshop?

I tried to "place" an image into Photoshop and save as PSD, but apparently it still stores the whole image data in the file (unlike Illustrator's linked images).

  • Save an action.
    – Rafael
    Jul 11, 2016 at 18:50
  • @Rafael I guess I just feel they're a bit unwieldy, that's why I never gave them a proper chance yet. I'm just "fishing" for already established workflows, if any exist, before I take the time to try them out properly in this context.
    – fadelm0
    Jul 11, 2016 at 19:23

1 Answer 1


Not really. Even recording an action would only work for some of your edits since once you start to manipulate individual pixels all that has to be recorded and that would be easily more data then a saved image. You can do this in After Effects though which is exactly that kind of an application *.

On the other hand a terabyte sized SSD drive is 300 € off the shelf. That can store ~13300 uncompressed 5000x5000 pixel images. If you are willing to invest in spinning media then you get double that with less than a 100€. So im not sure its worth it. The risk of data corruption raises when you separate the actions form source. So the more straight forward method is not so very expensive.

Personally I just buy more disk (at quadruple to quintuple the price because I also allocate backup and RAID) when I run out. I dont even bother cleaning disks anymore as its more expensive than getting more disk in my use case but your mileage may vary.

* Now this brings us to the border constraints of Photoshop, its that it can not cannibalize their own sales.

  • Didn't know that about AE. And yeah, I wouldn't use this method if there's a big amount of pixel manipulation, such as when using the clone tool or working on digital painting. It would just be more efficient with relatively simple edits to photos, such as color edits, filters, the occasional fill layer or texture... You're right that drives are relatively cheap nowadays, and trying to optimize file sizes can be a very time intensive operation. I like to avoid what's unnecessary though, and not be wasteful. So it's just sad for me that it's so expensive to do and we don't have "cleaner" tools.
    – fadelm0
    Jul 11, 2016 at 19:43

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