Beginners Guide: Learn Four Ways to Sharpen Images in Photoshop

Learn Four Ways to Sharpen Images in Photoshop Tutorial

Beginners Guide: How to Sharpen Images in Photoshop
Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead

This beginner Photoshop tutorial will teach you four ways to sharpen photos in Photoshop. On top of that, you’ll learn the pros and cons of each sharpening tool and the importance of using smart objects in sharpening non-destructively.

If you’re looking for more advanced sharpening methods, see the below links:

How To Sharpen Cleanly In Photoshop Without Edging

How To Sharpen Your Images For The Web

Method One – The Quick Way To Sharpen Images in Photoshop

  1. Open your image in Photoshop
  2. Duplicate the Background layer
  3. Go to Filters section on the menu bar
  4. Select Filters>Sharpen>Sharpen
  5. Your image will be automatically sharpened
  6. If Sharpen didn’t sharpen enough, undo by clicking Edit>Undo
  7. Go to Filters>Sharpen>Sharpen More this will sharpen your image more
  8. To compare the changes made, Zoom in and toggle the Layer Visibility to see compare before and after sharpening.

Step-by-step Tutorial

  1. Once your image is open in Photoshop, Duplicate the Background Layer. Do this by either holding down the Control key and press the J key on a PC (Crtl+J) or Command key and J on a Mac (cmd+J). Alternatively, on the top Menu to go Layer>New>Layer Via Copy.
Copy Layer in Photoshop Layer>New>Layer Via Copy
  1. To ensure your new layer is selected, click on the Background Copy layer so that it has a lighter shade of grey.
Duplicate layer in Photoshop
  1. Go to Filter>Sharpen>Sharpen.
Sharpen filter in photoshop
  1. Your top layer image has now been sharpened. To compare the difference, Zoom into your image using the Zoon tool.
Zoom tool in photoshop
Once you click on the Zoom Tool your cursor will look like a magnifying glass. On your image Click and hold and move your mouse diagonally to draw a box to zoom into. Once you are happy with the area selection to zoom into release your mouse

*NOTE – Areas most effected by sharpening are edges, so Zoom in to an area with visible edges.

  1. Once Zoomed in toggle the Layer visibility of your top Layer by clicking on the Eye symbol in the layers panel.
View layer in photoshop
This will toggle the visibility of the sharpened layer. You will see as the bottom layer becomes visible the image will blur. When the top layer becomes visible the image will sharpen.
Before And After Sharpen – Original Image on the Left, Sharpen Image on the Right


image before sharpening in photoshopafter sharpen image in photoshop

Pros & Cons to using the Sharpen Filter in Photoshop

Pros

Cons

  • It is quick and easy
  • It isn’t too over whelming
  • It does a good basic job of sharpening an image
  • Very Limited
  • Adds Noise
  • Pre defined settings


Method Two – Using the Sharpen More filter in Photoshop

Have you already used the Sharpen filter but it hasn’t done enough for you? Don’t worry, we can Sharpen More by following the simple steps below which are almost identical to the previous method.

  1. Duplicate your Background Layer (Crtl+J PC) Cmd + J Mac).
  2. Select the Background Copy layer to work on by selecting it as before.
  3. Go to Filters>Sharpen>Sharpen More.
Sharpen more filter in photoshop
  1. Zoom into your picture.
  2. Toggle Layer Visibility to see the effects.
Before And After Sharpen More – Original Image on the Left, Sharpen More Image on the Right


before sharpen more in photoshopafter sharpen more in photoshop

Pros & Cons to using the Sharpen More Filter in Photoshop

Pros

Cons

  • It is quick and easy
  • It has a strong effect
  • Can be easily undone
  • Restricted settings
  • Adds a lot of Noise
  • Can make images look unnatural

Method Three – How To Use Smart Sharpen Filter in Photoshop

We have learned how to use the Sharpen and Sharpen More filters, but how can we sharpen images in Photoshop without creating as much noise? Two tools will help us with this: Smart Sharpen and Unsharp Mask.

Let’s learn How to use Smart Sharpen filter in Photoshop

  1. Duplicate your Background Layer (Crtl+J PC) Cmd + J Mac)
  2. Select the Background Copy layer to work on by selecting it as before
  3. Convert your Background copy layer into a Smart Object. This will make it easier to adjust later. Go to Layers>Smart Objects>Convert to Smart Object
Convert to smart object in photoshop
  1. To confirm your new layer is a Smart Object look in the Layers panel and the thumbnail image of your layer should have a Smart Object icon in it
  1. With the Background copy layer selected Go to Filters>Sharpen>Smart Sharpen
Smart Sharpen in photoshop
  1. The Smart Sharpen panel will appear. The panel can be expanded by hovering on the edges until arrows appear.
How to Smart Sharpen in photoshop

For this tutorial we will concentrate only on the Amount, Radius and Reduce Noise sliders

  1. First, we will look at the Preview tick box. If selected, the changes you make while the panel is open will preview on your main image. Toggle this on and off to get a much better view of what is happening to the whole image.
What does preview mean in photoshop
  1. Let’s look at the sliders within Smart Sharpen. Amount, Radius and Reduce Noise.
How to adjust Smart Sharpen filter
  1. Amount is the strength of change. In this image I have increase the Amount to maximum so you can see the extreme effect.
What does Amount do in photoshop
Note the very high amounts of noise
  1. The Radius controls the thickness in your edges. Again, here is an extreme.
Whats is radius for in photoshop
Note the high contrast and white halo at the top where the roof meets the sky
  1. Reduce Noise does exactly that. It reduces noise and brings back some smoothness.
Reduce Noise in photoshop
Note the image is smoother when noise is reduced but sharpness is reduced
  1. Click OK when you’re finished to apply.
  2. Toggle Layer Visibility on/off to see the before and after
  3. If you’re not satisfied with your changes, go back and adjust them because we made this layer a Smart Object.
  4. To re-adjust the settings in Smart Sharpen double-click on where it says Smart Sharpen at the bottom of your Background copy Smart Object layer, and your panel will re-appear to re-adjust.
smart object, smart sharpen filter
  1. Once you are happy with what you have changed click on OK, you can repeat this until you are content with your finished product.

Before And After Smart Sharpen – Original Image on the Left, Smart Sharpen Image on the Right

before smart sharpen in photoshopAfter Smart Sharpen in photoshop

Pros & Cons to using the Smart Sharpen Filter in Photoshop

Pros

Cons

  • Non-destructive as a smart object
  • Excellent Control
  • Work panel can be expanded
  • More time consuming/complicated
  • Affects areas of an image inconsistently
  • Adds Black and white edging if overdone

Method Four – How to use Unsharp Mask to fix out of focus Photos

Unsharp mask is similar to Smart Sharpen in that gives us finer control over how we sharpen our images in Photoshop.

Steps For Using Unsharp Mask in Photoshop

  1. Duplicate your Background Layer (Crtl+J PC) or (Cmd + J Mac)
  2. Select the Background Copy layer to work on by selecting it as before
  3. Convert your Background copy layer into a Smart Object Layers>Smart Objects>Convert to Smart Object
  4. With the Background copy layer selected Go to Filters>Sharpen>Unsharp Mask
Unsharp Mask in photoshop
  1. The Unmask Sharp panel will appear, this panel can’t be expanded.
How to use Unsharp Mask in Photoshop
  1. The Amount and Radius sliders act in the exact same way as they did in the Smart Sharpen tutorial. Let’s look at Threshold.
What is Threshold in Photoshop
  1. The Threshold is the colour/tone variation between surrounding pixels that the tool will look for to help define an edge. To show what effect this has on the image look at the two extremes.
Zero threshold in unsharp mask
Threshold Zero
maximum threshold in photoshop
Threshold 255
  1. Once you are happy with what you have changed click OK to apply.
  2. Toggle Layer Visibility on/off to see the before and after
  3. Remember if you are not entirely happy with your adjustments because you made the layer into a Smart Object you can re-adjust the setting.
Before And After Smart Sharpen – Original Image on the Left, Unsharp Mask Image on the Right


before unsharp mask in photoshopAfter Unsharp mask in photoshop

Pros & Cons to using the Unsharp Mask Filter in Photoshop

Pros

Cons

  • Non-destructive
  • Simpler to use than Smart Sharpen
  • Can be fine-tuned
  • Decent at avoiding excessive noise
  • Easy to accidentally make Halos

Looking for more advanced, cleaner sharpening methods?

I’ve created two other methods (actions included) that will help you sharpen your photos much more cleanly than with standard Photoshop sharpening tools. See below for the links.

How To Sharpen Cleanly In Photoshop Without Edging

How To Sharpen Your Images For The Web

Other useful resources online

Sharpen Images in Photoshop with the High Pass filter

Applying the Smart Sharpen Filter

Easy Image Sharpening with Unsharp Mask in Photoshop

Beginners Guide: Learn Four Ways to Sharpen Images in Photoshop
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