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- When to sharpen
- Zoom settings for sharpening
- Sharpening RAW captures
- Preparing a photo for output and sharpening
- Using Unsharp Mask and Smart Sharpen
- Creative and targeted sharpening
- Using advanced blending options
- Multiple-pass sharpening
- Using third-party tools
Skill Level Intermediate
More often than not, when I'm preparing an image for output, I use the exact same workflow. This includes preparing images for print as well as other forms of sharing. And sharpening is part of this overall workflow. In this lesson, I'm going to show you the approach I take when preparing an image for output. As you can see, I have a layered Photoshop document. I have my original background image, a clean up layer, a vegnette layer, and several adjustment layers, and this is a relatively typical scenario. I've been working to optimize this image and in the process, using the non-destructive workflow, I've created a variety of layers. Now, I'd like to prepare this image to be printed.
The first thing I need to do is make sure that I've actually saved this file. This image becomes my master image. It contains all of my layers, and retains maximum flexibility for me. Anytime I want to prepare new output from this image, I'm going to return to this file, the Photoshop file, that contains all of my layers. So I'll make sure that I've saved the latest version of this image, by choosing File > Save from the menu. With the image saved, I'm ready to prepare the image for output, using my output workflow. I want to be sure that I preserve this master image just as it is. I've saved it to my hard drive, and I've retained all of my layers within this image, and I want to make sure during the output workflow process, that I don't lose any of this information.
So rather than working on the original, I'm going to create a copy of my image. To do so, I'll simply choose Image Duplicate from the menu. This will bring up the Duplicate Image dialog, and by default the duplicate will share the same name as my original image with the word Copy appended to it. I can certainly change the name, as this will become the default file name, if I choose to Save the resulting image. For example, if I were preparing this image to print at a particular size, I might add an indication of the size for that image, so that I can Save that version with the size indicated on the file name. And any time I need to print the image at the same size, I can simply open that file once again.
In this case I don't need to save the final result, so I'm not going to worry about the file name, I'll just leave the word Copy appended to the existing file name. I also want to turn on the Duplicate Merged Layers only checkbox. Now, this is not exactly the most clearly labeled checkbox in Photoshop. What it essentially means, is that my duplicate image will be flattened. This is important because I might have multiple pixel layers in my image. For example, in this case, I have a cleanup layer that contains some work that was done with the Clone Stamp and Healing Brush tools.
I want those pixels to be sharpened the same as the background image layer, and I can accomplish that by simply flattening the version of the image that I'm going to apply sharpening to. So with that check box turned on, I'll go ahead and Click OK. And as you can see I now have a copy of my image, but it's been flattened. At this point, I can close my original image, comfortable that it is safely stored on my hard drive, and won't be harmed by the work I'm about to perform. The next step is to re-size this image for its final output. In this case, I intend to print the image.
I'll go ahead and choose Image > Image Size from the menu, which will bring up the Image Size dialog. Now in this particular case, the image is a very low resolution image that I'm using for demonstration purposes, and so I couldn't print it especially large. Let's assume in this case that I simply want to print an image at about four by six inches, at a 360 pixels per inch resolution since I'm going to print it on a photo inkjet printer. I'll make sure that Re-sample Image check box is turned on, so that I can actually change the size of the image. I'll make sure that Scales Styles is turned on even though in this case I've not used any styles with the image.
And I also want to keep the Constrained Proportions check box turned on, so that the aspect ratio can't be changed by the re-sizing that I'm doing. For the Re-Sample Image option, we also have a variety of interpolation algorithms to choose from. In most cases I use the Bi-Cubic option. I never use Nearest Neighbor, nor do I use Bi-Linear. I also don't use Bi-cubic sharper because if I'm reducing the size of an image, I'll still want to sharpen with a bit more control, separately. In certain cases if I'm really enlarging the image significantly, I might use the Bi-Cubic Smoother option. In those cases, essentially when I feel a little bit nervous that I might be enlarging the image too much.
I'll typically re-size the image twice, once with Bi-Cubic and once with Bi-Cubic Smoother to see which produces a better result. But more often than not, I'll simply use the Bi-Cubic option. I can then specify a resolution, in this case I'll go ahead and enter 360 pixels per inch, and I'll set the width to a value of 6 inches. So now I have a 4 by 6 image ready to print at 360 pixels per inch. In the process, I'm essentially doubling the amount of information in the image. As a general rule, you can comfortably enlarge an image by double it's original height or width, essentially four times the total area.
So in this case, even though I've started with a fairly small image, it's a perfectly comfortable degree of enlargement. I'll go ahead and Click OK. And at this point, the output preparation workflow is complete. I'm ready to apply Sharpening, which will be tailored to the specific output process I'm using. And because the image has been flattened and re-sized, that sharpening will affect the entire image equally, and those sharpening settings will be optimized for the actual final output size of the image.