• Photo by Kenji Nanba. Nikon D5000 AF-S DX VR Zoom-Nikkor 55-200mm f/4-5.6G IF-ED. (Image courtesy Nikon Corporation.)
    Photo by Kenji Nanba. Nikon D5000 AF-S DX VR Zoom-Nikkor 55-200mm f/4-5.6G IF-ED. (Image courtesy Nikon Corporation.)

Most digital images benefit from at least some sharpening in post production. In this tutorial we show you how to perfect your sharpening technique for print and online images.

Software: Photoshop CS5 and Photoshop Elements 9
Rating: Advanced

Most digital images require at least some sharpening in post-production, but how much is enough? It really depends on the image and where it will be used. For example, images destined for web do not need as much sharpening as images destined for print. And the sharpness settings that work for one printer may not work for another. Same goes for different print media and image sizes.

So, how do you sharpen an image that may be used on the web and in print, or printed on more than one printer or paper type?

One solution is to create a specific sharpening layer that you can adjust according to the sharpness amount you need.

How do you do it? As the final step in your image-editing workflow go to the Layers panel and click the top layer to make it active. Now, use the keyboard shortcut Ctrl-Alt-Shift-N-E (Command-Option-Shift-N-E, Mac) to create a new stamp visible layer. (A stamp visible layer combines all the information from your visible layers into a new layer on top of the layers stack.)

In the main menu go to Filter > Sharpen > Unsharp Mask (Enhance > Unsharp Mask in Photoshop Elements).

Choose a large Amount setting (between 150 and 250%) and a Radius between 0.8 and 1.5. Use the Threshold slider as required to keep the noise under control (increase Threshold to reduce noise). These settings may seem high but the goal here is to “oversharpen” the image. Click OK when you’re done.


Now, with your sharpening layer in place, you can simply lower the Opacity of the layer to adjust the strength of the sharpening effect.

For printing, the optimal setting may be somewhere between 75 and 95%. If the image is destined for the web the ideal setting may likely be closer to 40 or 50%.

If you’re printing, it may help to experiment with various sharpness settings to get the best result.


Extract from “10 Killer Photoshop Tips”, first published in Digital Photography + Design (February-March 2012). Available in newsagencies from January 27, 2012.

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