Sharpening Workflow


Today’s Question: You said, “I would actually tend to leave output sharpening as a separate process [in Photoshop] within the context of a workflow for preparing a photo for output, rather than as part of your “normal” workflow. At that point, layers would no longer be a factor.” What is the workflow you recommend for this type of output?

Tim’s Quick Answer: The process I prefer for preparing a photo for final output in Photoshop involves creating a duplicate flattened copy of the image, resizing the image to the final output size, and sharpening the image based on the intended output.

More Detail: While you may apply some initial sharpening in Lightroom Classic or Adobe Camera Raw when processing a raw capture, and you may apply some “creative” sharpening in your general workflow for optimizing a photo, I generally recommend applying final output sharpening as a separate process when using Photoshop to prepare a photo for output.

My first priority in this context is to preserve the “master” image, which generally includes a variety of layers (both image layers and adjustment layers). Therefore, I prefer to work with a copy of the master image when preparing the image for printing or other output.

To create a duplicate copy of the image in Photoshop, I’ll first open the master image and then choose Image > Duplicate from the menu. In the “Duplicate Image” dialog that appears I will turn on the “Duplicate Merged Layers Only” checkbox, which will cause the resulting duplicate image to be a flattened version of the original. I then click the OK button to create the duplicate.

Next, I resize the image based on the final output dimensions. For this I use the Image Size command, which can be found on the Image menu. If the image is being prepared for printing, I’ll make sure the Resample checkbox is turned on. I’ll then set the output resolution based on how the image will be output (such as typically using a 360 ppi resolution for images I’ll print using a photo inkjet printer). I’ll then set the output dimensions using the settings for Width and Height. Clicking OK in the Image Size dialog will cause the image to actually be resized.

Finally, I’ll apply sharpening based on the final output. This typically means applying the Smart Sharpen filter. However, in some cases where it is especially important to avoid sharpening smooth areas of a photo, I will use the Unsharp Mask filter so I can adjust the value for Threshold.

After applying sharpening based on the final output, I can print the image or otherwise save it for sharing. And, of course, I could also save the new derivative image if I want quick access to the final output version of a photo. If I want to make any changes to the image, I will return to my original “master” image file that has all of the layers intact. After applying any desired changes to that master image, I could repeat the above output workflow to prepare the updated version of the photo for output.