Sharpening For Output

In previous posts I have gone over Capture Sharpening and Creative Sharpening.  Today I am going to focus on Sharpening for output.

Sharpening for output is sharpening your digital file for its destined output device and media. The amount of sharpening can differ from device to device as well as medium to medium.
Images produced for web or screen shouldn’t need any output sharpening as they were sharpened for output when you apply capture sharpening.
Projected images possibly may need some sharpening but it shouldn’t be necessary. Output sharpening benefits printed images the most.

When you print an image ink is dropped onto the paper, which is then absorbed, runs and mixes with the other droplets of ink. This causes the image to become softer than what can be seen on the screen. There are many factors to take into consideration such as image resolution and size of the final printed image as well as the ideal viewing distance.

Print Size Diagonal Viewing Distance(1.5 x Diagonal) PPINeeded
4 x 6″ 7.21″ 11″ 313
8 x 10″ 12.81″ 19″ 181
8 x 12″ 14.42″ 22″ 156
 11 x 14″ 17.80″ 27″ 156
16 x 20″ 25.61″ 38″ (3.17′) 89
16 x 24″ 28.84″ 43″ 80
20 x 30″ 36.06″ 54″ (4.5′) 64
40 x 60″ 72.11″ 108″ (9′) 32

PPI stands for pixels per inch and is the resolution for a digital file. There are other image resolutions, follow this link to read about their relationship to each other.

Output sharpening is not about the details you can see on the screen but making sure the printed image has the same sharpness of your original vision. Similarly as with capture sharpening, once you have found settings that work for your device, you can save these settings as a preset or action to speed up your workflow.


In Photoshop you will need to experiment with the strength of the filters applied for it to match your output device and paper. This workflow works for an A4 size print on glossy paper on my HP printer at 240PPI (pixels per inch)


1)      Duplicate background layer and set opacity to 66% (this step is presuming your print file has been resized and only consists of one layer or a smart object).


2)      Double click duplicated layer to adjust blending options. On the bottom of this window is Blend If, keep this set to grey but change the layer highlights to 240/250 (to split the pointer hold alt and click). On, Underlying layers, change shadow setting to 10/20.


3)      Filter – Sharpen – Unsharp Mask, Amount – 320, Radius – 0.6 and Threshold – 4.

4)      Edit – Fade, 70%, Mode – Luminosity


5)      Change blending mode of the duplicated layer to Overlay and apply Filter- Other –Highpass, with a radius of 2.


6)      Zoom in at 50% to better see the potential of the sharpening and adjust the opacity to taste.

Once sharpened it is best to print the image and check that it is sharp enough. This step could be done at the same time you proof print for colours as well.


Compared to Photoshop, Lightroom is a breeze when it comes to sharpening for output. Click on print at the top to open the print module where you can set all your print settings. There are three settings in the Print Job panel;

Print Resolution – the resolution of the image that is being sent to the printer.

Print Sharpening – how much sharpening, Low, Medium and High.

Media Type – what type of paper finishing, Glossy and Matte.


This may seem a little bit too easy. This is because Jeff Schewe worked with Adobe to build this model based on his research for the optical sharpening settings for printed images. It is also based on the Pixel Genius’ Photo Kit Pro.
The options for, Print Sharpening, becomes a personal preference of the amount of sharpening you like to have in your printed image.

As with the Photoshop settings you need to print out your images to proof the settings and once you have got the best ones for your printer you can save it as a preset.


Although Picasa doesn’t technically have an output sharpening procedure, you could resharpen an image before you export it for printing. As for strength, you would need to try a some different settings and see how they work. Just like  Lightroom and Photoshop, you need to make sure you don’t create any artefacts or halos when you sharpen. When you have the right settings for your printer, you can note down these down for future use.

Output is a lot of work and it is worth it

It can be seen as a lot of work to prepare your files, but it is worth it. If you are getting your files printed by a third party, I would ask them; what are the optimal settings for Lightroom and Photoshop. You never know they may sharpen the images themselves before printing. If you sharpen your image first before sending it to be printed by a third party, you may be making  your image worse.

White Move

I hope these posts are useful and if there is a program you use that I haven’t covered yet me know, also feel free to ask any questions or just say hi in the comments section as well if you like.

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All images are the Copyright of Benjamin Rowe , ALL RIGHTS Reserved unless credited to another photographer.
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