Sharpening for Print and the Web – Home Brews and Nik Sharpener Pro 3.0

Ahh sharpening, more ways to do it than probably ways to do HDR. But let’s look at first why we sharpen and then the best ways to sharpen. 

Sharpening is totally “Output” dependant. In other words we apply sharpening depending on how we will display that image. If it’s going to be displayed on screen we need to know how big a screen and what resolution the actual image will be. If we are printing the image, we need to know how it is being printed (Inkjet/Giclee’ or true photographic print/continuous tone) and how big. Sharpening for one use will not be correct for another. If we applied the same sharpening that we use for a 20 x 30 Giclee’ print on a 600 x 400 image on our Facebook page, that Facebook image would be way over-sharpened and full of sharpening artifacts. 

One note before I continue on. If you have any aspiration of do Stock Photography, do not apply any sharpening to your images. You don’t know what the final use will be for that image and that should be left to the end user and their re-toucher/designer 

Sharpening for print

Sharpening for print is dependant on print size and how it will be viewed. Thisis why I work with a Master Tiff or PSD file and then make Print JPEG copies depending on the size print I am making or having made. You can, if you don’t want to go this extreme, just make one print file but make it for what you expect the average large size print to be. Say 16” X 24” I print up to 40” x 60” and would rather do each size independently but that’s me. 

Since sharpening is so size dependant, first we must look at that image correctly so that we can see in real time/ real size how our sharpening affects the image. So I will let you in on a little known or used property of Photoshop. “View> Print Size”. Now wait a minute you say, I’ve always known about that. You probably have. BUT did you know how to calibrate it or use it in practice? 

Size Calibrating

This will take a measuring and a little calculating. Get a small tape measure or ruler and measure your monitor screen’s width Don’t just go by what the monitor says it is as in I have a 23” monitor that’s what it says on the box. That is the diagonal measurement, it was perpetrated by men, we always want things to seem larger than they are. So measure the width of the actual display area of your screen. In the case of my “22 inch “screen that measurement was `18.75”. Now find out what the horizontal resolution of your screen is set at. In Windows you can do that by right clicking on your desktop and go to properties. Macs…well you own a Mac so you should know everything (jealous laughter) 

My resolution is 1680 x 1050; the first number is the width resolution. Now take that number and divide it by your width measurement 1680/ 18.75 = 89.6 pixels per Inch

We can round that so we have a Screen Resolution or 90 ppi. Write that number down. (Well, write YOUR number down) 

Now open Photoshop. In your Preferences (Edit>Preferences) go to the Units and Ruler tab and under Screen Resolution put in that number (whatever yours works out to be) (don’t change the Print resolution number) 

You have now calibrated your monitor to be the correct size so that if you have an 8 x 10” image displayed at print size, you will see it actual size. Go ahead measure it if you don’t believe. 

Our next step is to size our image for the size print we will make. When we do this we will not be changing the actual file itself but rather just the document size. I know that sounds confusing but we won’t be altering the pixels at all, just how big the print will look on screen. 

We do this by going to Image> Image Size 

The first thing you need to do is UN-CHECK the box for “Resample Image” this will ensure that we don’t actually change the file. Then in the width and height areas put in the dimension for the print you want to make. In this case I choose to make a 30” x 20” print.  One item to take note of though is the Resolution, this number will change as you change Print sizes the only time you need to worry about it is if that number falls below 100. Most print labs need at least a number of 100 to make an acceptable print. 



Once you have you print size in, click OK. Now if you go up to View> Print Size, the size you see on screen is the actual size of the print that will be made. 

With this view we now can make an accurate judgment on how sharp the image needs to be. It may by itself be plenty sharp and you may need to do nothing. If that is the case do just that, nothing. The less you do to an image, the better off you usually are. But if you find the image lacks the detail you want, then we need to move on to sharpening. 

Sharpening –High Pass Sharpening -The Home Brew 

As I stated earlier there are as many ways to do sharpening as there are ways to do HDR. Photoshop itself has about 6 sharpening method built into its filter menu. Lightroom has its own sharpening area. For me I like an alternative method known as High Pass Sharpening. I feel it has the most power and control and I think. It just looks good. If you like the  built in sharpening then by all means use them, just make sure you view the images at the correct size as above to apply the right amount of sharpening. Smart Sharpening in Photoshop is probably the best built in 

Hi pass.

Start by duplicating your image in a layer. Layer > Duplicate layer. Now go up to Filter>Other>High Pass

Your image will turn all gray and this dialog box will pop up. 

Start with a Radius of 2.0 and work from there. What we are looking for is just the edges of object since that is what sharpening deals with the contrast of edges. Move the control back and forth till you just see the fine edges of object. If you select too much the sharpening will be applied to areas beyond the edges resulting in haloing. Once you have your edges. Click OK.

With that layer selected go up to the Layer Blend mode where the drop down now says “Normal” drop down this list and here we have quite a  few choices. The ones that are applicable are

  • Overlay
  • Soft Light
  • Hard Light
  • Vivid Light 

Changing the blend mode will change the amount and the look of our sharpening. If I have an image with a lot of small detail, I will use Overlay, if my objects are larger I will use Vivid. But it totally depends on your image. There is not just one right answer. You can also vary the opacity of that layer if the look is right but the power is just too strong. 

Play close attention to edges; look for telltale of over sharpening. haloing, white lines, color changes, color fringing. If it looks good, it is good 

You can flatten the image a then Save as a JPEG to keep or send as a Print file for that image and that size with it’s own unique name. I usually don’t flatten the image because that allows me to go back and make changes to that sharpen layer later on if I so choose and I save the image as Tiff or PSD 

That’s all there is to it. 

Geez isn’t there an easier method?

Once again Peter, I didn’t think I needed a science experiment just to print a stupid picture! Well once again this is where we use the smarts of the software makers to take care of our problems and Nik Sharpener Pro 3.0 does just that. It does the calculating for you. 

Nik Sharpener Pro 3.0 

Sharpener Pro 3.0

Nik Sharpener Pro 3.0 is two sharpeners built into one. It is a RAW Pre-sharpener if we just wanted to sharpen an image not knowing what our final output would be and want to make up for some general softness to our image. But then there is the more adaptive and useful part, The Sharpener Pro 3.0 Output Sharpener. This takes what you want to do with your image into consideration and pretty much guides you through the process. Just answer some simple question in drop down boxes and it will do the thinking for you. 


The first thing it asks in the right Adjustment area is: What do you want to do with this image?

  • Display
  • Inkjet Print (Giclee type Photographic Print)
  • Continuous Tone print (photographic type print)
  • Halftone (Print Press)
  • Hybrid

 So you tell it what you want to do. I want to make a continuous tone print. Select that and now you are posed with other questions you answer

  • Viewing Distance
  • Yes viewing distance for a print can matter. The closer you view something the less sharpening it may need. If it is a print held in your hand or a print on the wall this can vary. (I found that the Auto setting worked well) 
  • Printer resolution: If you know this then enter that in, I know my print lab uses 250 ppi. If you don’t know , use 300 
  • Image Height and Width, Enter in the print size you want to make and it will apply enough sharpening for that size. This is a substitute for viewing at print size like we did for the High Pass Sharpening. It is also what the AUTO setting for viewing distance takes into consideration. 

Answer the questions and you are done. You do have the options to apply more or less sharpening in the section below. But for the almost all situations the software does a great job of applying sharpening for your image. 

Another cool thing is the ability to apply Selective sharpening. If you remember from our post about Bokeh, you don’t always want sharpening accross the entire image espcially parts that are supposed to be out of focus. The use of control points in Nik Sharpener Pro 3.0 allows you to just apply sharpening to selective areas of an image










And that’s it; you can either do the work yourself or let software work for you. 

Here are some examples using 100% Crops to see the effects of Sharpening 

This is no sharpening (SOOC)












This is High Pass Sharpening





This is The Nik Sharpening



And yes there is a difference in the two sharp methods, mine was as my eye saw, the other was as the program saw fit. 


Sometimes as we sharpen an image it makes the noise in an image more apparent. In most cases if you find unacceptable noise in your image, you should De-Noise the image before sharpening. Then you know about how much to sharpen the image. Bear in mind it kind of a back and forth thing and you are trying to find a happy medium. The noise reduction reduces sharpness and the sharpening makes noise more visible so sometimes you need to find a compromise.

 Sharpening for the Web

So far we have discussed sharpening for print or large display on an LCD. Now let’s discuss sharpening for the web that actually is a two part process: Resizing an image (which reduces sharpness, and then sharpening that image. Even the process of re-sizing can affect how our image looks and its sharpness. 

What size?

The first thing we need to know is what size will our image be displayed on the web. The last thing you want to have happen is for either a website (Facebook, Google + etc) to resize our image. Nor do we want our web-browser itself to resize the image. They use the worst possible resize method (Nearest neighbor) and make our images look even worse than just resizing does.

 For this blog, I can post at 620 Pixels on the longest side, for my other portfolio blog, I can post at 900 on the longest side. But because I can have people click on my images here for a better look, I do them at 900 pixels on the longest side too, Sacrificing a little in the blog display to make them look better in the large image (If I am doing a vertical image I keep it to 700 Pixels because that fits better when people view without scrolling) 

Find the right size for your website/blog/social media and then resize to it.

 In Photoshop To resize your image go to Image>Image Resize  for the resize method choose Bi-cubic, Lightroom also use that method. Despite what you may have heard about web size images needing to be 72 ppi resolution, that number in the context of digital image has absolutely no bearing 

Once resized now look at the image, this time using “Actual Pixels” since this is how the image will actually be seen. There no longer is a “Document size” for web images. 











Unsharp Mask

If the image has lost more sharpness than desirable then you will need to sharpen. I feel the High Pas ssharpening is over kill for sharpening for the web. Instead, this time I use one of Photoshop’s stock filters: Unsharp mask. I start with settings of Amount 40, Radius 1.8 and Threshold 1, varying these as I see fit. 

















Lightroom will do these operations upon exporting (resize/sharpen) you just don’t have as much control with those choices left to presets) 

Or, once again you can use Nik Sharpener Pro 3.0, Choose display and vary the adaptive sharpening to your eye. 

Save the image as a new file making sure to rename it something other than the original file name, such as Mydog_web.jpg and save it with enough compression to bring the file size to about 100K or smaller for fast load times. Too large and the image will take too long to load, Too small and the image will now have compression artifacts which look even worse than an unsharp image.

 And there you have it. To recap 

For print images

  • Calibrate Photoshop for correct display size
  • View at the actual print size
  • Use eitherHigh Pass sharpening or Nik Sharpener Pro 3.0 Output based sharpening 
  • Save a copy as a Print file based on the print size

For web Images

  • Resize the image properly and to the actual size it will be displayed on the website
  • Use Unsharp mask or Nik Sharpener Pro 3.0 Output based sharpening
  • Save as a web copy


 Hope that helps




  1. Duane November 8, 2011 at 5:10 am #

    WOW!! That is some great information. Thank you for taking the time to write this. It answered a lot of questions for me that I have been trying to find out.

    One question: in regards to Print Labs, are they willing to tell you what type of device they are using?

    • Peter November 11, 2011 at 5:16 am #

      Yep Duane, Most labs are not very private about what equipment they use in fact are usually proud of what they have. Most times if a company says they have Giclee’ prints, thoes are large format inkjet printers, If some one says they have Photographic prints, those would be laser excited true photographic paper type prints, like DurstLambda machines. If a printer doesn’t specify their optimum print ppi, Using 250-300 is usually sufficient. But ity is helpfull to nknow what their minimum ppi is. Most are about 100

  2. Miguel Palaviccini November 8, 2011 at 5:58 am #

    Really informative. I just recently stumbled upon Nik Sharpener Pro and have to say that the difference between prints that are sharpened and those that are not are NIGHT and DAY! Thanks for sharing!

  3. Irving November 9, 2011 at 9:19 pm #

    Fabulous article. You make a very good teacher.

  4. mike December 6, 2011 at 6:35 am #

    300 ppi is not optimal for all inkjet printers – for most Epson printers 240 or 360 ppi would probably be better (though the benefit may be hard to see). Its easier for the printer to resample from these sizes to the printers native dpi of typically 720/1440/2880 dpi

    • Peter December 6, 2011 at 7:13 am #

      That’s right Mike, That’s why Nik has a Custom section to allow you to use what is optimal for your situation. Remembering also that this does not change the ppi of you file just adjusts the sharpening Algorithm to suit a certain ppi. Thanks!

  5. Selah December 13, 2011 at 10:56 pm #

    just getting into Nik , have color efex 3.0, silver efex pro 2, & HDR. I HAVE sharpener on trial (2 days left ) I would like to buy however I just don’t seen to get. I’m going t o study the above blog see if that helps. I am not a pro, but serious . any help appreciated.

  6. Deb Cochrane December 22, 2012 at 12:00 am #

    Thanks Peter for another informative article. Another area of mystery to me is now alot Sharper :))
    You talk about being able to view in print size in Photoshop. Can I do that in Lightroom?
    Thanks again for all the great info Peter.

    • Peter December 22, 2012 at 12:19 am #

      Thanks Deb,
      Unfortunatrely in Lightroom, you viewing choices are much more limited to: Fit, Fill, 1:1 and 3:1

      Then on top of that the zoom amount for Fit and fill vary depening wethare you have The side and top and bottom panels visible or collapsed.

      For sharpening viewing I would recommend viewing at Fill and then as many panels collapsed as possible. That will probably give you the best overall idea of correct sharpness

  7. George January 4, 2013 at 2:36 pm #

    Great article!

    Let me get something straight, regarding workflow. Consider the following case:

    You have a Master File of a photo (all edits are finished). You intend to use this photo for

    1) Blog (600×400 px)
    2) Print a regular size photo (8×10)
    3) Display in a large screen (60” monitor)

    Here is what I would like to know:

    a) Would you make one separate copy for each of the above cases, which then would go in Ps and Nik Output Sharpener? Your Master File would not be used for anything other than creating the copies from?

    b) How would you resize the copies for each case (settings in image resize, resampling, etc)?


    • Peter January 4, 2013 at 3:53 pm #

      Hi George,

      It’s a very good question ebcause workflow can be pronblematic as can having many copies of one file but sometimes it is a neccesity.

      I’ll describe my workflow but it may need to be modified depending on how you or orthers work and what your final product is.

      My firts oriority for me is high quality prints but I also need websize for my many blogs or social media sites.

      I have a master file of every image in my Portfolio, for the most part they are 16 Bit Tiffs in Adobe RGB color space.

      On each of these files, I keep a seperate layer just for sharpening, I’m able to turn off that layer if I have different purposes for that image.

      The sharpening layer on that image is set for a 12 x 18 @ 240ppi Print which is the size that I print in my Studio. I print directly froim that file.

      Now in life and business there are perfect ways to do things and then there are prctical ways. Because of this while I could make a different sharpening layer for every print size, for practical purposes the same sharpening for that 12 x 18 will downscale nicely to 8 x 12 (the smallest I sell) and will up-scale to 20 x 30 very well

      If somone is ordering a very large print, 30 x 40 or 40 x 60 I will make a seperate file for that with Sharpening appropriate for those sizes. Size that large may not only require different sharpening, they also may requre re-scaling to a higher resolution.(in general most print labs require a minimum of 100 ppi) If it just a minor uptick in resolution I may use Bicubic resizing in Photoshop, if it is more I will use a dedicated resizing program such as onOne Perfect Resize

      ike I said if I am printing in the studio I will just use the master file, but Of course that is not where the majority of my prints are made, they are mostly done by various labs so yes I will prepare a seperate Print file and I do this for a number of reasons, not just sharpening.

      Again if I am having something printed from 8 x12 to 20 x 30 I will use the same shapening, larger gets specuial sharpening. I will aslo save this rint copy as a Jpeg for quicker uploads (my master file Tiffs are 240MB so you can see that can really impact upload times hence the smaller Jpeg files) I also with these print copies convert to the Color space that lab prefers. If they don’t state or you don’t know you are safest converting to sRGB.

      For the web I will resize in Photoshop or LR, In photoshop I will use bicubic resizing. Some sugest you use bicubic sharper but I prefer to handle sharpening seperately. So I resize to web-size, convert to sRGB for web disply and then will apply some mild sharpening just to make up for the softening of the image when you down size.

      There are times also I will make a copy for Monitor display, eiither for Wallpapers or Slideshows. I usually crop the image to the aspect ratio of the Monitor which is differnt than a standard photo (16:9 vs 3:2) and will convert to sRGB. Large scren TV even 60″ ones are actually relatively low resolution compared to print files. Using the High Def input will only yield a 1920 x 1080 image so while the display may seem huge you really don’t need to make a huge file. So I will make a seperate Jpeg file taking all thses things into concideration.

      So bottom line I keep a Master file but never lock t(save)he sharpening to that image, rather leaving me with the abiity to change it as the final product changes. Like I said earlier I am able to store at least one of those sharpening as a Seperate layer able to turn on or off or add a enw layer as needed

      If you are using Lightroom, you could vary the sharpeing for your needs only locking it in when you “Export” the file

      I know that a lot and it does make for many files to keep, But I find after a while if I don’t need them I can get rid of some of the other copies as long as I have that master file I can make whatever I need at any time

      • George January 4, 2013 at 11:43 pm #

        Thank you so much, for your detailed explanation on my question!

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