Print Sharpening in Photoshop

When preparing a file for printing, you want to ensure that all the fine detail you worked so hard to enhance and maintain throughout post processing translates to the finished printed image. In this article, I walk you through a technique for print sharpening in Photoshop that I frequently use when preparing a file for printing.

The following steps may differ for you depending on your workflow but, as long as you are working with the highest resolution uncompressed file possible, than it all works the same.

Print Sharpening Workflow

  • With your master file open in Photoshop, duplicate the entire file by selecting Image > Duplicate. This safety measure ensures that nothing accidentally happens to your master file.

    Print sharpening in Photoshop technique

    Print sharpening in Photoshop Technique

  • Once duplicated, close your master file. Create a stamp visible layer atop your layer stack or merge all layers.
  • Press command or Ctrl+J to duplicate the layer (or right-click and select duplicate layer).
Stamp Layer in Photoshop

Stamp Layer in Photoshop

  • With this new layer selected, go to Filter > Other > High Pass and select a radius of around 2 px.
  • Change the layer blend mode to soft or hard light (depending on your file). Hard light may require an opacity adjustment because it will be a very harsh sharpening.
High Pass Menu in Photoshop

High Pass Menu in Photoshop

  • Now, create a stamp visible layer on top of the high pass layer with the following keyboard short cut: Command/CTRL+ Option/Alt + Shift + E.
  • Once generated, select that pixel layer and copy it using the following keyboard shortcut Command/CTRL+ A to select, then Command/CTRL+ C to copy.
  • In your channels pallet, make a new channel and then paste the selection into the new channel using Command/CTRL + V.
  • Go to Filter > Stylize > Find Edges. Once complete, you will see that Photoshop applied black along most of the high contrast edges in the photo. You can use this as a mask to apply to your sharpened layer to prevent over sharpening.
  • Create in Channel for High Contrast Edge Mask in Photoshop

    Create in Channel for High Contrast Edge Mask in Photoshop

  • High Contrast Edge Mask in Photoshop

    High Contrast Edge Mask in Photoshop

  • With your new channel made active by Command/CTRL and clicking on it, return to the layers panel, select your high pass layer and apply this selection as a mask. Now delete the stamp visible layer.

I urge you to use the shift key and click the mask of this layer disabling and enabling the mask while zoomed at 100%. This will allow you to see the benefit of the edge masking! You can experiment with different light blend modes like vivid light, overlay, soft light, and hard light. You can also adjust opacity to suit, but I like to be slightly over-sharpened so that the print retains as much detail as possible.

Examples of print sharpening

The left half is sharpening applied through the edge mask at 400% zoom. The right half is all sharpening masked out.

Here is a helpful video showing you step by step everything talked about in this article!

Feel free to share your own print sharpening techniques in photoshop in the comments below.

About Author Joshua Snow

My Name is Joshua Snow, I am a Fine Art landscape and Night Photographer born in the Appalachian Mountains but raised in the Finger Lakes region of Upstate NY. In 2012 I had reached a weight of over 400lbs and during my journey of weight loss I discovered Photography and re-discovered the creativity that I had locked away while pursuing a career in Mechanical Engineering in the Aerospace field. Fast-forward to 2016 and a life-changing trip to Moab, my girlfriend and I decided we would do whatever it took to live here so that I could pursue my dreams of creating art, traveling the southwest and educating on photography. After a month, we had found a house, jobs and a sustainable future! Now I lead Photography workshops full time, all over the southwest, and here in Moab. My passions are creating art, traveling and teaching. I like to show people how connecting with a landscape can help make you a better photographer just by being there! On my workshops I help you see composition, pre- visualize a scene all the way through to the finished image, post processing from basics to advanced Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop, basic through advanced camera and capture techniques and a whole lot more. I specialize in advanced capture and processing techniques that can help elevate a photo to a work of art, that encompasses your vision, and creativity, but welcome photographers of all skill levels!