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Best Ways to Increase Sharpness in Photoshop

When you want to overcome blur and sharpen your digital photos, what could be a better tool than Photoshop. But every Photoshop user knows that there are multiple ways to do any action in this evolved photo editing software. It has several filters and tools that can help you to finely sharpen images. However, instead of delving into all, here you will learn the three best ways to increase sharpness in Photoshop. These techniques offer more control and options while sharpening the photos or print, online uploading, or others.

How to increase sharpness in Photoshop

Although Photoshop provides automatic options like Sharpen, Sharpen More, or Sharpen Edges, these don’t offer any control over the sharpness settings. On the other hand, filters like Smart Sharpen and Unsharp give you greater control over any changes in your images. The sharpening filters let you considerably sharpen images without losing on other image details.

So here are the best filter methods to adjust image sharpness in Photoshop:

  1. Smart Sharpen filter
  2. Unsharp Mask filter
  3. High Pass filter

However, before you begin, reduce any noise in the photo. Further, when you want to enhance an image by sharpening, use a separate layer and set its blending mode to ‘Luminosity’. This will prevent color changes at the edges. Remember, you may have to gradually sharpen your photos more than once to get the desired results. To reduce sharpness, you can also use Photoshop Elements actions free of charge.

Method 1: Sharpen images with Smart Sharpen filter in Photoshop

Smart Sharpen filter can sharpen edges without increasing the noise in your photo. You can get clearer pictures with less halos along the edges. It also offers sharpening controls for highlights and shadows. Use the following steps to reduce blur using Smart Sharpen filter:

  1. Open the image in Photoshop. In the Layers panel, choose Layer > Duplicate Layer to duplicate the background.
  2. In the new pop-up window, click OK. A duplicate layer is created over the background layer.
  3. Next, set the blending mode off duplicate layer to Luminosity to prevent color shifts at the edges.
  4. In the Tools panel, double-click on the Zoom tool to zoom in to 100%. This will help to assess the sharpness clearly.
  5. From the top menu bar, choose Filter > Sharpen > Smart Sharpen.
    Figure: Sharpen Smart option in Photoshop
  6. In the Smart Sharpen dialog box check-in the Preview option.
  7. Next, adjust image sharpness using the Amount, Radius, and Reduce Noise controls:
    Figure: Smart Sharpen window in Photoshop-Amount: Higher the value greater the sharpness
    -Radius: Greater the radius sharper will be the photo.
    -Reduce Noise: Adjust the slider, if you see the noise after sharpening of the image.
  8. From the Remove drop-box, set the required algorithm to sharpen the image:
    -Gaussian Blur: Used by the Unsharp Mask filter.
    -Lens Blur: Choose for fine sharpening of detail and reducing sharpening halos.
    -Motion Blur: Choose to fix blur caused due to subject or camera movement. Set the Angle control to adjust the direction of motion for the Motion Blur.
    -Photoshop CS6 users will have an additional ‘More Accurate’ option for a more precise blur removal in the photo.
  9. From the menu at the top, choose Adjustments > Shadows/Highlights. 
  10. From the Shadow/Highlight box, sharpen the dark and light portions of the image. If the halos appear too intense, you can reduce them. Plus, go to Show More Options to adjust the Amount, Tone, and Radius.
    Note: The naming of the options may differ minutely with Adobe version. For example, in Photoshop CS6, the Tone is named Tonal Width. In the Adjustments section, Color is named Color Correction. Midtone is named Midtone Contrast
    .PhotoshopFigure: Shadow/Highlight advanced options in Photoshop CC 2014
  11. Click OK to save the changes in your photo.

Method 2: Use Unsharp Mask Filter

Photoshop’s Unsharp Mask filter increases the contrast of pixels around the edges in an image to fix the blur. Unlike Smart Sharpen, it cannot detect the image edges and doesn’t have sharpening controls for highlights and shadows.

Follow the below steps to adjust image sharpness in Photoshop using Unsharp Mask:

  1. Open image in Photoshop. Go to Filter > Sharpen > Unsharp Mask. Select the Preview option. You can drag in the preview window and zoom in or out to see portions of the photo.
  2. In the Unsharp Mask dialog box, adjust the Amount, Radius, and Threshold levels.
    Figure: Unsharp Mask dialog box-Amount: Use it to set the intensity of the sharpening effect. For high-resolution printed images, the preferred amount is between 150%-200%.

    -Radius: Adjust to set the width of the sharpening effect around image edges. The more the radius value, the sharper will be the image. For high-resolution images, the recommended Radius value is between 1-2.

    Threshold: Adjust the threshold value to set how the sharpened pixels should compared to the adjacent pixels.

  3. Click OK

Method 3: Adjust image sharpness using High Pass 

The ‘High Pass’ option under the ‘Other’ category of Photoshop filters is an easier way to sharpen images compared to Unsharp Mask or Smart Sharpen.

Follow the below steps to sharpen blurry image in Photoshop using High Pass:

  1. First convert the image layer into a smart object. Go to the Layers panel. You will see the image as Background layer. Click on the menu icon at the top-right. Select Convert to Smart Object. A smart object icon appears at the bottom of the image preview indicating the photo is inside a smart object. Any changes to sharpen the image with the High Pass filter will now be made in the smart object without affecting the original photo.
    Figure: Smart object icon in image Preview
  2. From the menu bar go to Filter > Other > High Pass. As you select High Pass, the photo turns gray with edge lines. The High Pass filter will sharpen these edges only.
    Figure: High Pass filter option in menu
  3. In the High Pass filter dialog box, adjust the radius pixels of the edge. The Radius affects the width of the edge. For example, if a Radius value is 5, the High Pass filter will highlight 5 pixels on both the sides of an edge. If it’s 1, then only single pixel will be highlighted on either side. Gradually increase the pixels from 0.1 until you obtain the required sharpness. The radius value depends upon the size of your photo and the details it holds. Usually, radius between 2-5 pixels works.
    Figure: High Pass Filter box
  4. Next click OK to close High Pass filter.
  5. You will see High Pass appears in smart filter in the Layers panel. Next, change the High Pass filter’s blend mode to sharpen the image. Click on the Blending Mode icon at the right next to the filter’s name. From the drop-down, set Blending Mode to Overlay to sharpen your photos. The photo will get back its color. You can also move the sharpening layer to compare the sharpened photo with the one without High Pass filter sharpening.

Note: When the images appear blur, color damaged, greyed-out, or become inaccessible due to file corruption while processing, use advanced photo repair software. Tools like Stellar Repair for Photo, can fix corrupt file headers and data, bringing back your photos to their original pristine state. It is straightforward to use and doesn’t require any prior knowledge to operate the DIY repair tool.


Your photos may have turned out blurry due to camera movement or wrong settings. Or you want to enhance a RAW image by increasing its sharpness for print, try the Smart Sharp, Unsharp Mask, or High Pass filter in Photoshop. They let you take the sharpening controls and deliver quality output image free from blur or pixel issues.

the authorABHIYAN
Abhiyan Chhetri is a cybersecurity journalist with a passion for covering latest happenings in cyber security and tech world. In addition to being the founder of this website, Abhiyan is also into gaming, reading and investigative journalism.