Sharpening and printing

Look sharp...but not TOO sharp

To show maximum detail, use a glossy or semi-gloss (satin) paper. Detail not important for this image? Then choose any high-quality paper whose surface reinforces the mood you are trying to create.

Fuzzy dog? Here's a resized image before applying unsharp mask. The resizing process almost always introduces a little blur.

Same image, unsharp mask applied. Looks natural, not fake.

Whoa, doggie! This shot's been way too oversharpened! Read on to find out the best unsharp mask settings for a variety of subjects.

Unless, you’re used to buying (or creating) and installing paper profiles, stick with papers and inks made by your printer manufacturer, because you can use their paper profiles to get better results. For slightly better results create (or buy) a paper profile customized for your system. You can use the same colorimeter discussed in Part I.

I often send my pictures out for printing so I can spend more time photographing. AdoramaPix, Adorama’s digital photoprocessing lab, does an excellent job for a good price. You lose some creative control because you can’t pull a print out of the printer and immediately tweak the colors, but you do offload a time-consuming task. (Read about the plusses and minuses of doing it yourself vs. sending files to an online lab.)

Setting print size, aspect ratio, and ppi settings

If you cropped your image, you may already have it in the aspect ratio and size you want. Some prefer to match image dimensions to paper dimensions. That’s largely a personal preference. Just be careful when using the Image Size window that you don’t greatly (25% or more) interpolate an image upwards to a larger file size.

For prints 8 x 10 or smaller, aim for a ppi setting of 300. This setting is available in Photoshop under Image>Image Size. 240 ppi gives good results up to 13 x 19-inch prints. If you uncheck the Resample Image box, then the ppi setting and Image dimensions settings will alter each time you change one of them to accommodate a fixed number of pixels. It’s probably easier to check the Resample Image box and enter the exact image dimensions and ppi you want. Just be careful you don’t excessively upsize or downsize the image—note the file size at the top of the window before you start.

Overall sharpening for printing

Save all the work you’ve done until now, because you’re about to flatten the file and get it ready for printing. Hooray.

Flatten the layers in the file—Layer>Flatten Image. Let’s sharpen the image without using a layer. I still like using UnSharp Mask. So go to Filter>Sharpen>Unsharp Mask, and make the sharpening settings appropriate for your image. The table below is for guidance.

Sharpening guidelines 



Subject Amount Radius Threshold
General sharpening 125 1 2
Female portrait 100 0.6 8
Male portrait 125 1 4
Dramatic landscape or detailed nature shot 140 1.3 2
Dreamy landscape or dreamy nature shot 100 0.8 4
Action/sports 150 1.3 1

Print driver settings: quality and paper

When you choose select the Print command, you open the Printer Driver window. Set the dots per inch (DPI) setting to 1440 or higher (if a numeric selection is given) or to the highest quality photo setting. Find the paper chooser, and choose the type of paper in your printer—either by specific name or surface type (glossy, matte, etc).


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