Jul 112012

lightroom-output-sharpening-2In this third article of a three-part series on sharpening in Lightroom, I explain output sharpening.  Here are the other two articles:


Part 1: Overview of the Three Step Sharpening workflow, and Capture Sharpening in Depth

Part 2: Creative Sharpening – Sharpening Eyes and Other Local Elements

To summarize the first two steps in the sharpening workflow, the first step, capture sharpening, is performed on your full size image in the Develop module, and is designed to cut through the haze that a digital capture produces, and make edges in your photos look crisper.

Creative sharpening is then sometimes done to enhance or  bring focus to local elements in your photo.

Output Sharpening — What It’s For

When you then go to resize and output photos, they can lose sharpness. Output sharpening is generally designed to restore what is otherwise lost in output.  For example, when you print to matte / uncoated papers, the ink soaks in, and some sharpness is lost. A smaller amount is lost even when printing to glossy or coated papers, because the translation simply isn’t perfect. In addition, when you output your photos, either to print, or to jpegs to be shared on screen, you are almost always upsizing or downsizing the photo. This interpolation process results in a loss of sharpness as well (the more interpolation, particularly upsizing, the more sharpening is needed to compensate.)

You will find output sharpening settings in the Export dialog, the Print module, and the Web module. You will also find them in the Book module if you have chosen to output to PDF or JPEG. If instead you are outputting to Blurb, the output sharpening is done automatically.

How to Do Output Sharpening

The settings are simple — you choose the output medium and the amount:


These limited number of settings, particularly compared to the Develop module sharpening settings, may give the impression that this is not sophisticated sharpening. In fact it is — Jeff Schewe partnered with Adobe to build it, and it is based on Pixel Genius’ Photo Kit Pro sharpener. In addition to your choices on these settings, the algorithm looks at output resolution and how much upsizing or downsizing is being done.

For output medium, choose Glossy for any coated paper, and Matte for any uncoated paper. Choose Screen when your audience will view your output on a monitor, mobile device or other screen.

There are three choices for Amount for two reasons. The primary reason is that within a particular medium — for example, matte papers —  some papers are better at holding detail and maintaining sharpness than others. For example, Hahnemuhle Photo Rag paper holds the detail better than Epson Enhanced Matte does, and therefore will need less sharpening.

The other reason is that there is no “correct” amount of sharpening — some people prefer more or less than others.

Standard almost always works well for me.  I would encourage you, though, to do your own tests — make prints of a photo at all 3 settings (and for comparison, also with no output sharpening).

Beware of creating “halos” — bright or dark lines — along edges in your photo. (See an example of this and other signs of oversharpening in my Part One article.)  Look at your prints from your expected viewing distance. If you are outputting jpegs rather then prints, if they are for screen, look at them full size. If you’re sending out the jpegs to be printed, before you send them, evaluate the sharpening on-screen (I prefer to zoom in to 1:2 / 50%, rather than 1:1 / 100% to judge output sharpening.)

Should you always do output sharpening?

I would recommend that if you are exporting files to send off to a printing service, that you check with them to see if they automatically apply output sharpening. If so, I would not apply it in Lightroom.

Output sharpening is just one of many critical output concepts I discuss in depth in my new video series, Lightroom 4: Producing Great Output. In almost 12 hours of training in 55 videos, learn how to use the Book, Slideshow, Print and Web modules, plus all the output concepts required to get great output every time — size and resolution, color management, monitor profiling, soft-proofing, printing with profiles, jpeg quality, and much more!



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