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Basic Editing Tutorial: Using The Unsharp Mask Tool

Basic Editing Tutorial: Using The Unsharp Mask Tool - How to use the Unsharp Mask Tool to improve your photos.

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Adobe Elements

(Article Updated Feb 2012)

Sharpening an image in Photoshop Elements is made easy with the Unsharp Mask Tool and this tutorial will show you how to use it.

Start Image

When you've opened your image, we'll be using the shot above, duplicate (you should always do this so you have the original to go back to if something drastically goes wrong). To do this go to Layer>Duplicate Layer or drag the open layer over the new layer icon. Next, go to: Enhance>Unsharp Mask (if you're doing this in CS4, the path to get to the Unsharp Mask is slightly different).

Duplicate Layer
Once you select the Unsharp Mask Tool a window will appear with a screen which shows your image and three sliders: Amount, Radius and Threshold.

Unsharp Mask

Here's what the three sliders are and what they change:
  • Amount – sharpness as a percentage.
  • Radius – is how many pixels wide the sharpness will effect (similar to adjusting the paintbrush tool, it gets larger and smaller).
  • Threshold - How much sharpness is given. A higher threshold will create an image which looks harder and visa versa.
If you move the sliders up and down, you'll see your image changes accordingly either in the preview window or if you have Preview ticked, you'll also see your actual image change too. You can, of course, pick your own figures to adjust by but we'd suggest changing the Amount to more than 50% (we used 75%). We also used a radius of 10.0 pixels and the Threshold was set to level 3.

Pay attention to the image's edges to make sure there's no halos appearing. This is where a white line appears around objects, which in some cases can make them appear quite cartoon like. This tool can also enhance any noise present in the image but adjusting the Threshold can help you reduce this. Make sure your changes aren't too glaringly obvious either as this can spoil your image.

Once you're happy with the changes click OK and they will be applied.

Sharpened image:
Image Sharpened

Close up showing the shot before the adjustment and after:
Before and after unsharp mask was applied

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Swaggie 7 2 Australia
8 Nov 2011 10:00PM
Thanks for the tip.
caj26 5 4 United Kingdom
21 Feb 2013 10:34PM
Appreciate this,thanks.
3 Oct 2015 2:13PM
Thanks! Admin it's really useful tutorial. You sharp an image with unsharp mask so easily.

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