How to Sharpen Image Edges in Photoshop


How to Sharpen Image Edges in Photoshopopener

If you’re a Lightroom user you’ll know that in Lightroom you can mask the sharpening you apply to an image so it is applied to the edges in the image only. This same feature is not yet available in Photoshop and the sharpening filters there are applied to the entire image rather than just edge detail.

However you can achieve a reasonable approximation of the Lightroom masking feature in Photoshop using the Photoshop Find Edges filter. The benefit of this is you can apply more sharpening to the image than you would do without the masking effect and areas of flat color like skies and skin tones won’t be sharpened. Here’s how to do this.

How to Sharpen Image Edges in Photoshop

Once you have finished processing your image in Photoshop, flatten the image to a single layer or make a single layer of the edited image by adding a new layer at the top of the Layer palette and press Ctrl + Alt + Shift + E (Command + Option + Shift + E on the Mac) to create a flattened version of the image on that layer.

Duplicate the flattened layer twice.

How to Sharpen Image Edges in Photoshop 1

Target the topmost layer – you will create your sharpening mask from this layer. Choose Image > Adjustments > Desaturate to convert it to black and white then choose Filter > Stylize > Find Edges to isolate the edges in the image.

How to Sharpen Image Edges in Photoshop 2

Choose Image > Adjustments > Invert to invert the colors so that what is black is white and vice versa.

Choose Image > Adjustments > Levels and adjust the mask so that it shows white in the areas that you want to sharpen and black in those areas that you do not want to sharpen.

How to Sharpen Image Edges in Photoshop 3

Once you have a good mask, blur its edges slightly by choosing Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur and apply a 1 or 2 pixel blur to it. When this is done, hide the sharpening mask layer by turning its visibility icon off in the Layer palette.

Now target the second topmost layer in the image and click the Add Layer Mask icon at the foot of the Layer palette.

How to Sharpen Image Edges in Photoshop 4

Click the mask thumbnail on this layer to target it and choose Image > Apply Image to open the Apply Image dialog. From the Layer dropdown list select the layer that contains the hidden sharpening mask, and click Ok.

How to Sharpen Image Edges in Photoshop 5

Click on the image thumbnail on this layer to target it and apply your sharpening to this layer – use Smart Sharpen or Unsharp Mask as desired. When you set the slider values, view the result on the image and not using the preview in the sharpening dialog. The preview in the dialog doesn’t take into account the mask you have applied – the image itself does. Click Ok when you’re done.

How to Sharpen Image Edges in Photoshop 6

To compare the before and after result of sharpening the image with an edge mask, Shift + Click on the mask layer thumbnail to disable it and see the image as it would look sharpened and without the masking effect. Click the mask thumbnail again to enable the mask again. You can discard the hidden mask layer now, if desired as it is no longer needed.

While this sharpening mask takes some effort to create once you’ve done it a few times you will find the process quite straightforward and some of its creation can be automated using Actions.

Read more from our Post Production category

Helen Bradley is a Lifestyle journalist who divides her time between the real and digital worlds, picking the best from both. She writes and produces video instruction for Photoshop and digital photography for magazines and online providers world wide. She has also written four books on photo crafts and blogs at

  • portretronald

    a good photo doesn’t need any extra sharpness……..

  • Thyg0d

    Don’t totally agree portretronald, I almost always sharpen mine, even the occasional bad one 😉 but it all depends on what you shoot I guess..

    I use CameraRaw to do the sharpening of edges with the Mask feature but this I definitely need to try out and see if adds even more control to the sharpening

  • Juan Castillo

    This is a new technique (at least for me). Looking forward to trying it out :).

  • SH

    Or just use Nik Sharpener and avoid all these steps. Selective sharpening is easy too with the control points.

  • Steve

    lots of photos can benefit from extra sharpness. the sharpness might also be tailored to the output device (screen, inkjet) the medium (glossy or matt) and average viewing distance from the image.

  • MDGirouard

    Can this be done with Elements too?

  • dabhand

    Thanks for the tutorial – although I generally use nik I’ll give this a go to see if there are occasions where it may be better suited – portretronald, snarky generalised comments like that add no value- if you are doing anything other than producing standard images, whether to use sharpening all depends of what your ultimate goal for the image is.

  • Awesome, loved learning this trick!

  • Mike f

    All digital Photos have to be sharpened. It is en essential aprt of the digital process. Even RAW shots have a little sharpening built in. Sharpening required varies depending on whether the shot is to be shown on a screen or a print. Of course a photo can be ‘good” without sharpening but whether it is optimum image quality or not for a particular use a different matter

  • KB

    Thanks for the tip. Oh and not all of us can take perfect photos all the time, so it’s great to learn those extra tips to help us out.

  • xellos81

    I made an action from this post,
    feel free to use it

  • Thanks for the nice article. Keep it up. 🙂

  • Chaudhry Ali

    Hay! Helen Bradley your fine edges and Level technique is wonderful. I Also do it with unhsarp mask.

  • shahbaz

    that was such an awesome tutorial, I learnt a lot, thanks for photography
    Chat Conversation End

  • shahbaz

    that was such an awesome tutorial, I learnt a lot, thanks for photography
    Chat Conversation End

  • sathish

    This technique is more effective to get Sharper Images…

  • sathish

    This technique is more effective to get Sharper Images…

  • Jay D Damian

    not everyone can take good photos… so a little help.. “helps”

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