When you post an image online, be it on social media or your website, you want it to look as good as possible. In order to do so, the image needs to be optimized. Web sharpening is an essential part of this.
Sharpening is amongst the more difficult aspects of image editing. There’s an abundance of techniques to use. It can get overwhelming.
Web sharpening in Photoshop is more than just applying a filter. In order to properly sharpen your images, you need to understand how the sharpening is applied. Not just what tool to use but how that tool works.
For example, if you use the Unsharp Mask, you need to understand what the Amount, Radius, and Threshold sliders do. Then you need to understand how the three sliders are linked together, and what values to use in order to get the best results.
That’s just step one…
My head hurts just thinking about this. Does yours too?
Luckily, there are tools and scripts that can automate the process for you. Let’s take a closer look at the best web sharpeners for Photoshop and see which fits best for you.
#1 Raya Pro
Jimmy McIntyre’s Raya Pro has been my go-to Photoshop plugin to apply a handful of adjustments for many years now. I use it mainly for its easy Luminosity Mask functions but also to resize and sharpen before sharing an image online.
It’s not a dedicated web sharpening tool, so I do find it a little restrictive. Dedicated plugins tend to have a wider range of options to play with. Raya Pro, however, doesn’t have the possibility to set specific values.
Having few settings isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s perhaps for this reason alone that I’ve preferred Raya Pro for so long. Sharpening is done by simply clicking the By Width or By Height buttons and inserting the number of pixels you want it to be.
Everything else is done automatically. The image is duplicated to a new tab where resizing and sharpening are applied. This process leaves you with four layers: Not Sharpened, Sharpened, Sharpened More and Extra Sharp for Larger Images. The latter is turned off by default.
This entire process takes no more than two clicks and a few seconds. What impresses me is that the results look good right away. It’s extremely rare that I find the results to be over-sharpened. If that’s the case, you can simply turn off the Sharpened More layer or play around with the layer opacity.
Who is Raya Pro Web Sharpening for?
I think Raya Pro is a Photoshop plugin that every landscape photographer would benefit from. That doesn’t mean it’s the go-to for web sharpening.
If you use Luminosity Masks and want to reinvent your post-processing workflow, I strongly recommend this option. If you’re looking for a dedicated web sharpener with no other uses, keep reading.
#2 Web Sharpener EP
Web Sharpener EP by Andreas Resch is possibly the best dedicated web sharpener for Photoshop. It’s also free.
The panel is larger than most other sharpening plugins and it can be a little overwhelming at first sight. However, if you quickly read through the manual, you’ll see that you don’t need to worry about most of the settings. They are just there to make it possible to fine-tune the process when needed.
In general, the default settings will give perfectly fine results. This is what I tend to do when using the Web Sharpener EP.
To sharpen an image, you insert the final size in pixels for the long or short side. The photo is then duplicated into a new tab where resizing and sharpening are applied. Once done, you’re left with 10 layers.
Most of the time, the result looks good right away and you can go ahead and save the file. If, however, you find that it needs more or less sharpening, you can adjust the opacity of the layers inside the Sharpening Group.
I find Web Sharpener EP to have the best results out of the box. Especially for scenes that have a lot of details. The amount of sharpening applied is exactly what’s needed.
Who is the Web Sharpener EP for?
If you’re looking for a dedicated web sharpener that’s free and easy to use, then this is for you. The Web Sharpener EP has great results even with default settings but it’s also advanced enough for you to fine-tune the results.
#3 Sharpener Pro 3.0: Output Sharpener
The Sharpener Pro 3.0 is a part of the Nik Collection, a collection of plugins that have been trusted by photographers for two decades. Many landscape photographers are familiar with their plugins Color Efex Pro or Silver Efex Pro that are commonly used for complete processing workflows.
The Sharpener Pro 3.0, however, has gone a little more under the radar. I’m not quite sure why as it’s a surprisingly good sharpener.
Now, there are two separate tools with the Sharpener Pro: RAW Presharpener and Output Sharpener. When talking about web sharpeners in Photoshop, it’s the output option we’re looking at.
Keep in mind that this plugin only does sharpening, not resizing. Since it doesn’t open the image in a new tab, I strongly suggest doing that first. This avoids accidentally harming the main file.
As with the other plugins and panels, the Sharpener 3.0 does a good job even with the default settings. What’s nice with this tool is that you have the preview loupe in the bottom right corner, where you can view the before/after effect.
Having this live preview makes it a lot easier to adjust the settings. I suggest playing around and searching for the combinations that work best for your images. Once you find this, you can save it as a preset and access it any time later.
Sharpener Pro is the most expensive of the web sharpeners for Photoshop. The main reason is that you can’t purchase just the sharpener plugin but need to get the entire Nik Collection. That being said, I consider the Nik Collection to be a must-have for landscape photographers. It’s also possible to use this through Lightroom.
Who is Sharpener Pro 3.0 for?
This is the more expensive option so it might not be ideal for those just getting started with Photoshop. It’s a good option for those that are looking to include one or more of the Nik Collection software in their processing workflow. It’s also a good fit for those who would rather use Lightroom than Photoshop, as this plugin is compatible with both.
Best Web Sharpeners for Photoshop: Conclusion
If it isn’t already, web sharpening should be a part of your post-processing workflow. It’s something that needs to be done before posting your images online. The difference between a sharpened and a non-sharpened file is enormous.
There are many ways to sharpen your images. Both manually and using a plugin or script. The three web sharpeners we’ve looked at above are three that I find to do a particularly good job. That doesn’t mean that others that aren’t mentioned won’t too.
I’m sure that these three will give you satisfying results. Which one you choose, is up to you.
Are you using another web sharpener? Perhaps Web Sharp Pro or a sharpener in the TK Panel? Share your experiences with us below!
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