Putting Sharpening To the {Print} Test


Image created by Steph, supplies include: Fontologie Printing Primer font, School Days College by WMsquared

On a recent episode of The Digi Show (Episode 25: Photos that Capture Your Life), the panel discussed photo sharpening. Later, Lissa posted a comment on the episode asking if I (Wendy) had ever printed test layouts to see how sharpening affected the end result. Since I hadn’t, I decided to put Persnickety Prints and MyPicTales to the test to see how an un-sharpened layout would compare to a sharpened one. Would I get what I saw on the screen? Would their software or processing interfaces add additional sharpening? Did a 12×12 layout really need sharpening? All great questions, so I formed my hypothesis and set out to get some empirical evidence.

The Questions: Do 12×12 layouts really need sharpening? Will print labs add additional sharpening, resulting in over-sharpening of layouts? Does the print method make a difference (ie. photographic process versus process color CMYK).

The Hypothesis: 8×8 layouts should definitely be sharpened because reducing them in size will introduce blurring. 12×12 layouts may not need sharpening. Photolab prints might not need as much sharpening as process CMYK prints due to the different nature of the printing.

The Supplies: One dolphin layout created with Dawn Inksips Above & Beyond Template 22 (which is part template part quick page and non-objectively quite amazing).

The Method: I flattened my layout as a 12×12 and saved a copy without any sharpening. Then, I ran my Sharpen It action and saved a copy. (Note: Every time you save and reserve a JPG, it loses quality, so I always return to the original.) Next, I returned to the original layout and resized to 8×8, with the standard bicubic method, which does not add any extra sharpening. I saved an 8×8 copy as is. Then, I ran my sharpening action on the layout and saved a copy. So, now I have a 12×12, a sharpened 12×12, an 8×8 and a sharpened 8×8.

I uploaded all 4 images to Persnickety Prints and placed my order. It shipped the next day and was on my step a few days later. I uploaded my images to MyPicTales using both their Web Uploader and their book software. I wanted to see if I got a different result going through their software. The order shipped in 2 days and was on my doorstep two days later.

The Observations: All 12 layouts were gorgeous. The Persnickety ones were slightly glossier and brighter, which would be expected from the photographic process and glossier paper versus the CMYK process on the satin paper. All the unsharpened layouts looked great on their own. If I saw them by themselves, I would not have thought they needed any sharpening. However, when I laid them beside the sharpened versions, I noticed a subtle difference in the glitter, the dolphin eyes and the sketched doodles. The difference was slightly more evident on the Persnickety prints than it was on the MyPicTales prints which also did not surprise me. The photographic process lends itself to a sharper image to begin with.

The Results: Although the difference was slight and probably only noticeable by a trained eye, I much preferred the sharpened layouts. The size, and printer did not seem to make a difference in my mind’s eye. I preferred the sharpened images in both sizes and from both printers. If I made any adjustment at all, it would be to sharpen a wee bit more when choosing a process CMYK printer.

(Check out the detail in the dolphin’s tail. There is more texture and color visible.)

(Above is the un-sharpened layout. Below is the sharpened one. There is a noticable difference in the glitter texture and color.)

My Conclusion: Sharpening can add a subtle touch to your layout, making those eyes pop out from the page. It can make that glitter have just a bit more sparkle. And, now I can confidently say, “Yes! I tested the sharpening and I’m a believer.” That said, I highly recommend you do your own test! Printing is so subjective. The end result you want can be totally different than what I want. It only cost me a few dollars to compare the prints. Add an extra sharpened or un-sharpened layout to your next order and see what you think! We’d love to hear your results!

(DISCLAIMER: It is very hard to take an accurate photo of a photo! The colors here do not do the images justice. The images were correctly slightly for color and for sharpening only when reduced. The up-close swatches are shown at 100%.)