Sharpening and USM

A quick post on sharpening drawn from advice I gave a print client today. Sharpening is one of the the places I see photographers have the least confidence in.  

The challenge is every image is different and requires different settings. Getting the “correct” settings requires developing an understanding of what you see on screen and what that produces on print. It’s possible to make something that looks too sharp on screen, but looks perfect on the print  because a typical screen displays the image at about 93 pixels per inch, but the print can be of much higher resolution, so what you see on screen is in essence “magnified”. 

A couple quick tips:

  1. Always view the image at 100% magnification, or actual pixels. This will make sure that one pixel in your image equals one pixel in your screen. When you view your file at some other magnification, what you see on screen is some average of the pixels and can disguise the effects. 


2. Don’t use a 4x or 5k monitor like those found on newer iMacs. You need a monitor with a pixel resolution of ~72-110 pixels per inch, or a pixel pitch of around .23-.27mm.  In contrast a 4K 24” display has a pixel pitch of ~0.13725mm and resolution of ~180 pixels per inch, which makes the pixels too small to evaluate sharpening easily. 

3. Smart Sharpen is not a magic fix. There are many flavors of sharpening. Sharpening is an ingredient, and how, and where you apply it is all preference.

Looking forward to turing this into a expanded tutorial at some point. Until then, experiment!

Color Accurate Monitor ~$1,200?

A reader emailed me for a recommendation on a color accurate monitor around $1,200 for print work. Here’s my reply:

I’ve used the NEC line aimed at color professionals for about 20 years and find them excellent. Eizo is also supposed to be great, but they are more expensive and I have yet to compare side by side. 

The PA line are the NEC monitors for print accuracy. They use a different backlight that lets you get a more accurate white point. Other displays can advertise similar specs, but in real life are too blue and don’t work. 

I’m currently using the PA242W and find it is the most accurate monitor I’ve ever used.. I’ve also used the larger PA272W which is just as accurate but offers more screen space to work on. The PA242W is still available but looks like it is being replaced with the PA243W, and they are in the process of replacing the PA272W with the PA271Q for about $1350. I was trying to be thrifty when I got the PA242W, but I wish I would have spent a little more on the 27” because it is not just larger, but has higher resolution, which makes it easier to do non-photo work like have two documents or a word processor and a web browser open side by side which more than makes up for the difference in price. For photo work, either works just as well. Lifespan on a NEC display in daily use should be in the 7-10 year range form my experience, so I don’t hesitate to use it as a main display. 

On the model number you’ll see something like this: 
PA242W-BK-SV

BK means the color of the monitor, they offer black finish or white finish. I go for black so that there is as littler interference with my vision when judging critical color. The SV is an option that includes the Spectraview calibrator, which is a good option unless you are planning on buying a higher end x-rite package.

With an iMac, I’d just use the imac as the pallet monitor, and unfortunately even when calibrated, the most recent imac monitors are’t very accurate. Also, the 5k resolution does not allow good judging of sharpening because they are just too high res.