How to Sharpen With Blur

There’s a method of sharpening in Photoshop that has been popular for many years called the High Pass sharpen method. It’s quick and easy, but it doesn’t give the best results. In this article we’ll walk you through a lesser-known method that’ll give you much better results.

First, let’s look at how to do the high-pass method:

Step 1

Duplicate your background Layer by selecting it and hitting Ctrl+J (Or Command+J on a Mac).

Step 2

Apply a High Pass Filter on the new Layer by going to Filter→Other→High Pass. Set the Radius to 3px or thereabouts.

Step 3

Click on where it says Normal in the Layers Panel and from the dropdown menu change the Layer’s Blending Mode to Overlay.

The High Pass sharpen is a widely used method, but as you can see in the image below, it can introduce halos around objects. The higher the pixel radius and more powerful the sharpening effect, the more visible the halos.

Well, the good news is that there is another method. It has been used by the pros for a while and is becoming more and more widespread in the community. It gives a beautiful sharpening effect and dispenses with the halos. Interestingly, it involves using blur to sharpen. Here’s how it’s done.


Left: High Pass sharpen method with halos, Right: Blur Sharpen method without halos

Step 1

Copy your background layer twice by pressing Ctrl+J (that’s Command+J on a Mac). Highlight both of these copies and click on the Create a New Group icon at the bottom of the Layers Panel. The icon looks like a folder.

When you click it in Photoshop CC, the two selected Layers will be moved into a new Group. If you’re on an older version of Photoshop, you’ll need to drag the two Layers into the new Group. Rename the folder to Sharpen for easy identification later.

Step 2

Next, we need change the Blending Modes of the Group and the uppermost Layer. Select the Sharpen Group, then click on where it says Normal. From the dropdown menu, select select Overlay. Then, select the top layer in the group and change the Blending Mode to Vivid Light.

Step 3

With the top Layer still selected, invert the layer by tapping Ctrl+I (or Command+I on a Mac). The image in the Preview Window will return to its original look.

Step 4

Now you can apply the sharpening by adding a Surface Blur Filter to the top Layer. With the top layer in the group highlighted select Filter→Blur→Surface Blur. The values will depend on the size of your image, but start with a Radius of 10 and a Threshold of 10. Examine the preview and tweak the values if necessary.


On the left is the unsharpened original, and on the right is the blur sharpened version

Image by Gabriel Jimenez