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Texas 2-Step Sharpening Action

Lonestardigital's Texas 2-Step

Easy to use free Universal Sharpening Action* for Photoshop 5, 6, 7, CS, CS2, CS3, and CS4 that extracts the fine details in your pictures with unmatched smoothness & clarity.

Reader comment:

"I am using your 2 Step Sharpening (Luminosity) action in CS3 Extended and find it brilliant – my current project is taking photographs for a book I am co-publishing on New Zealand’s native forests. With the often high contrast conditions present with in-forest backlit scenes (e.g. sunlight refracting off small shiny surfaced leaves) it is imperative that sharpening is subtle and your action provides exactly that with great control."

Kind regards,
Ian Platt
New Zealand

*What is a Photoshop Action? An Action is an Adobe Photoshop process that automatically executes a series of predefined tasks and operations.
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Lonestardigital's Texas 2-Step sharpening action was developed using the best attributes of all previous Lonestardigital sharpening actions. It utilizes two advanced blending layers with three different sharpening procedures in two separate steps.

  • Step one uses a unique midtone blending zone to extract and enhance an image's fine details.

  • The action then automatically goes into Step two, which uses a completely different midtone blending zone and finishes sharpening the image in a 50% transparent layer. The transparent layer allows the user to adjust the final sharpness if desired.

  • The combination produces a picture that is exceptionally sharp, clean, and natural looking without inducing edge halos, color shifts, or sharpening artifacts.

Software, cameras, and image formats supported

  • Adobe Photoshop 5, 6, 7, CS, CS2, CS3, and CS4. (Not compatible with Photoshop Elements.)

  • All makes, all models of cameras.

  • Jpeg, Tiff, Bitmap, or converted Raw image files, 8 or 16 bits*.

    *The Texas 2-Step Action uses Adobe Photoshop Layers:

    • *Photoshop CS, CS2, CS3, and CS4 support either 8 or 16 bit files in layers.

    • *Photoshop 5, 6, and 7 do not support 16 bit files in layers. If you use Photoshop 5, 6, or 7 and are working with a 16 bit file, you must first convert it to 8 bits before you use the action.

The 2-Step Action is free to download & use without restrictions

2-Step is available in two versions. One sharpens in RGB Luminosity, the other sharpens in Lab Color's L Channel.

Why two versions? Because advanced users have two schools of thought on color modes & sharpening.

  • RGB Luminosity advocates prefer to sharpen in the image's original color mode. They are concerned that there will be some color information lost by mathematical conversion during the transformation from RGB to Lab Color and back to RGB.

  • Lab Color advocates believe that sharpening in Lab Color's L Channel is the purest approach to sharpening, and that any color information that might be lost because of the mathematical conversions going in & out of Lab color is insignificant.

With either version, Photoshop sharpens only the details in an image, not the colors. This is important, because sharpening colors can result in unwanted color shifts or increased color vibrance. RGB Luminosity and Lab Color's L Channel both exclude the image's color information during the sharpening process.

The visual differences in sharpening results between the two versions are nearly impossible to see. To me, it's more a matter of personal preference, much like comparing Nikon vs. Canon, Toyota vs. Honda, Chocolate vs. Vanilla, Coors Light vs. Bud Light.

For what it's worth, I use RGB Luminosity sharpening when smooth skin tones are of prime importance, and choose L Channel Lab Color sharpening when meticulous details are more important. At 500% magnification, the RGB version is slightly cleaner looking, while at the same magnification the Lab version shows a tiny bit more fine detail (which is sometimes not too flattering on skin tones).

The 2-Step Action targets two different midtone zones using Adobe Photoshop's Advanced Layer Blending.

By using Advanced Layer Blending, the sharpening is confined to two unique midtone zones. Midtone sharpening avoids sharpening along abrupt bright & dark edge transitions that can cause edge jaggies & halos.

Step One Blending Settings

Step One

Convolution matrix edge sharpening plus an ultra low radius unsharp mask extract hidden midtone details within two overlapping sharpening zones.

Step Two Blending Settings

Step Two

The blending area is then reconfigured to a single midtone sharpening zone and the Layer Opacity is reset to 50% transparency.

Unsharp Mask is applied at 100%, 1.0 radius, 10 threshold.

How to run the Texas 2-Step Sharpening Action:

  • With an open image in Photoshop, press the F11 Key on your computer's keyboard to automatically run the standard (RGB Luminosity) action.

  • (Or) with an image open in Photoshop, press the F12 Key on your computer's keyboard to automatically run the L Channel Lab Color action.

  • If you prefer, you can just go to the Photoshop Actions Palette,
    click on the Action start line, then click on the "Play Selection" button.

    Play Selection button

Everything will then proceed automatically until this message screen pops up .

Click on the Continue button and the Action will proceed to the next screen.

Final sharpening can now be adjusted if desired by changing the Opacity percentage.

Then click on the OK button to finish the Action.

You should always check your pictures at 100% view (also called "actual pixels" or "original size") for the best analysis of sharpening quality.

  • 50% of actual size is second choice and will display pretty close to what the picture will look like if it is printed.

  • Other screen sizes are not recommended for sharpening analysis. Do not use other than 100% or 50% to evaluate sharpening.

In-camera sharpening should be preset to "Normal" (midpoint strength) or slightly lower. As has always been the case, "normal" in-camera sharpening produces images that are generally sharp but still slightly soft.

  • Examples:

    I usually set my Nikon D3 and D300 in-camera sharpening at number 3, which is one notch below the midpoint.

    Other D series Nikon DSLRs (D1 series, D2 series, and D50 through D200) do well with what Nikon calls "Normal" in-camera sharpening.

    For most Canon cameras, I like to set the in-camera sharpening at one notch below the midpoint.

    All other cameras should do fine with Normal (or midpoint) in-camera sharpening.

Please do not be too aggressive with your in-camera sharpening!

  • Aggressive in-camera sharpening creates unnatural looking edges, bright or dark edge halos, sharpening artifacts, and excess noise.

    And remember that for in-camera jpegs, sharpening cannot be reduced in the computer after the fact.

Unsharpened Raw files should be pre-sharpened to the in-camera equivalent of midpoint strength or slightly lower before running the action in Photoshop.

Download Links (free download, free to use)

Download the Texas 2-Step RGB Luminosity Sharpening Action v1.1 (atn file)

Download the Texas 2-Step Lab Color Sharpening Action v1.1 (atn file)

If you prefer to download a zipped file and extract it yourself:

Download the Texas 2-Step RGB Luminosity Sharpening Action v1.1 (zip)

Download the Texas 2-Step Lab Color Sharpening Action v1.1 (zip)

How to load an Action into Photoshop:

Applies to Adobe Photoshop 5, 6, 7, CS, CS2, and CS3. (Windows or Mac)

  • (1) Click on the Actions Tab in Adobe Photoshop.
  • (2) Then click on the arrow button in the upper right corner of the History and Actions box. A menu bar will drop down.
  • (3) Click on "Load Actions..."

Screenshot of Photoshop's History / Actions work area

  • Your computer will pop up with a file locator screen.
  • Navigate to your downloaded Action file, highlight it and then click the Load button.
  • The Action will automatically load itself into Photoshop's Default Actions.