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Photoshop Tutorial

Using Unsharp Mask with Photoshop's Fade Command

Fast, Simple, and Accurate

The Fade command is a simple way to adjust the strength of any Photoshop filter, painting tool, erasing tool, or color adjustment setting after the fact. The Fade command is especially useful for quick, easy, and precise sharpening.

Sharpening is an art in itself, with many methods being touted as the 'best'. But sharpening techniques can be difficult to learn, hard to understand, cumbersome, and time consuming. And when you finally have a picture sharpened 'just right', it's a challenge to do it again when you need to sharpen another picture.

The Unsharp Mask / Fade technique shown below can be used on any picture that needs sharpening. It doesn't matter if the picture needs a lot of sharpening or just a little tweak. And you set it up the same way every time. It's fast, it's easy, & it does a great job. Once you learn how to use it, you'll love its speed, simplicity, and accuracy.

Below: Original picture (soft, needs sharpening).

Original Unsharpened Picture

From the Photoshop menu bar, select Filter > Sharpen > Unsharp Mask...

Choose Unsharp Mask

Set the Amount at 500% (the maximum setting), Radius 0.5, Threshold 4.

Check the Preview box.

Click on OK.

Go on the program's top menu bar and select View > Actual Pixels. The image size displayed on your screen will then be full sized (100%).

(Note: Pictures should be displayed at 100% size for an accurate sharpening display with any sharpening technique.)

The picture should look oversharpened at this time, but that's what you want for now.

Unsharp Mask Settings

Next select Edit > Fade

The Fade Command will refer to whichever filter was just applied, in this case it says "Fade Unsharp Mask..."

Choose the Fade Command

For Mode, choose Normal.

Check the Preview option to watch the sharpening adjustment in real time.

Now move the opacity slider with your mouse pointer to adjust the strength of the sharpening between 100% (maximum sharpening) and 0% (zero sharpening).

Tip: If you click the mouse pointer in the number box and hold the Shift Key down on your keyboard as you turn the mouse wheel, the strength settings will jump 10% at a time. (Link to the Wheel Mouse Tip)

Click on OK when you like what you see... It's like focusing a camera lens - you "focus" the sharpening until the picture looks just right.

Adjust the Fade Opacity

Opacity percentage adjustments will vary from picture to picture depending on how much sharpening the specific picture needs. For this picture, 40% was my final choice.

That's all there is to it - you're done.

The Fade Command isn't just for sharpening

You can also use the Fade Command on any other Photoshop filter, painting tool, or color

Here's the Fade Command used with a Photoshop filter called the "Colored Pencil".

Below: Default Colored Pencil filter settings applied. (Too harsh for my liking.)

Colored Pencil filter at default settings

Rather than try different settings that I wasn't familiar with, I simply opened the Fade Command and dialed it down to 60%.

(Below) That's more like it... Nice!

Colored Pencil filter faded to 60%

Important Note

The Fade Command is available only as the next step after a filter, tool, or adjustment is applied. Otherwise it will be grayed out (not available).