Unsharp Mask

Don’t be afraid of this mask! In Photoshop, using Unsharp Mask is an important step in image editing

When judging the quality of a photograph, sharpness is a top consideration. If an image is not sharp, it is less lifelike.

Loss of sharpness is inevitable in the production process. Every step diminishes image definition. To handle blurry images,  Photoshop offers a few sharpening filters including Sharpen Edges and Sharpen More. But it is Unsharp Mask that should be used in prepress production.

The Unsharp Mask filter enhances the sharpness of an image by increasing the difference between dark and light areas. The eye interprets the contrast as sharp edges. The settings of the Unsharp Mask offer precise control and experimenting with them will help you understand this powerful filter better.

Clipping Paths

Say goodbye to backgrounds and hello to good looking silhouettes by using clipping paths

When printing to a PostScript device, a picture is always a rectangle. If that’s true, you might be wondering about all those round images and precisely outlined catalog shots you have seen.

The way around the rectangle restriction is to tell your printer to only print the part of the rectangle inside a path. This path clips the rectangle to its shape, hence the term clipping path.

One of the lesser-known tricks when using clipping paths is that your output device has to read the whole image before it can clip it to the path. Therefore, when you are creating a clipping path, crop the image as close as possible to make a rectangle around the area where you will be putting your clipping path. This will speed up importing and printing the image.

There are several ways to create clipping paths. You can draw them in Photoshop or in a page-layout application. The preferred method is to draw them in Photoshop, because it zooms in to precisely draw a complex path around hair or other tiny details. However, if you need to rough out a clipping path to show a client, it is quick and easy to do so in Quark or InDesign.

Here are some basic guidelines when using clipping paths:

  • Clipping paths are always hard-edged, so they look awful if they cut off a shadow or other soft edge.
  • When you save a drawn path in Photoshop as a clipping path, put the number three in the Flatness setting. This will make the clipping path easier and faster to draw at high resolution without affecting the output quality.
  • Try to zoom in on your pixels and cut your path through the middle of a pixel. This will eliminate edge splash (when a little bit of adjacent color shows through around the edges of your clipping path).
  • If you are creating a final-quality clipping path (as opposed to a comp), make sure to print it out at as high resolution as possible and check it carefully for edge splash or weird shapes. These are much easier to catch on a proof than on screen.

Digital Don’t!

Why using an inexpensive digital camera can cause problems

Digital cameras keep getting better and cheaper. Just a few years ago, only professional studio photographers could afford multi-mega pixel digital cameras. But now that 2 mega pixel cameras are hovering around $300, they have become affordable for many consumers.

But this doesn’t mean you should use them for your next photo session. While price and quality have gotten better, most digital cameras are not ready for high-resolution print publishing—especially low-cost cameras.

The number one problem is lack of resolution. Low-cost digital cameras are best for publishing images on the Web at 72 dpi. High-resolution printing typically requires images to have a resolution of 300 dpi. Poor image quality will result, which can severely curb the quality of your design.

If you must use images from a digital camera, use them small in your layout and use the highest quality camera setting possible. Resolution and physical dimensions are in direct proportion to each other. By reducing the size, the resolution goes