Softwhile CrispImage Pro Photoshop plugin

This time we add a nice handy plugin to the sharpening tools of Photoshop. The plugin provides more features than the good old Unsharp Mask filter. Softwhile CrispImage Pro will be really appreciated by those who use older Photoshop CS versions, but it could be an interesting alternative for everyone.

The size of the setup file is only 160 KB, and the installation takes about 3 seconds—provided you read the instructions on both pages. After installation, all you have to do is launch Photoshop and load a photo. Strangely, you won’t find the plugin with the others at the bottom of the Filter menu, but in the Filter/Sharpen submenu, along the built-in sharpening tools. Click CrispImage Pro to display the dialog below.

The usual layout: A preview pane on the left to track your changes during editing. Unfortunately, you cannot resize the preview, so you can only watch a part of the photo in full size (click on the image to scroll). The arrow buttons on the sides jump to the corners of the picture.

Once again, the controls are on the right. Standard Deviation is one of the most important. It specifies edge width. Above, a small graph illustrates its function. Low values emphasize finer details, thin edges. This is a perfect choice for relatively sharp pictures or photos to be published on the web. Higher values result in rougher edges and a thick edge contrast. They should be used mainly when working with softer or even blurry photos. The value can be set from 0.40 to 2.00 pixels. Even the latter doesn’t lead to excessive sharpening, which means the plugin is useful especially for emphasizing finer details.

The Channels area contains four check boxes, one for each channel to be sharpened. Lightness sharpens only the real details of the picture but doesn’t affect the color channels. This helps prevent increasing color noise. In such cases, you should only expect an increase in luminance noise. Red, Green, and Blue are for selecting color channels. They can be used together or separately. Selecting all three leads to the sharpening of the whole picture. Selecting them one by one allows finer sharpening, although it can also lead to color shifting along the edges.

Strength, obviously, provides a weaker sharpening when dragged left, and a stronger effect when set to the right. Its value ranges from 1.0 to 9.5.

Just below it, you can see the Threshold slider, also used with Unsharp Mask. The threshold value of the sharpening specifies which areas of the picture will be affected by the sharpening. The value can be set from 0 to 10. Lower values affect more of the picture—that is, not only the edges but also the more homogeneous areas. This can be beneficial because the human eye finds sharper parts in the whole picture. On the other hand, such a setting can increase image noise in the whole picture. To avoid this, you have to increase Threshold and exclude more of the content from sharpening. First, the homogeneous areas return to their original state, and by further increase, so do finer edges, and then the rougher ones as well. This technique can be effectively used against noise increase. However, the sharpening will overlook some parts of the picture. You have to find a balance. You may want to leave the slider set to 0 during sharpening, and check the preview image after everything is set. If you see too much noise, increase Threshold in small steps.

The last of the controls is Halo Limit. This slider is used to specify the planned display media for the image. If you intend to watch the picture on the monitor, you should use a value around 72 to 100 dpi. For photos to be printed, specify about 300 dpi. The slider affects the extent of edge contrast (called halo). On monitors, the tolerable halo quantity is less. In print, a slightly stronger halo will avoid detection.

The dropdown below the controls is a very important one as it determines the type of sharpening. According to image quality, you can choose from six sharpening filters and an unsharpening one.

CrispImage Proprietary: Default setting for the plugin. All controls are available. Ideal choice for highlighting fine to mid-strength details. Use it for smaller prints or photos to be published on the web.

Unsharp Mask: A traditional unsharp mask filter, very similar to Photoshop’s identically named feature. All controls except Halo Limit are available. Standard Deviation can be used for average (or stronger) edge outlining when set above 1.00, or for slight softening with lower values.

Edge Sharpen: An excellent detail outliner. In this aspect, it is similar to the CrispImage Proprietary option, but it focuses on edges with more contrast and leaves homogeneous areas generally untouched. This can lead to a spot effect. Edge width (Standard Deviation) and edge contrast (Halo Limit) cannot be set. A too rough sharpening can result in jagged edges.

Capture Sharpen: Stronger sharpening, intended for pictures extracted from videos or low-quality media. As such pictures have few details, the procedure focuses on wider edges. Produces an aquarel-like effect. The two settings mentioned above are unavailable here as well.

Ripple Mask (Print): A strong sharpening intended for printable pictures. It can also be used to outline not very fine details in slightly blurred images. This rough sharpening is more annoying on a monitor than on paper. Do not use it for digitally displayed images.

LaPlacian Mask (Monitor): This option is more handy for pictures to be displayed on monitors or on the web. It focuses on finer details. Once again, only Strength, Threshold, and Channels are available.

Blur: A blurring tool for treating badly or oversharpened photos, or for decreasing noise on color channels. Only Standard Deviation and Channels are available.

Finally, take a look at two pictures that illustrate the capabilities of CrispImage Pro. On the left: a part of the original photo. On the right: after applying LaPlacian Mask.