Anything Photoshop or Photography


Image of a Peacock at the Jacksonville Zoo
I have always liked Topaz (see sidebar at my Tidbits Blog for website link) Sharpen AI. Since I hand-hold my camera when taking pictures, many of my images are just a little soft and is why it has become one of my favorite plugins. Since Topaz came out with the AI version, it seems to have gotten better and better. You can now get a very subtle sharpening effect without having to use a Photoshop mask.


  • In Lightroom or ACR, do not sharpen your image using the Detail Panel, let Sharpen AI do this. Also, be sure to use DeNoise first as the noise will be sharpened along with everything else if taken Sharpen AI first. This is when Topaz AI Clear is often used – where just a little noise reduction is needed. It is located in either Topaz DeNoise AI (which has a Color Noise Reduction slider) or Topaz Studio 2 (which has Exposure and Clarity sliders and I like this personally).
  • Duplicate your Background Layer in Photoshop before using the filter just in case you want to reduce the overall sharpening opacity later. Topaz Sharpen AI can also be applied while in Lightroom by right clicking on the image to select the program and choosing Edit a Copy with Lightroom Adjustments.
  • Turn off the Auto-update preview button as your computer will be running all the time if you don’t. And it does take a few seconds every time the Update button is selected, so the plugin take a while to process, especially when applying at the end.
  • How do you know if you need to update the plugin – this one should be intuitive, but sometimes I get lost on what it is doing. If the Update button is grayed out, it has updated. This is true also when masking. Just make sure it is updated when applying or it will not update when it goes back to PS.
  • Use the Navigator to move around your image which is is set to by default to 100% zoom instead of zooming all the way out to view the whole image. It takes a lot longer to update a preview when zoomed out and can crash the program. Topaz should be correcting this issue soon, but at least at 100% View it works just fine.
  • When the image is viewed at 100%, it is really viewing at 200% in PS, LR, OnOne, Luminar or most other software. So you are really zoomed in with Sharpen AI and seeing a lot of detail.
  • The Auto buttons are pretty good as a “starting place” to use on your images. Now there are two Auto buttons, one for selecting the correct mode and one for the settings.

Mode and Setting Selections

If the mode selected by Sharpen does not look that great, try the others. The Sharpen mode that Topaz selected is just for overall image sharpening. Stabilize mode is good for blurred images caused by motion blur from the camera or the subject. Focus is for images where the focus is in the “wrong plane” according to Joel Wolfson. This is especially useful when the eyes are not sharp but overall the image is good. On some of my furry friend pictures, Focus can cause some really weird sharpening so watch out for this. Stabilize mode usually works best for my image since movement is why my images are soft. When you click on a different mode, the Auto turns off.

Try adjusting the Settings sliders yourself as I have found that the ones Topaz selects are usually just a beginning point. Each time you change a setting or preview area, need to click the Update button if it is not grayed out. If you oversharpen, it will begin to look a little crunchy so watch out for this – sort of defeats the purpose of what you are trying to do. To reset the sliders to their default, just double click on the word “Sharpness” or “Noise Suppression.”

Image of initial settings for Topaz Sharpen AI on peacock image
The Screenshot above is set to 43% View for this blog so you can see what is happening, but I would not recommend going below the 100% View. For this image, Topaz had recommended the Sharpen mode, but it did not look good to me so I changed it to Stabilize but did try using the Settings on Auto. It is hard to tell, but the fence and the face are definitely sharper. Since I did not want the fence sharper, the mask below was created. The final settings are shown in the screenshot below.


I found creating a mask can be a little tricky for me. After watching the Topaz videos at their site (which I recommend you do), following these steps is how to do this correctly.

  • First set view to Single Panel (this works easiest for me) and press Update again.
  • Then click the Masking button at the top of the interface.
  • Select your brush by setting the Size (which can also be adjusted using brackets keys like in PS or using the slider), Softness, and Opacity.
  • Paint over areas where the sharpening needs to be applied. If close edges need to be followed, turn on the Edge-aware check box – turn it off when filling in the inside areas for selection as the computer runs a lot when on.
  • It is critical that you use the Navigator to scroll around the image (otherwise the program may crash like mine does) while adding in the mask. For the peacock image there was a little bird image in the bottom left corner that was clicked – it selected part of my bird at least. Use the X key to quickly switch between adding masking and removing it. You can see the mask in the little box on the bottom left – note there is a drop-down box with Options like Fill, Invert, Clear, and Delete.
  • Once the overlay shows it is all selected, click the Update button if not grayed out.
  • Now click Apply Mask.
  • Do not do make any other changes in AI Sharpen interface unless you want to Sharpen the whole image again and create another mask.
  • Click Apply to go back into PS.

A couple links on using Sharpen AI from Topaz are Sharpen Your Skills with Sharpen AI by Joel Wolfsen and How to Fix Blurry Images with Topaz Sharpen AI by Greg Rostami. The interface in the videos is a little behind what is in the version shown below, but the info will help if you are a little lost as I was when using this program. Below is a Screenshot of image showing the Sharpen AI settings and the Mask section open. This is what the mask looked like right after clicking the bird icon.

Screenshot of Peacock in Topaz Sharpen AI
Topaz is working hard on getting this plugin to work faster and better and it is being updated often. The program is definitely much better and I find I am using it on most of my images. Using the Sharpen mode will give just a nice subtle sharpening effect when there is not a real problem with the image. I believe that Topaz is still the front-runner in the race for the AI technology in the plugin world. It will be interesting to see where this is all going. Will be taking a week off to catch up on some post-processing work – see ya soon!….. Digital Lady Syd

7 responses

  1. Do you feel like you need Topaz Sharpen in addition to the features available in PhotoShop or Lightroom? Or do you just like its interface better?

    09/09/2020 at 12:15 pm

    • Good question Otto. Even Topaz says the Sharpen plugin is for images that need a little more sharpening than a normal image. I do not shoot on a tripod often so many of my photos are a “little soft.” The Sharpen Stabilize mode really helps me. I still like using High Pass in PS and Luminar 4 has some really good sharpening filters (looks), so you have to experiment on the image if there is a question as to which looks best. Sorry for the lengthy answer, but it is such an important part of an image.

      09/10/2020 at 12:45 pm

      • No need to be sorry. I appreciate your a little more in depth answer.

        09/12/2020 at 11:02 am

  2. Ann Mackay

    Great info on Sharpen AI – some day I may have to try it to see how it compares to Photoshop. I hope you get all caught up with your post-processing! 🙂

    09/09/2020 at 6:35 pm

    • Thanks Ann – photographed a small family wedding recently and have some work to do on these.

      09/10/2020 at 12:38 pm

  3. Joel Belsky

    1)When you use Topaz Sharpen or Noise reduction do you not use the sliders for those features in LR?
    2)What makes sense for a workflow when adding Topaz. Right now I go LR to PS ( if needed ) . Where does Topaz come in?
    3) Do you use the mask feature?
    Thank you!

    05/06/2021 at 6:16 pm

    • Hi Joel – 1) When I use Sharpen AI and DeNoise AI, I try not use the LR settings although sometimes I forget. 2) This is my workflow – I do all my basic edits in LR and then I go into PS. My biggest problem with my images is that they tend to be a bit soft, so Sharpen AI is my go-to plugin. If there is not much noise in the image, I use Sharpen AI first since there is some noise reduction in it. DeNoise has a sharpening effect in it so it does a pretty good job if your image is not too soft and there is a fairly good amount of noise in the image. That said, lots of people use DeNoise while still in LR. They take the raw file in, do corrections, and it comes back as a tiff. This is not my favorite way of doing this, but it saves you from going into PS if you do not use it. I will use DeNoise and then Sharpen in this order if I have to. 3) I do not use the Mask Feature although it is quite functional. I still prefer to use the PS mask where I feel I have a bit more control on how much is applied in areas I want and remove in areas that do not need it with PS. Since Topaz does not do Smart Objects well, you cannot go back into the program to adjust the mask, but in PS you can change it easily. I hope this helped but this is how I see it. ….. Digital Lady Syd

      05/10/2021 at 11:08 pm

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