Photoshop Tricks

Volume 4
How to Enhance Low-Resolution and Pre-Screened Public Domain Images

By Tony Laidig

© 2008 – Tony Laidig. All rights reserved.

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Photoshop Tricks, Volume 4
How to Enhance Low-Resolution and Pre-Screened Public Domain Images If you’ve worked with many images from the Public Domain, you’ve most likely encountered the issues I’m going to address in this fourth installment of Photoshop Tricks. Many of the images that you find online from the Public Domain are at a low resolution…most images are like that actually. And if you want to make physical prints or physical products, most of these low-res images are worthless…rather they WERE worthless, because I’m going to show you how to enhance them in some really cool ways in this report.

I’m also going to talk about another image problem you’re bound to encounter when using Public Domain images—pre-screened images. These are images that have already been printed using a halftone process of one sort or another, resulting in hundreds of multi-colored, tiny little dots that make using these images extremely difficult. Well, as you’ve probably guessed by now, I’m going to show you a couple tricks to say goodbye to those dots once and for all!

See Dot Run I recently purchased a Children’s book solely for the illustrations. The book came with 45 amazing, full-color illustrations that inspired me. There was just one problem…the illustrations were halftone prints, which meant that reproducing them, even at 100%, would be challenging because of the dot patterns. Fortunately, I know a few tricks that can fix that problem in some artsy ways, so I wasn’t too worried. To show you how I approached the problem and how I addressed it, I picked one of the illustrations from that Children’s book, however, these tricks will work with ANY halftone or pre-screened image.

First a few qualifiers…there is NO way to completely remove the halftone patterns from a pre-screened image without affecting the sharpness of the image. That’s just the way it is. But the cool thing is that by using the tricks I’m

going to show you, the new, hybrid version of the image will be copyrightable because of the creative effort you’ve applied to it…and that’s a good thing. Also, these tricks will give you the ability to enlarge the original image to many times its original size. That’s a good thing too, especially if you plan to make poster prints. With that said, let’s get started.

The very first thing I had to do with the image was to scan it into Photoshop. I scanned the image at 100% at 600dpi. I use that scanning resolution as my minimum resolution; however, 800 dpi or 1200dpi will also work. I would NOT recommend using any resolution less than 600 dpi. The files will be larger, but that’s okay.

Once the scan was complete, the image imported into Photoshop and the results were certainly less than stellar. Here is a close-up of the resulting scan.

You can see what I mean about the halftone dots…yuck! It kind of looks like one of those needlepoint patterns, and certainly doesn’t resemble anything I would want to sell as a product.

The trick I used for this image is not a difficult one. There are only a few steps to it. For the first step, we need to apply the “Median” filter. You will find this filter in Photoshop under Filter => Noise => Median…. This filter removes some of the halftone pattern by averaging the color samples to fill in the spaces that do not have halftone dots.

You can see this averaging in action in the image below.

Notice that my setting for “Radius” is 4 pixels. I use this setting the most, but you’re welcome to experiment to suit your own needs. Once I applied the “Median” filter, I chose the “Angled Strokes” filter next. You will find that filter here: Filter => Brush Strokes => Angled Strokes. The image below offers a preview of how this filter affects our image. Notice that my settings are as follows: Direction Balance – 50 (the default); Stroke Length – 15; Sharpness – 3. Again, you can feel free to experiment with these settings, but these are the ones that work best for me.

Once the filter is applied, we have the following result:

The next thing I wanted to do with the image was to increase the contrast a little to help the colors pop a little more. To accomplish this, I first adjusted the Levels: Image => Adjustments => Levels. Because I didn’t want to risk blowing out the detail in the light areas, I ONLY adjusted the shadow values.

Once I applied the Levels, I adjusted the saturation some by using the Hue Adjustment: Image => Adjustments => Hue/Saturation. Notice that I only increased the Saturation by +20.

After applying the Hue/Saturation Adjustment, I was done…that’s it! See, I told you this was simple, and the result is pretty cool. Here is a comparison image that shows BEFORE and AFTER:

BTW…the boy’s face is shown at 100% so that you can see the resulting detail. The result is pretty amazing, if you ask me. I love the “painting” feel to the image. Here’s the best part: The original image was sized at 4.87” X 6.13”. The NEW version is scaled large enough that I can print sharp 16” X 20” prints from it, and scanning the original at 800dpi or higher would only push that size even higher, or increase the resolution of the larger print! The final full image is on the next page.

Advanced Tip: Now, I want to give you one last trick for this type of image, and this tip is a million-dollar idea. Print the resulting image on canvas using a large-

format printer. Once the print is finished, take some acrylics paints and generous apply daubs or streaks to a few places on the canvas…I usually use a palette knife rather than a brush because I can build up texture to the “painting.” By doing this, even sparingly, you are adding perceived value to the print as an “original” because you can’t apply those touches exactly the same every time. Now if you’re thinking that your no artist…this is NOT hard to do. It’s pretty simple actually, and the depth it adds to the final piece is well worth it. Of course, if you only plan to offer the image digitally, then you will not want to use this technique. But I encourage you to experiment with this idea. It can be a LOT of fun!

Scaling Those Pesky Jaggies If you have ever tried to enlarge a small JPEG image to a size larger than its original then you’re probably familiar with compression artifacts, or “jaggies.” They’re created in images when they are compressed to sizes smaller than the original. The JPEG standard (the most familiar) specifies both the codec, which defines how an image is compressed into a stream of bytes and decompressed back into an image, and the file format used to contain that stream. The compression method is usually lossy compression, meaning that some visual quality is lost in the process and cannot be restored. In other words, once that data is gone, it’s gone, with nothing but “jaggies” in its place. But all is not lost (no pun intended). There are some clever tricks we can do in Photoshop to minimize the jaggies and turn a formerly unusable image into one that actually works very nicely. Here’s what I do…

For our sample image, I went to the New York Public Library website and found an image of old wallpaper. I thought it would make a good test subject because of the level of detail and variation. To our left is the original image I grabbed from the NYPL website: ( So I decided to take this 6 X 9 inch, 72dpi image and

blow it up to 8 X 11 inches at 300dpi. That is a HUGE difference, and, as you can imagine, the jaggies showed up in large numbers.

As you’ll see in the next image, the image did not enlarge well at all…and in all honesty, I chose to use an extreme example of this process just to prove a point on the possibilities. Here was the result of the image enlargement. I zoomed in so that the image would display at 100%. The result is scary:

Now you might be thinking, “How in the world could I ever create something usable from that mess?” Well…enter one of my favorite filters in Photoshop…the “Dry Brush.” I use the Dry Brush for all types of effects, but this trick is my favorite, and you’ll see why in a minute. When I open the Dry Brush (Filter => Artistic => Dry Brush…), I am given several options for adjusting the final outcome of my image. The settings I typically use are the same ones I’ve used for over 10 years because they work really well. But as I’ve stated previously, you’re welcome to experiment! You’ll notice in the image on the next page that my settings are as follows: Brush Size – 4; Brush Detail – 10. I never use Texture. You can see the result of these settings in the image. Notice especially the left flower in the image.

After applying the Dry Brush, I choose to enhance the Saturation as before. Notice that I ONLY increase the saturation by +10. Much more than that and the image will start to look funky.

After applying the Saturation, we have our end result. Here is an image that shows BEFORE and AFTER the Dry Brush and Saturation effects. Our NEW image is on the left and the original is on the right.

Now, while there IS some improvement to the new image, we can push this trick one step further by adding another process BEFORE the Dry Brush. That new process is the Smart Blur filter (Filter => Blur => Smart Blur…). Smart Blur is a very cool little filter in Photoshop because it respects the hard edges in an image, and at the same time, smoothes out the broad color areas. When I opened the Smart Blur Dialog Box, the results were pretty interesting. Pay special attention to the white areas of the image. Notice that all the artifacts are gone. Smart Blur just smoothed them out. After we apply the Smart Blur, THEN we go back and apply the Dry Brush filter to see if it makes any difference when compared to the first “Dry Brush Only” image.

Here is a comparison image showing a zoomed-in section of the original enlarged image, together with “Dry Brush Only” and the new version that adds “Smart Blur to the mix:

I think the results speak for themselves, especially considering how much I enlarged the original low-rez image. I have used this technique in all types of commercial circumstances. One of the most notable (to me) was when I had to produce a life-sized display image of Bishop T.D. Jakes, who was being featured in Time Magazine. The original image I had to work with was 8 X 10 inches at 300dpi, but had to be enlarged to 60 inches in height. When I upsampled the image (the technical term for the enlarging process), it didn’t look good and I didn’t have an alternate image to use. It was during the creation of that display that I first tested this process and it worked perfectly. When the display printed, you could not tell that it had been upsampled at all. I’ve used the trick ever since, and now you can too!

My goal for this ongoing Photoshop series is to fold: First, I want to help expand your creative thinking…to get the ole’ creative juices flowing. Second, I want to help you learn from my trial and error. Over the course of the past four editions of Photoshop Tricks, you’ve learned in reading just 100 or so pages, what I learned through years of experimenting and testing. That saves you time and effort, and THAT’S why I’m writing these reports. I hope you enjoy them!

EXPOSED! One of the Most Overlooked, Untapped Sources for MASSIVE Amounts of FRESH Content on the Planet!
This SECRET source has been TOTALLY off the radar until NOW!

Of the estimated 200,000 magazines, journals and periodicals that were published in the United States between the years of 1923 and 1964, only around 1,300 ever RENEWED their copyrights on issues of their magazines. What that means is this: EVERY issue of ANY magazine whose copyright was not renewed in the 28th year of first publication is NOW in the Public Domain!

That amounts to MILLIONS of issues from magazines, journals and periodicals ALL in the Public Domain!
Learn how to tap into this massive amount of content at:

“You have been the only person that has consistently performed and your PD toolbar helps me on my book almost on a daily basis.” “I love the Public Domain toolbar! Thanks so much!” “…it’s a great tool, and I’m only just scraping the surface.” “Got the toolbar. Great Tool!! Thank you!!” “I purchased your Public Domain Expert Toolbar and WOW. I initially thought I was falling for another e-marketing pull-in but was I ever wrong. This toolbar is top notch. I can see you put a lot of time and thought into developing this. It just boggles my mind to see what you have done.” “I LOVE THE TOOLBAR.” “Thanks again for a great tool...if only I had time to execute all the ideas that are flowing from this!” “Very cool tool!”

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