Image quality is everything, and luckily you can use Photoshop to quickly fix pixelated images when you only have access to a blurry and blocky JPEG or if you need to drastically reduce the size of a high-res picture.
So let’s take a look at the two best fixes, whether you have a large high-res photo you need to shrink or if you have a low-res picture to begin with.
How To Fix Pixelated Images In Photoshop When Shrinking Layers
In many cases, if you import a larger image into a smaller Photoshop document, you will need to scale it down to fit the project. The same could be true if you have a larger document than the image, where you would need to scale the layer up. In these cases, you can end up with pixelation in your photo because you are scaling a rasterized layer. The solution to this is turning your layer into a smart object before you begin scaling the image layer.
For example, let’s say you have a high-quality image that you need to shrink down to a suitable size for a social media post.
With dimensions around 6000 x 4000 pixels, for example, you will have a clear photo, even when zooming in at 100%. Large images generally have a higher resolution (pixels per inch), so they retain their quality even when zoomed in. Here is a high-resolution image in full screen and at 100% zoom.
If you slightly reduce the size of your image, you likely won’t see any negative effects or pixelation. However, if you want to reduce the size drastically, Photoshop needs to reduce the resolution to fit the new dimensions. This manipulation often leads to quality loss and pixelation.
So, for example, if you have a high-resolution image like this and need to scale it down to a suitable size for social media, you need to reduce the dimensions by quite a lot. This could be a 1:1 Instagram post at 1080 x 1080 pixels.
To resize to these dimensions, you can create a new document by going to File > New or pressing Control + N (Win) or Command + N (Mac).
Set the Width, Height, and Resolution values depending on what you are creating the document for. Since I am creating this for Instagram, I’ll set the Width and Height to 1080 pixels and the Resolution to 72 Pixels/Inch. Click Create to make the document.
You can now select your image from the document and drag it over to the new tab you created. You will notice that the image is much larger than the canvas.
Now, when you decrease the size of the image, it looks clear when viewing the entire canvas.
However, if you zoom in close, you will notice the quality has decreased, and there is slight pixelation in the photo.
To avoid this pixelation, you must convert the image layer to a smart object before resizing it. Even if I had to increase the size of this image again, it wouldn’t correct the pixelation as I have already degraded the quality. So you need to apply this before resizing the image layer.
Once you have placed the image onto the new document, right-click or Control + click on the image layer in the Layers Panel and select Convert to Smart Object.
You will know the image layer is a smart object by the icon in the thumbnail.
The Smart Object acts as a container that holds the image, so now, when you reduce the size or edit the image layer, you are applying the edits to the container and not the photo. This is a non-destructing editing technique and prevents pixelation.
This method is also beneficial in case you need to increase the size of the image layer after reducing the size without affecting the quality. This can be necessary if your project brief changes later on.
To reduce the size to fit the canvas, you can activate the Transform Tool by pressing Control + T (Win) or Command + T (Mac). Then drag a corner handle inwards until the photo fits on the canvas.
The image looks similar to the previous (non-smart object) one at full size, clear, and not pixelated.
However, when you zoom into the photo, you will notice the quality is much clearer than when it was resized without a smart object.
While the differences may not be too noticeable, the larger the original image and the smaller the new size, the more noticeable the pixelation is.
Another example where you need to reduce the size drastically is when you are creating favicons for websites.
When viewing tiny sizes, such as favicon documents, the image will look pixelated even when using a smart object. However, this is only because of the project’s size and how much you need to zoom in to view the canvas properly in the workspace. The image will look crisp and clear at the intended size as long as you use the smart object resizing method.
Note: If you create a new document and then drag and drop the image from your computer files into the document, it will automatically be added as a smart object, so you won’t need to worry about converting it before resizing.
How To Fix Pixelated Images In Photoshop
In other cases, you may have an image that is already pixelated because of its low quality. This could be because it was sourced online or came from an older camera. In this case, a smart object won’t help you as the image is already low resolution.
To fix this, you’ll want to increase the size and the quality to fix the pixelation. This is usually needed if you want to print the photo or use it for a big-screen presentation.
In my case, my image looks decent in full view on Photoshop.
However, if I zoom in, you’ll notice the pixelation. This will be visible if I want to print the image at a relatively large size.
Follow these steps to remove the pixelation by increasing the resolution.
Note: This will only work on some images, as photos with extremely low quality have too little information to fix it entirely. You won’t be able to fix drastically unfocused and blurry photos either.
Step 1: Enable Preserve Details 2.0 In Technology Preview Preferences
Before you increase the resolution, you need to ensure that one setting is turned on in the preferences. This is important to ensure the quality is improved when resizing, so don’t skip this step.
Go to Edit > Preferences > Technology Previews (Win) or Photoshop > Preferences > Technology Previews (Mac). You can also use the shortcut Control + K (Win) or Command + K (Mac), then open the Technology Preview tab on the left.
Then, ensure the box is checked next to Enable Preserve Details 2.0 Upscale. If the option isn’t turned on, turn it on, then click OK.
Note: You will need to restart Photoshop to activate the change before you follow the next steps.
Step 2: Open The Image Size Panel By Going to Image > Image Size
You can now increase the resolution in the Image Size Panel. To access this, go to Image > Image Size or use the shortcut Alt + Control + I (Win) or Option + Command + I (Mac).
You will see the Image Size panel open, and here you can view the current width, height, and resolution values for the image, including the actual size on your hard drive.
Before you adjust anything, ensure that the units of measurement are correct using the drop-down menus to change them. I will set all the units to Pixels and the resolution to Pixels/Inch.
Now, when you adjust the resolution, the values will change correctly in the unit you need them to.
Step 3: Increase The Resolution Until The Longest Edge Pixels Are High Enough
You can now increase the resolution to fix the pixelation of the image. The amount you increase it by should work for the purposes you intend to use the picture, but generally, you want the value of the longest edge to be above 3000 pixels for a high-resolution photo.
Add a new value in the Resolution box. Depending on how small your photo is, to begin with, you may need to increase it to 500 Pixels/Inch. However, 300 Pixels/Inch should work in most cases.
Once you add the new resolution, you will see the Width and Height values increase to match. Since my image wasn’t too small, I only needed to increase the resolution to 150 Pixels/Inch to get the Width value above 3000 pixels.
Step 4: Set The Resample To Preserve Details 2.0
The most important step here is to check the Resample box and set the Resample type to Preserve Details 2.0. Once you check the box next to Resample, you can select the right option from the drop-down menu.
If you don’t see that option, follow the instructions in Step 1.
Step 5: Adjust The Reduce Noise Slider
You will see the changes on your image in the Preview box on the left. Here, you will already see how the quality has improved.
You can use the Zoom controls to zoom in and out to see more of the image or the finer details.
You can adjust the Reduce Noise slider using the preview as a guide if needed. In some cases, upsizing the image will increase the noise, leading to visual distortions. Move the slider to the right to reduce the noise, but don’t go to 100%, as this will smooth the image out too much. Usually, a value of around 50% works well.
Click OK to confirm the resize.
Your image will likely be zoomed in once you resize it. You can zoom out using Control + – (Win) or Command + – (Mac).
Step 6: Add A High Pass Filter For Extra Sharpening (Optional)
Your image may already be clear enough at this stage. However, you may find it needs a bit of sharpening. To sharpen the image, duplicate the image layer by selecting it and pressing Control + J (Win) or Command + J (Mac).
Select the duplicated layer, then go to Filter > Other > High Pass.
You will see the High Pass Filter window open, and the image will turn gray.
Increase the Radius slider until you see a basic outline of your subject on the canvas. You may have to go up to 6 pixels in some cases. Click OK to apply the effect.
Then, to hide the gray on the layer, go to the Blend Mode drop-down in the Layers Panel next to Normal.
Next, select Overlay from the options.
Your image will be visible again and will be sharper than before.
Step 7: Reduce The Fill Of The High Pass Layer (Optional)
If the sharpening effect is too intense, you can reduce this easily using the Fill slider in the Layers Panel. Drag the slider to the left to decrease the intensity of the High Pass filter and reduce the effect slightly.
You will now have fixed the pixelation and sharpened the image without overdoing the effect.
You can see the differences better when viewing the image zoomed in before and after.
Taking a low-res pixelated photo and making it look clear is possible in Photoshop, but it’s important to remember that the program is not magic. It can only improve the quality of the photo in relation to how good or bad the original image looks. With an extremely pixelated photo you may not be able to increase the size or resolution of the image with as much success compared to if you started with a better-quality image. Either way, though, you will end up with a better version of the original, and it is definitely worth the effort!