Is there a way to apply one smart filter to multiple layers?

I'm trying to figure out a better CS5 Photoshop sharpening workflow using smart filters. I am working with scanned film.

Before sharpening, I create a new layer above the background layer and do all my cloning on there (mostly dust removal). Then, in order to sharpen, I select the "Cloning" layer and the background (and any layer with actual content), duplicate them, and merge them into one layer. This is the layer that I apply the unsharp mask to (after making a selection of all edges).

I would like to use the unsharp filter as a smart filter, but I don't know how to do this on multiple layers.

Any suggestions?

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    \$\begingroup\$ I suppose this question should go to graphicdesign.stackexchange.com because it doesn't have anything to do with photography but rather Photoshop. \$\endgroup\$ May 3, 2011 at 19:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ But doesn't Photoshop have a lot to do with photography? Or is editing photos not discussed here? Sorry, I'm new here, but I would have thought it would be more useful in Photography than Graphic Design. \$\endgroup\$ May 3, 2011 at 19:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ Editing photos is, but not Photoshop usage in itself. Believe me. Graphic designers use Photoshop a lot more (in terms of functionality they use) than photographers do. So it will be better to ask your question there. And don't worry. Site itself is part of the StackExchange anyway. Lots of people here are active there as well (me included). This segregation is good because certain sites don't get polluted with unrelated content. \$\endgroup\$ May 3, 2011 at 20:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ Graphic Designers might use Photoshop a lot, but not necessarily for sharpening photos... I think we can safely say photographers do that just as much as designers do, in any case. \$\endgroup\$ May 3, 2011 at 20:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ My personal opinion here is that this will not do well on either Graphic Design nor Super User...those crowds don't usually do much in the way of sharpening. At least, not as much as we photographers do. It IS a photoshop question, but as far as I can tell, it is also directly related to photography post processing. I think the question belongs here, rather than elsewhere. \$\endgroup\$
    – jrista
    May 4, 2011 at 0:29

2 Answers 2


Instead of merging the layers together, try to convert them to a Smart Object. The smart object contains all the original layer data (which also can be later edited — just double click the smart object), but appears as a "single layer" in the Layers window.

If you now apply the Unsharp Mask filter to the smart object, it is created as Smart filter and as such, can also be non-destructively edited later on. As the smart object you previously created contains multiple layers, your filter is effectively applied to multiple layers.


Unless I am missing something, if your final step before sharpening is to copy all the previous layers and merge them into a single new layer...then you should only have to apply sharpening to that final layer.

The nature of sharpening algorithms generally won't allow them to work seamlessly "across" multiple layers. Even if they did, I'm not sure why you see the need. You've already prepared a layer explicitly for the sharpening process, so you shouldn't need to worry about cross-layer sharpening.

Without a much clearer explanation of your post-processing workflow, and the goals you have when it comes to sharpening, I can't really offer much more in the way of an answer. Are you trying to achieve some level of non-destructive editing in CS5?


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