Image sharpening can be achieved in myriad ways. While variations are endless, the goal remains the same. We wish to sharpen and enhance desired edges yet avoid sharpening any noise or other artifacts. This can be tricky because most sharpening tools look at all edges, not just the ones we find pleasing or essential.
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A large part of the beauty and potential of alpha channels is how sophisticated they can be. When working in photomontage we most often desire a mask that eliminates a significant portion of an image element (typically a background) so that it can be composited into a base image. This helps create the illusion of unity and believability of the final composition. Yet, there are times when a mask should have translucency in at least some parts of it in order to make the results look real.