© 2017 Author(s). Advanced photoinjectors, which are critical to many next generation accelerators, open the door to new ways of material probing, both as injectors for free electron lasers and for ultra-fast electron diffraction. For these applications, the nonuniformity of the electric field near the cathode caused by surface roughness can be the dominant source of beam emittance. Therefore, improving the photocathode roughness while maintaining quantum efficiency is essential to the improvement of beam brightness. In this paper, we report the demonstration of a bi-alkali antimonide photocathode with an order of magnitude improved roughness by sputter deposition from a K2CsSb sputter target, using in situ and operando X-ray characterizations. We found that a surface roughness of 0.5 nm for a sputtered photocathode with a final thickness of 42 nm can be achieved while still yielding a quantum efficiency of 3.3% at 530 nm wavelength.