Learn the many features of the Gradient Tool in Photoshop and how they can be quickly applied to photographs for an on-trend look.
Cover image via Kseniia Perminova.
Gradients create a transition between multiple colors. It’s a simple design tool, but one that continues to grow as a creative trend, appearing in everything from typographic and brand elements to subtle image overlays. There are limitless options when it comes to gradients. You can go bold with a neon fluorescent gradient, or introduce delicate transitions with monochromatic hues.
Follow along to learn about the ins and outs of the Gradient Tool in Adobe Photoshop and how gradients can be applied to create visually stunning images. Once you’ve figured out the Gradient Tool in Photoshop, head over to our guide on the Gradient Tool in Illustrator.
Enable the Gradient Tool in Photoshop by hitting G or by selecting the rectangular gradient icon located on the left hand toolbar in the program. Once the Gradient Tool (G) is activated, select the gradient of your choice in the top toolbar: linear, radial, angle, reflected, and diamond.
When a gradient fill is activated, a cursor resembling a plus sign will appear. Find a starting point for your gradient, then click and drag the cursor to the end point of the gradient, then release the cursor. Hold down the Shift key to keep your start and end points in 45 degree increments. For a smoother gradient, position your start and end points further apart; shorter start and end points create a more abrupt gradient fill.
Let’s go over how each gradient looks when applied to a layer.
Linear gradients allow color to transition in a straight line from one point to another.
Radial gradients create a more circular transition; the starting point begins the radial shape and shades into the end point.
The start and end points in an angle gradient dictate the angled line seen below. The two colors then blend in a clockwise motion from the start color to the end color around the dictated angle.
The reflected gradient resembles a reflection, in that it creates a mirrored effect with the end point color located on both sides of the starting point color.
As the name mentions, this gradient creates a diamond shape. The starting point begins the diamond trajectory, transitioning into the end point.
Adobe Photoshop features a huge library of preset gradient fills when the Gradient Tool (G) is selected. Find them by clicking on the dropdown arrow next to the gradient fill dialog box.
When activated, you’ll see Photoshop’s selection of default gradients. Add more gradients to your library by hitting the settings icon and choosing from libraries such as Pastels, Color Harmonies, and more. You can append the new gradient selection to your current library, or replace them altogether by clicking OK.
Click on the gradient fill dialog box to bring up the Gradient Editor for custom or default gradients. The same gradient library as above is seen in the Presets tab. You can select from these presets to easily edit an existing gradient from the gradient slider, or you can customize your own gradient altogether.
Gradients can be created as a solid or noise gradient type. Solid gradients are a smooth transition between two or more colors, while noise gradients feature a more random dispersion of hues.
Creating a Solid Gradient
When the gradient type is specified as solid, a smooth gradient slider pops up, which lets you completely customize the appearance of your gradient.
- Smoothness: Affects the transition of color in your gradient. At 100%, your gradient creates a more gradual transition; values less than 100% will transition more harshly.
- Color Stop: Indicates colors within your gradient. To edit, double-click to bring up the Color Picker dialog box. You can also move each color stop within the gradient slider to affect the transition of color.
- Midpoint: This diamond shape controls the flow of your gradient. The midpoint defaults to the halfway point, or 50%, between color stops for a smooth gradient. You can move the midpoint around to customize the transition and flow.
- Opacity Stop: Positioned above the color stop, these stops affect the opacity of each color in your gradient. Simply click on the opacity stop to adjust its opacity within the Stops menu. Values less than 100% will show a checkerboard pattern indicating levels of transparency.
- Location: Affects the actual location of color and opacity stops. A location at 0% is positioned on the left of the slider, with 100% towards the right of the slider.
- Delete: Allows you to delete color or opacity stops within the gradient slider. Click on the stop to enable a black triangle, then hit Delete.
- Adding Stops: Add a color or opacity stop to your gradient slider by clicking above the slider for opacity stops or below the slider for color stops.
Once you’re finished creating your custom gradient, assign it a name and hit New to add to your gradient library. You can also select Save to export your gradient as a GRD file to reference later.
Creating a Noise Gradient
You can tell right away that noise gradients are drastically different than smooth gradients. Let’s go over what each setting means.
- Roughness: Roughness values greater than 20% will create distinct lines of color in the gradient slider; as the value increases, the lines will become more harsh. Values less than 20% will resemble a smooth gradient.
- Color Model: Select from RGB, HSB, and LAB color modes. RGB combines red, green, and blue to produce a wide range of hues. HSB relies on Hue, Saturation, and Brightness to create colors. LAB features the human perception of color and describes how color looks, making it a device-dependent color model. The grey and white arrow sliders define the range of hues present in the noise gradient.
- Restrict Colors: When checked, the colors present in the gradient slider will be limited to less saturated hues.
- Add Transparency: When checked, adds transparency noise to the slider, indicated by a checkerboard pattern.
- Randomize: Click to randomize hues present in the gradient slider.
How to Apply Gradients to Photos
Now that we’ve gone over the ins and outs of the Gradient Tool in Photoshop, let’s apply it to a photograph for a simple yet on-trend look. For this tutorial, I’ll be using an artsy photograph to go along with my gradient.
Bring the image into Photoshop, then add a Black & White adjustment layer within the Layers panel. Adjust the appearance of your image by using the color sliders.
Add a New Layer within the Layers panel, then create your custom solid gradient with the Gradient Editor we mentioned earlier. Click and drag your cursor to dictate the flow and direction of your gradient.
To mesh the gradient with your photograph, adjust the Blend Mode to Screen within the Layers panel. Ta-da! You’ve created a visually interesting gradient overlay on simple imagery.
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