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Gradients in Photoshop

  1. Photoshop User Guide
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    1. Common questions on generative AI in Photoshop
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    3. Generative Expand in Photoshop on the desktop
    4. Generative Fill in Photoshop on the iPad
    5. Generative Expand in Photoshop on the iPad
    6. Generative AI features in Photoshop on the web
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Learn how to create different types of gradients using Photoshop

Topics in this article:

Applying gradients is one of the main workflows that constitutes the fundamentals of digital image manipulation. Gradient provides you the information about the change in the color intensity in your image in a given direction. 

Apply a gradient fill

The Gradient Tool creates a gradual blend between multiple colors. You can choose from preset gradient fills or create your own.

Note:

You cannot use the Gradient Tool with bitmap or indexed-color images.

  1. To fill part of the image, select the desired area. Otherwise, the gradient fill is applied to the entire active layer.
  2. Select the Gradient Tool  . (If the tool isn't visible, hold down the Paint Bucket tool.)

  3. In the options bar, choose a fill from the wide gradient sample:
    • Select the triangle next to the sample to pick a preset gradient fill.

    • Select inside the sample to view the Gradient Editor. Select a preset gradient fill, or create a new gradient fill. (See Create a smooth gradient.)

    Note:

    The Neutral Density preset provides a helpful photographic filter for sunsets and other high-contrast scenes.

  4. Select an option to determine how the starting point (where the mouse is pressed) and ending point (where the mouse is released) affect gradient appearance.

    Linear Gradient: Shades from the starting point to the ending point in a straight line 

    Radial Gradient: Shades from the starting point to the ending point in a circular pattern 

    Angular Gradient: Shades in a counterclockwise sweep around the starting point 

    Reflected Gradient: Mirrors the same linear gradient on either side of the starting point 

    Diamond Gradient: Shades from the middle to the outer corners of a diamond pattern

  5. Do the following in the options bar:

    • Specify a blending mode and opacity for the paint. (See Blending modes.)
    • To reverse the order of colors in the gradient fill, select Reverse.
    • To create a smoother blend with less banding, select Dither.
    • To use a transparency mask for the gradient fill, select Transparency. (See Specify the gradient transparency.)
    • To select a method for the gradient fill, choose from the method options: Perceptual, Linear, or Classic. (See Gradient interpolation in Photoshop.)
  6. Position the pointer in the image where you want to set the starting point of the gradient, and drag to define the ending point. To constrain the line angle to a multiple of 45°, hold down Shift as you drag.

Improved Gradients

Updated in Photoshop 24.5 (May 2023 release)

The Gradients feature has been significantly improved and the workflow has been expedited with the introduction of new on-canvas controls and a live preview, that is created automatically and that can be edited non-destructively.

You can now quickly draw, preview, and modify beautiful gradients with an improved Gradient Tool in the Photoshop desktop app. You can create the color stops and edit your gradients from the canvas itself. Also, you can control the color, density, opacity, and blend mode of the gradient, see the mid-point and spread on the canvas, add multiple color stops, and change the color of the color stops to edit the gradient with this feature.

The Gradients feature is the default (no action is required unless you want Classic gradient).

When a pixel layer is selected, you can choose the way you want to work, non-destructively (Gradient mode) or destructively (Classic gradient mode). When working on a gradient fill layer, the tool switches to the correct mode based on the layer selected, gradient fill or mask. 

To use the Gradients feature, do the following:

  1. Select the canvas and drag out the on-canvas gradient widget. While dragging, you can change the angle and length of the gradient. When you release the drag, you can go back and change the length and angle by clicking and dragging again.

  2. Change the mid-points between color stops by clicking and dragging the diamond shape icons. 

    Live gradients in Photoshop

  3. Remove color stops on the on-canvas widget by selecting the color stop circles and dragging away from the gradient line. On the Gradient on-canvas widget, double-click the color stops (circle area) to change the color with the color picker.

  4. Choose a gradient preset in the dropdown or in the Properties panel.

Add a Gradient to a mask

Introduced in Photoshop 24.5 (May 2023 release)

Follow these steps to learn how to add a gradient to a mask:

  1. Select an area in your image where you want to apply a gradient and use the Gradient Tool to add a gradient to the mask.

  2. Drag the mouse over your selection to apply the gradient. You'll now be able to view the mask get updated in the gradient thumbnail in the Layers panel. 

  3. Change the gradient by selecting from the different types (see Apply a gradient fill) by dragging the mouse repeatedly over the selection. 

Add a Gradient to a smart filter (mask)

Introduced in Photoshop 24.5 (May 2023 release)

Follow these steps to learn how to add a gradient to a smart filter:

  1. Add a filter to your smart object. (Check out Apply Smart Filters to learn how to do that.)

  2. Select the Smart Filters thumbnail and then the Gradient Tool to apply the gradient.

  3. Drag the mouse across the canvas to apply the gradient to the smart filter. Observe the thumbnail get updated.

  4. Choose from the array of Photoshop filters and move the widget across the canvas to get cool effects. You can make other adjustments, including changing the midpoint.

Gradient Tool context menu and shortcuts

Use the shortcuts to verify the correct context menu is displayed the a color stop is selected and when it’s not selected. To deselect all color stops, simply click anywhere on the canvas.

Existing behavior macOS Windows Outcome
When no color stop is selected
Control + mouse click (left/right) Right click of the mouse Gradients list displays
When a color stop is selected Control + left click of the mouse Right click of the mouse HUD to change color
When a color stop is selected
Option + left click of the mouse
Alt + left click of the mouse Sample to change color

 

Select a gradient in the Gradients panel

Apply gradients to layers

To apply a gradient to text layers as a layer effect, do any of the following:

  • Select one or more text layers in the Layers panel and then click any gradient in the Gradients panel to apply it.
  • Drag a gradient from the Gradients panel onto the text content on the canvas area.
  • Drag a gradient from the Gradients panel onto a layer in the Layers panel.  

To apply a gradient to a shape layer as shape fill, do any of the following:

  • Select one or more text layers in the Layers panel and then click any gradient in the Gradients panel to apply it.
  • Drag a gradient from the Gradients panel onto the text content on the canvas area.
  • Drag a gradient from the Gradients panel onto a layer in the Layers panel. 

To apply a gradient to text layers or shape layer as a fill layer, do any of the following:

  • Hold Command (Mac)/ Alt (Win) and drag a gradient from the Gradients panel onto the text content on the canvas area.
  • Hold Command (Mac)/ Alt (Win) and drag a gradient from the Gradients panel onto a layer in the Layers panel.  

To apply a gradient to pixel layers, do the following:

  1. Drag a gradient from the Gradients panel onto a pixel layer in the Layers panel.
  2. Photoshop automatically creates a fill layer on top of the pixel layer.  

Organize gradient presets into groups

To organize gradients under a new group:

  1. In the Gradients panel (Window > Gradients), click the Create New Group icon. 
  2. Specify a group name and click OK. 
  3. Drag a gradient or use the Shift key to select multiple gradients to drag them inside the Group.

To create nested groups:

  1. Select a group in the Gradients panel.
  2. Now, drag and drop that group under another group.

Show legacy gradients

From the Gradients panel menu, choose Legacy Gradients.

Return to the default gradient presets

Choose Append Default Gradients from the Gradients panel menu to append the Gradients defaults to the list of Gradients presets.

append default gradients

Change how preset gradients are displayed

Choose a display option from the Gradients panel menu:

Text Only: Displays the gradients as a list

Small or Large Thumbnail: Displays the gradients as thumbnails

Small or Large List: Displays the gradients as a list with thumbnails

Rename a preset gradient

  • If the panel is set to display gradients as thumbnails, double-click a gradient, enter a new name, and click OK.
  • If the panel is set to display gradients as a list or text only, double-click a gradient, enter a new name inline, and press Enter (Windows) or Return (Mac OS).

Gradient Editor overview

To display the Gradient Editor dialog box, click the current gradient sample in the options bar. (When you hover over the gradient sample, a tool tip reading "Click to edit gradient" appears.)

The Gradient Editor dialog box lets you define a new gradient by modifying a copy of an existing gradient. You can also add intermediate colors to a gradient, creating a blend between more than two colors.

Photoshop Gradient Editor dialog box
Gradient Editor dialog box

A. Panel menu B. Opacity stop C. Color stops D. Adjust values or delete the selected opacity or color stop E. Midpoint 

Save a set of preset gradients as a library

  1. Click Save in the Gradient Editor dialog box, or choose Save Gradients from the Gradient Picker menu in the options bar.
  2. Choose a location for the gradient library, enter a file name, and click Save.

    You can save the library anywhere. However, if you place the library file in the Presets/Gradients folder in the default preset location, the library name will appear at the bottom of the panel menu after you restart Photoshop.

Load a library of preset gradients

Do one of the following in the Gradient Editor dialog box:
  • Click Load to add a library to the current list. Select the library file you want to use, and click Load.

  • Choose Replace Gradients from the panel menu to replace the current list with a different library. Select the library file you want to use, and click Load.

  • Choose a library file from the bottom of the panel menu. Click OK to replace the current list, or click Append to append the current list.

Note:

You can also choose Load Gradients, Replace Gradients, or choose a library of gradients from the Gradient Picker menu in the options bar.

Create a smooth gradient

  1. Select the Gradient Tool  .

  2. Click inside the gradient sample in the options bar to display the Gradient Editor dialog box.
  3. To base the new gradient on an existing gradient, select a gradient in the Presets section of the dialog box.
  4. Choose Solid from the Gradient Type pop‑up menu.
  5. To define the starting color of the gradient, click the left color stop  under the gradient bar. The triangle above the stop turns black  , indicating that the starting color is being edited.
  6. To choose a color, do one of the following:
    • Double-click the color stop, or click the color swatch in the Stops section of the dialog box. Choose a color, and click OK.

    • Choose an option from the Color pop‑up menu in the Stops section of the dialog box.

    • Position the pointer over the gradient bar (the pointer turns into the eyedropper), and click to sample a color, or click anywhere in the image to sample a color from the image.

  7. To define the ending color, click the right color stop under the gradient bar. Then choose a color.
  8. To adjust the location of the starting point or ending point, do one of the following:
    • Drag the corresponding color stop left or right to the location you want.

    • Click the corresponding color stop, and enter a value for Location in the Stops section of the dialog box. A value of 0% places the point at the far left end of the gradient bar; a value of 100%, at the far right end.

  9. To adjust the location of the midpoint (where the gradient displays an even mix of the starting and ending colors), drag the diamond  below the gradient bar to the left or right, or click the diamond, and enter a value for Location.
  10. To add intermediate colors to a gradient, click below the gradient bar to define another color stop. Specify the color and adjust the location and midpoint for the intermediate point as you would for a starting or ending point.
  11. To delete the color stop you are editing, click Delete, or drag the stop downwards until it disappears.
  12. To control the transition between color bands in the gradient, enter a value in the Smoothness text box, or drag the Smoothness pop‑up slider.
    The smoothness describes how we pick the color in a given band as we go from color stop to midpoint to color-stop across the whole gradient. With a simple gradient with 2 stops and a default midpoint, theoretically, smoothness has no effect. The stop values are already in a line. The smoothness 0 value goes in straight lines connecting stops and midpoints, while a 100% value does a spline curve.

  13. If desired, set transparency values for the gradient.
  14. Enter a name for the new gradient.
  15. To save the gradient as a preset, click New after you have finished creating the gradient.
    Note:

    New presets are saved in a Preferences file. If this file is deleted or damaged, or if you reset presets to the default library, the new presets will be lost. To permanently save new presets, save them in a library.

Specify the gradient transparency

Each gradient fill contains settings that control the opacity of the fill at different locations on the gradient. For example, you can set the starting color to 100% opacity and have the fill gradually blend into an ending color with 50% opacity. The checkerboard pattern indicates the amount of transparency in the gradient preview.

  1. Create a gradient.
  2. To adjust the starting opacity, click the left opacity stop above the gradient bar. The triangle below the stop turns black, indicating that the starting transparency is being edited.
  3. In the Stops section of the dialog box, enter a value in the Opacity text box, or drag the Opacity pop‑up slider.
  4. To adjust the opacity of the end point, click the right transparency stop above the gradient bar. Then set the opacity in the Stops section.
  5. To adjust the location of the starting or ending opacity, do one of the following:
    • Drag the corresponding opacity stop to the left or right.

    • Select the corresponding opacity stop, and enter a value for Location.

  6. To adjust the location of the midpoint opacity (the point midway between the starting and ending opacities), do one of the following:
    • Drag the diamond above the gradient bar to the left or right.

    • Select the diamond and enter a value for Location.

  7. To delete the opacity stop you are editing, click Delete.
  8. To add an intermediate opacity to the mask, click above the gradient bar to define a new opacity stop. You can then adjust and move this opacity as you would for a starting or ending opacity. To remove an intermediate opacity, drag its transparency stop up and off the gradient bar.
  9. To create a preset gradient, enter a name in the Name text box, and click New. This creates a new gradient preset with the transparency setting you specified.

Create a noise gradient

A noise gradient is a gradient that contains randomly distributed colors within the range of colors that you specify.

Photoshop Noise gradient with different roughness values
Noise gradient with different roughness values

A. 10% roughness B. 50% roughness C. 90% roughness 

  1. Select the Gradient Tool  .

  2. Click in the gradient sample in the options bar to display the Gradient Editor dialog box.
  3. To base the new gradient on an existing gradient, select a gradient in the Presets section of the dialog box.
  4. Choose Noise from the Gradient Type pop‑up menu, and set the following options:

    Roughness: Controls how gradual the transitions are between color bands in the gradient

    Color Model: Changes the color components you can adjust. For each component, drag the sliders to define the range of acceptable values. For example, if you choose the HSB model, you can restrict the gradient to blue-green hues, high saturation, and medium brightness

    Restrict Colors: Prevents oversaturated colors

    Add Transparency: Adds transparency to random colors

    Randomize: Randomly creates a gradient that conforms to the settings. Select the button until you find a setting you like

  5. To create a preset gradient with the settings you've specified, enter a name in the Name text box, and click New.

How to use gradient presets

Learn all about applying Photoshop's new and improved Presets panels. Julieanne Kost explores everything from swatches to patterns, from gradients to styles and shapes.

Julieanne Kost

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Oct 14–16 Miami Beach and online

Adobe MAX

The Creativity Conference

Oct 14–16 Miami Beach and online