How To Use The Gradient Tool In Photoshop

To create a seamless blend between two or more colors in your design, you need to know how to use the Gradient Tool in Photoshop. I always use gradients to bring my images and designs to life, either by adding a colorful background or adding subtle effects with layer masks.

To create a new gradient in Photoshop, access the Gradient Tool (G) and click on the gradient editor. Here, you can choose a preset gradient or create your own. With a gradient selected, click and drag out on your canvas to create a new gradient. Depending on how far you drag your cursor, you can change how “soft” or “hard” the edge of your gradient appears.

Let’s take a deep dive into the specifics of gradients in Photoshop to help you better understand this tool and how it operates.

How To Access The Gradient Tool In Photoshop

There are two ways to access the Gradient Tool. Firstly, you can select the tool from the toolbar.

Secondly, you can use the keyboard shortcut by pressing G on your keyboard. Pressing G will select the Gradient Tool so you can instantly begin adjusting settings and creating gradients as you wish.

How To Create A Gradient In Photoshop

Let’s walk through the basics of creating a new gradient in Photoshop.

Step 1: Add A New Layer To Your Document

Before adding the gradient, create a new layer for your gradient by clicking on the Add new layer icon in the Layers Panel. This way, you can ensure you’re editing non-destructively and have more control later on.

Step 2: Select The Gradient Tool (G)

Then, press G or click on the Gradient Tool found in your toolbar.

Step 3: Select The Gradient Mode

In more recent versions of Photoshop, you can now select a Gradient Mode when using the Gradient Tool. Use the drop-down menu in the Options Bar to choose between the two modes.

The first option is the Gradient Mode, which adds a non-destructive gradient fill layer (discussed in the next section). The second option is Classic Gradient, which adds the gradient directly onto your layer (destructive). Since I have added a new layer, I will select the Classic Gradient mode.

Step 4: Open The Gradient Editor

Now, you need to access the Gradient Editor. The gradient editor allows you to choose from a wide array of preset gradients, or lets you create your own.

Access the Gradient Editor by double-clicking on the gradient preview bar menu in the Options Bar.

Step 5: Choose A Gradient Preset

The largest section of your gradient editor is the preset window. There are a handful of great gradient options throughout the color folders. This makes it easy to find a gradient to suit the exact color needs of your project.

Preset gradients can be used as-is or as a template for your own custom gradients. To select a preset option, open any color folder and click on your desired preset. The gradient preset will then appear in your gradient bar just below the preset window.

Step 6: Adjust The Gradient Type And Smoothness

The gradient bar gives you a live preview of what your gradient will look like once it’s applied to your canvas. Within this bar, you have a few options to customize how your gradient appears, such as gradient type, smoothness, and color.

The gradient type determines whether your gradient is made up of color or noise values. For most purposes, color is the option you’ll want to go with. This option will create a smooth transition between multiple solid colors and can work well for any purpose.

On the other hand, noise gradients don’t use specific colors but instead let you alter the hue, saturation, and luminosity of noise. This gradient type tends to appear far more randomized and is harder to control.

As for the smoothness, this slider will dictate how smooth the transition is between each color value.

With a smoothness of 100%, there will be a very soft transition between each color. However, with a 0% smoothness, the transition between colors will appear slightly more abrupt. For general use, leaving the smoothness slider at 100% will work perfectly fine.

Step 7: Change And Add Colors To The Gradient

The gradient colors are represented by the color swatches located at their respective starting points. In the example below, there is a color swatch on both the left and right sides of the gradient. That means the colors will be most noticeable on their separate ends, while they will transition from one to another throughout the middle.

The colors of your gradient can be changed at any time by clicking on these color swatches. You can either double-click on the color swatch to open the color picker or click the swatch, then select the color box option below.

Any of your gradient colors can be moved to make them more or less dominant in your gradient. For example, if I move the left color towards the right, you can see how it becomes more noticeable in the gradient. That’s because there is less space for the two colors to transition from one to another.

If you want to add additional colors to your gradient, click anywhere beneath the gradient bar to add a new color swatch. A new color will appear that can be edited the same as before.

You can create as many new color points as you wish, and all of them can be moved independently to alter where they sit within your gradient.

Step 8: Adjust The Gradient Midpoints

Looking between the color swatches, you’ll notice a diamond shape. This is called your gradient midpoint. These midpoints control where the halfway mark is between one color and another.

You can move your gradient midpoints to favor a certain color. This is a good idea if you want one color to be more visible than another.

Step 9: Confirm The Gradient By Clicking OK

After you’ve gone through your gradient editor and chosen all the settings you want for your new gradient, click OK to exit the gradient editor.

Step 10: Click And Drag To Create The Gradient

With your new layer selected, click and drag on the canvas to apply your gradient onto the layer.

Depending on how far you drag between the two gradient points, you can create a hard or soft edge look to your gradient. In this case, I’ll go for a softer look and drag my gradient points far apart.

With that, you’ve applied your gradient onto a new layer, and it appears exactly as it did in your gradient editor.

How To Create A Gradient Fill Layer In Photoshop

With a gradient fill layer, you have slightly less control over the size and location of your gradient. However, if you want a general gradient coming from the edge of your frame, this option works perfectly. The big advantage of gradient fill layers is that they can be customized in ways that aren’t possible when applying gradients directly onto a layer.

Step 1: Select A New Gradient Fill Layer

There are three ways to create a new gradient fill layer.

The first way is to select the Gradient Tool (G) from the Toolbar.

Then, choose Gradient Mode from the drop-down menu in the Options Bar.

The second method is to use the menu path by going to Layer > New Fill Layer > Gradient.

For the third method, you can add a new Gradient Fill Layer by clicking on the Create New Fill or Adjustment Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers Panel and selecting Gradient from the menu options.

Step 2: Adjust The Gradient Using The Gradient Editor

A gradient fill dialogue box will appear with all of the gradient settings options you’ve learned so far. By double-clicking on the gradient box, you can access the gradient editor and fine-tune your gradient’s look.

Note: If you are using the new Gradient Mode in the Gradient Tool settings, you can use the drop-down editor and the other settings in the Options Bar to set the gradient type and color. You can access the Gradient Fill settings after creating the gradient.

Step 3: Change The Gradient’s Settings

From there, you can alter the angle, style, scale, and other settings options that will alter the look of your gradient.

Step 4: Click OK To Confirm The Gradient

Once happy with your settings, click OK.

Now, you’ll have a gradient fill layer instead of a regular layer. If you want to make adjustments to this gradient layer, simply double-click on the gradient box to reopen the gradient settings.

Note: If you are using the new Gradient Mode method, you must click and drag on the canvas to create the gradient. You can then double-click on the gradient box to open the Gradient Fill settings.

Types Of Gradients In Photoshop

Not all gradients are made the same in Photoshop. In fact, there are five different types of gradients you can create. Luckily, changing between them all takes less than a second.

You can find all your gradient types directly beside the gradient editor. You can select different ones by clicking on their icon or using your ] or [ bracket keys to cycle through them. Let’s go through each one individually and see what they do.

1. Linear Gradient

Starting with the leftmost option, this gradient is called the linear gradient. It creates a straight line for the gradients to transition from and is the most versatile gradient to use. Using this gradient, your colors will transition in a continuous, linear fashion, typical of any generic gradient.

2. Radial Gradient

The radial gradient creates a “gradient burst,” starting from one color in the middle and fading radially to the other colors. This option is great for applying to layer masks or fading circular sections of your layers.

3. Angle Gradient

An angle gradient will take up your entire layer and transition from one color to another in a counter-clockwise rotation. Wherever you start your gradient will be the hard edge between the first and last color of your gradient.

This gradient type is far more specialized compared to some of the other gradient types in Photoshop. You likely won’t find yourself using this option as frequently.

4. Reflected Gradient

The reflected gradient essentially creates a gradient line. The further you drag when creating your gradient, the wider this gradient effect will become. This type of gradient is great for placing against horizontal or vertical edges in your images.

5. Diamond Gradient

Lastly, the diamond gradient creates a star-shaped gradient that fades in a unique way. This is a useful option when you want to create circular gradients but want more variance of intensity between colors.

Gradient Tool Settings Explained

After choosing your gradient type, there are a few more settings you can adjust in the Options Bar to customize the Gradient Tool in Photoshop.

The first option you have is the blend mode of your gradient. These blend modes operate the same as layer blend modes but will only be applied to your new gradients. For general use, leave the gradient blend mode set to Normal.

Next, your Opacity option will alter the visibility of your gradient adjustments. To ensure your gradient is completely visible, I’d recommend leaving your opacity set to 100%. After all, you can always adjust the layer opacity later when you apply your gradient to a new layer.

Lastly, you’ll see three checkboxes reading Reverse, Dither, and Transparency.

By checking off the Reverse option, your gradient will switch sides and reverse itself. This is useful if you want certain colors of your gradient to be applied from another side. However useful, this option only needs to be used in certain instances.

The Dither option helps to ensure there is a smooth transition between different tones in your gradient. Without the dither option checked off, you can end up with banding in your gradient. To ensure you have a high-quality and seamless gradient, make sure the dither option is checked off.

Finally, the Transparency option allows you to create transparency when you have a transparent value in your gradient. For example, if you’re creating a foreground-to-transparent gradient, the transparency will not be visible unless the transparency option is checked off. To make life easy, make sure this box is checked off as well, regardless of whether or not you’re creating a transparent gradient.

How To Create A Transparent Gradient In Photoshop

Although I’ve talked extensively about how to make transparent gradients in this post, let’s quickly cover some of the footnotes for creating these gradients.

Step 1: Select The Gradient Tool And Open The Gradient Editor

To create a transparent gradient, select your Gradient Tool (G).

Then, select the Classic Gradient Mode and open the Gradient Editor by double-clicking on the gradient bar in the Options Bar.

Step 2: Select The Foreground To Transparent Gradient Preset

Within the presets window, open the Basics folder and select the Foreground to Transparent gradient.

Step 3: Change The Foreground Color In The Toolbar

Rather than selecting a color here in the gradient editor, you’ll only need to change your active foreground color. To do this, click OK on your gradient editor and then select your foreground color at the bottom of your Toolbar.

Your color picker will open, allowing you to select any color you wish. Whatever color you choose will be the color for your transparent gradient. Once happy with the color, click OK to save your changes.

Step 4: Click And Drag To Add The Gradient To The Canvas

After changing the foreground color, you will see the new color changes shown in the gradient preview in the Options Bar.

After selecting your gradient type, create a new layer, and click and drag to apply your foreground to transparent gradient.

Now, you’ve successfully created a transparent gradient.

Learn More: The Complete Guide To Transparent Gradients In Photoshop

How To Create & Save A Custom Gradient Preset In Photoshop

No matter which type of gradient you choose to work with, sometimes the preset options don’t offer what you’re looking for. Luckily, you can create your very own custom gradients with ease.

And, if you’re going to spend the time to make a custom gradient, you might as well save all your hard work. Fortunately, you can save any custom gradient as a gradient preset in Photoshop.

Step 1: Change The Colors In The Gradient Editor

Add a new gradient or gradient fill layer using the guides above, then open the Gradient Editor. Within the gradients editor, double-click on any of the color swatches to change the color.

Step 2: Add More Colors (Optional)

You can add additional colors by clicking anywhere along the gradient bar. Continue this until you have the colors and gradients set to your liking.

Step 3: Add The Gradient To The Canvas

Add the gradient to the canvas using the process mentioned in the guides above. Then, you’ve created your very own custom gradient that is ready for use.

Step 4: Name The New Gradient Preset

After you’ve created a custom gradient you want to save, add a new name for your gradient in the Gradient Editor. This will make it easier to identify later on. Use the name box to rename the gradient to a custom name.

Step 5: Click New To Save The Gradient As A Preset

Next, click the New button to save your gradient.

Step 6: Find The New Preset At The Bottom Of The Presets Section

Now, your custom gradient will appear as its very own preset at the bottom of your presets window!

The Gradient Tool in Photoshop is an impressive tool with endless opportunities for customization. Whether you’re applying a gradient to text, a background layer, a layer mask, or shapes, the Gradient Tool will do it all.

Now that you know how to use the gradient tool in Photoshop start practicing and see what awesome gradient effects you can create!

Happy Editing!

– Brendan 🙂

Article By

Brendan Williams

Hey, I'm Brendan! I'm a professional photographer and photo retoucher who has spent the majority of his career shooting or retouching outdoor lifestyle and social media campaigns for brands like G-Adventures, xoxo Bella, P&G, Fitbit, Chevy, Tourism California, and more. You can view my photography portfolio here.

These days I primarily focus my efforts on this site, creating guides and tutorials that I wish I had earlier in my career. Each week I publish new tutorials on Photography, Photoshop, Lightroom, and Canva to help you unlock new skills and bring your creativity to new levels! Everything you learn here is backed by real experience, so you can finally skip the fluff and focus only on what matters.

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