Despite its straightforward name, the gradient tool is incredibly flexible. You can customize practically every settings, and use it in many different ways.
In this article I’ll show you how to use it to its full potential.
The Gradient tool shares the same toolbar space as the Paint Bucket tool, so you may not see it at first glance. Click and hold the Paint Bucket tool to reveal the fly-out menu, then select the Gradient tool.
You use the Gradient tool to make a smooth transition between multiple colors. And one of the first things you can customize is the colors you want to transition between.
With the Gradient tool active, you’ll see a sample on the left-hand side of the options bar. Clicking the small arrow next to it will reveal the gradient picker that includes a number of preset gradients. And clicking the gear icon to the right of that will bring up the settings menu where you can:
- load more presets
- add new presets
- customize the display window.
If none of the presets suit your needs, you can customize a new gradient by double-clicking the sample to bring up the Gradient Editor window. Here you’ll see a bar with the current gradient, along with a set of sliders you can use to create the gradient you want. The top sliders control the opacity, while the bottom sliders control the color. If you need more colors, simply click on the gradient where you’d like them to go.
As well as choosing the colors, you can also choose the start and end points of your gradient.
Next to the sample you’ll see five icons representing the five different types of gradients you can apply: Linear, Radial, Angle, Reflected and Diamond.
The Linear gradient will gradually transition your colors in a straight line from the start point to the end point.
The Radial gradient radiates out from the start point in the shape of a circle.
The Angle gradient will transition clockwise in the direction of the angle created by the line uniting the start and end points.
The Reflected gradient creates a mirror effect using the start point as the center.
Finally the Diamond gradient radiates out from the start point in the shape of a diamond.
Next to the gradient icons are two dropdown menus. The first lets you set the bending mode (how your gradient will affect whatever’s below it). The second reveals a slider that lets you control the gradient’s opacity.
If you continue towards the right of the option bar you’ll find a set of check-boxes that will finalize your choices. First you have the option to Reverse the colors which is pretty much what you’d expect: it will invert the order of the colors of your gradient. Then you have Dither to make the transition smoother. And finally the transparency box applies the opacity from the gradient, see the difference in this example where the top half has the transparency checked and the bottom half unchecked:
Ok now you know how the gradient tool works and how to customize it, great for graphic work, but how can you apply it to a photo? Let me give you an example to achieve a trendy look on your images.
First choose the photo you want to modify. While there are no right or wrongs here, there are some photos that fit better for this kind of effect than others, for example something that looks vintage, or an artsy portrait. Now turn it black and white by applying an Adjustment layer clicking on the bottom of the Layers panel and choose Black and White, this way it won’t be a destructive process.
On top of this Adjustment layer you just did, add a New Layer by going to Menu > Layer > New Layer, or by clicking in the New Layer button at the bottom of the panel. And in this one you’ll create your gradient using the Gradient Tool that I explained before by choosing the colors and angles you prefer. Finally set the Blending Mode to screen and your image is ready.
Have fun experimenting with the many many possibilities this offers you!
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