How to Customize and Use the Photoshop Gradient Tool

How to Customize and Use the Photoshop Gradient Tool


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.

Finally, you have three checkboxes:

  • Reverse, which reverses the color order of your gradient
  • Dither, which will make the transition smoother
  • Transparency, which will apply the opacity from the gradient.

In this example, the top half has the transparency option checked while the bottom half does not:

So now you know how the Gradient tool works and how to customize it. Now let me show you how you can use it to give your images a trendy look.

First, choose the photo you want to modify. While there’s no right or wrong here, some photos are a better fit for this kind of effect than others. (e.g. something that looks vintage, or an artsy portrait).

Next, make it black and white by applying the Black & White adjustment layer.

Next, add a new layer on top of this adjustment layer you just added by either selecting Layer -> New Layer from the menu or by clicking the New Layer button at the bottom of the layers panel.

Now, create your gradient in this layer, choosing whatever colors and angles you prefer.

Finally, set the Blending Mode to Screen.

The Gradient tool gives you endless possibilities for adding effects to your photos. Start experimenting, and have fun.

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Ana Mireles is a photographer and artistic researcher. She has been awarded and exhibited in Mexico, Italy, and the Netherlands. Through theory and practice, she explores the cultural aspect of photography, how it helps us relate to each other, the world, and ourselves. She has also a passion for teaching, communication, and social media. You can find more about her and her work at her website or acquire some of her works here.