How to Created Smooth, Subtle Gradients in Photoshop

Colorful gradient mesh background in bright rainbow colors. Abstract smooth blurred texture

At one time or another, anyone who is doing post-processing in an application like Adobe Photoshop will find the need to create a gradient. A gradient is defined as a gradual blend between multiple colors, and is a very useful tool when creating new backgrounds for images among other applications.

There are two straightforward methods for creating gradients in Photoshop. The Gradient Tool is the simplest method but it is done in destructive manner (i.e. it cannot be later modified or turned off without stepping back the Undo button). To create a non-destructive gradient, we will use the Gradient Fill Layer in this step-by-step tutorial.

Open the image you want to work on, or create a new one. To create smooth gradient transitions, we want to work in 16-bit mode (Image-Mode-16Bits/Channel) to eliminate most of the color banding. Create a new layer for the gradient by selecting Layer-New Fill Layer-Gradient. Accept the default setting and click OK.

This will bring up the Gradient Fill dialogue box. Choose the Gradient type using the pull down menu and select between white fill, white to transparent, black to white or multiple color options. Leave Gradient Type as Solid and Smoothness at 100%. If you are working with colors, double click the Stops sliders at the bottom to change color pallet. Move the middle diamond or change the Location value to move the transition center point around – all changes will be shown dynamically. Okay will close the dialogue box, to reopen to adjust your settings, double click on the gradient box (not the pull down list).

Abstract radial dots pattern halftone on blue gradient background. Technology digital concept futuristic neon lighting

Back in the Gradient Fill dialogue, select the Style of gradient; Linear, Radial, Angle, Reflection or Diamond – click through the options to preview the results. Set the gradient angle. Use the Reverse tick box to swap the color ends. OK to accept selections and close dialogue box.

Abstract Colorful Vertical Striped. Vector

Zoom in on your new Gradient Layer. Depending on how large you need the image to be, you may find banding as you zoom. Banding is when you can see the lines between the color gradients and is usually most dramatic in two-tone gradients. Remove banding by introducing Noise.

To create adjustments in a non-destructive manner, a cool trick is to add Layer – New – Layer, set Blend Mode to Linear Light and tick the Fill with Linear-Light-neutral color (50% gray). This layer mode will have no effect on the underlying layer and will allow you to apply Filter Effects on the layer and not on the underlying image. Choose Filter – Noise – Add Noise amount at 25%, tick the Uniform and Monochrome boxes. Adjust the layer properties Opacity and Fill to 20%. Zoom to desired magnification to make sure the band lines are gone and the noise level is not overwhelming, adjust if necessary.

The black and silver are light gray with white the gradient.

Now you have a smooth gradient to work with. You can save the file for use in other images for background, used as the underlying color with a texture overlay, or applied as a clipping mask when looking to create smooth transitions in composite files.

Photo credits: Pattadis Walarput, Kanjana Posuwan, Iadamson, Patchaporn Suporntawesuk.

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September 26, 2019


Thanks for this. From an old boy, the addition of a degree of noise is also required for lithographic printing of your image (if you are involved with outputting to print on paper for a client). Most lithographic printers can accommodate CMYK these days (rather than two colour, Pantone separations etc) and may use a completely digital press like an Indigo. In this case ensure your image is at least 240 dpi (at a physical size relative to your project e.g. A4 brochure) and convert to CMYK before you output - if you don't, the printer will and there will be colour shift so better for you to see deal with this. I was first given the noise tip for vignettes / blends in 1998 by my local printer whilst at university, Photoshop 3 / Quark Express. Nice to know it still works, and yes I am that old (and still working as a graphic designer) :) 

September 20, 2019


Excellent blog and useful reminders for those who like to create background effects!

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