Posted by IG Designs On January - 11 - 2011 6 Comments

gradient icon

People ask a question – why all the illustrations I see on the web look awesome, but my one looks plain? Like if it would be drawn by a child… What gives to a professionally made graphics so nice look?

And I tell them – it’s gradients. Gradients can make a simple white square on your screen look like a piece of stainless steel or glass.

Gradients are used in an illustration workflow a lot. If you wish to draw shadows, highlights, light spots or 3D effect – it’s all gradients.

So, let’s take a closer look at the subject.

What’s a gradient?

A gradient is a fill that consists of more than one colour blended together. That’s it. There is nothing more in it. So, let’s learn how to use them.

Types (styles) of gradients

To select the Gradient tool in Photoshop you have to right-click on the Bucket tool  (shortcut – G).

gradient tool icon

Once you’ve done that a panel containing five style buttons will appear on the Options Bar:

gradient styles panel in photoshop

Those styles are:

  • Linear
  • Radial
  • Angular
  • Reflected
  • Diamond

I’ll show an example of each of them below. But first I have to explain one more thing: you have to give the gradient a direction. To do that you simply draw the line. Just click and drag.  On my illustrations you’ll see the next explanation marks:

  • Black dot – start (center) point of a gradient. Before this point you will get a solid start colour
  • Dashed line – gradient’s direction.
  • Red dot – gradient’s end point. Beyond this point you’ll get a solid end colour.

Of course, on your actual gradients will be no dots or lines J

Linear Gradient

This option creates horizontal, vertical or diagonal gradient depending on the direction line you draw.

linear gradients

Radial Gradient

Creates circular gradient. Place the mouse at the point where you want the center of the gradient to be and drag the direction line to the point where you want the outer circle of the gradient to be.

radial gradient

Angular Gradient

Creates a circular sweep of blended colour.

Imagine the clock face with a sweep second hand that the gradient follows from as it goes around. Click where you want the center of the „clock” to be and drag the line as if you would be drawing a second hand. Once the mouse is released, the second hand sweeps counter-clockwise around the center point and stops when it returns to the start point. The sweep begins with the very left colour on the colour bar, and ends with the very right one.

angular gradient

Reflected Gradient

This option works the same way as the Linear Gradient does, but it creates a mirror reflection of your gradient as well. When you drag your direction line, the gradient follows out in both directions from the center point.

reflected gradient

Diamond Gradient

It works on the same principle as the Radial Gradient, except it draws not circular but diamond shape gradient.

diamond gradient

So, we’re done with gradient types.

Next thing we need to know – where and how to select gradient colours? There is a Colour Bar next to the Gradient Styles Panel

Clicking on the drop down menu arrow will bring you a set of pre-defined colour combinations.

Gradient styles panel

The arrow button on the right provides another drop-down menu. That menu allows you to load, save, rename, replace and reset gradients. It also shows you a list of other gradient families that you can use if you fancy.

gradient styles panel menu

Colour editing

To make changes to the gradient’s colours you can click on the Colour Bar itself. Once you’ve done that, the Gradient Editor dialog box appears.

gradient editor

The Colour Stops you’ll see below the gradient colour line mark each of the colours in the gradient. To change a colour, double-click on it’s Colour Stop; the Colour Picker will show up.

colour picker

To add more Colour Stops you just have to click between the existing stops. To delete the stop just click and drag it off the colour line.

Also there are the Opacity Stops above the colour line. They allow you to adjust the opacity of each colour in your gradient. By default they’re set to 100%. You can  adjust them manually or by typing in the value to be more precise.

opacity stops

Another things that Gradient Editor allows you to change are – smoothness (in percents) and how the gradient to appear – solid or noise (something like lines). It’s up to your fantasy and imagination what to set in those options.

gradient smoothness

In Noise mode it’ll give you a random number and amount of colours blended roughly, so you can see the lines of each colour. You can play around with RGB adjustments or just press Randomize button to get another set of colours.

Gradient noise

Below is a list of shortcuts for the Gradient Tool you might find useful:

  • “[” and “]” keys will move you quickly between the Gradient Styles.
  • Alt (PC)/Option(Mac) + drag a Gradient Stop to duplicate it.
  • “,” (comma) or “.” (dot) goes to previous or next gradient swatch in gradient picker without opening the Gradient Editor.
  • “,” (comma) or “.” (dot) + Shift goes to first or last gradient in swatch list.

And one last thing – the gradient will fill all the free space on the layer it can access. So, if you want it to appear as a shape like round, square or… whatever it would be, you’ll need to create a shape or a selection first and then apply a gradient to it. Also gradients are used in Layer Styles as a  Gradient Overlay function, but that’s another story. I’ll write another article about them Layer Styles later on.

That’s basically it about them gradients. Hope it’ll help you to understand them better. And guys, if there is any particular thing about Photoshop, that you want me to explain, feel free to say it in comments.

Have a nice day!

6 Responses so far.

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