Gradients are a useful tool for designers. A gradient can have a fluid or smoothing effect on your design. When used cleverly, it can be used to add a primitive illusion of depth. Photoshop’s gradient tool is simple but flexible and very powerful. After reading this, visit Adobe’s help portal or any of the numerous tutorial sites floating around for more information and ideas.
1. Where is the Gradient Tool?
The gradient tool can be found from the tool panel. It’s represented by small square black and white gradient, appropriately enough. It shares an icon space with the paint bucket, so if you don’t see it right away, click and hold on the paint bucket icon until the pop-up menu appears, where you may select it.
2. Applying Gradients to the Canvas
The gradient tool defaults to applying a gradient from your foreground color to your background color. In the menu bar, you’ll see a small preview of the gradient that is set to be applied. Next to this image are icons to choose your gradient type: linear, radial, angular, reflective, or diamond.
The gradient tool’s basic operation is similar to the paint bucket tool, but gradients come with a few twists. For one thing, you might notice that if you simply click on an empty area, nothing will happen at all. This is because gradients have a direction and width.
Click and drag your cursor diagonally across the canvas. Your gradient should slant diagonally in precisely the direction you dragged. Further notice how all the steps of gradation occur between the point where you clicked and released the mouse button. If you click, drag, and release between two points that are very near to each other, you’ll see that the steps of gradation are virtually indistinguishable – it looks like you merely have two flat objects of different colors separated by a line. Conversely, if you click and drag between two points far beyond the object you’re working on, it may look like your object only has one color, also without distinguishable gradation.
Remember that, unlike the paint bucket tool, the gradient tool always covers the entire unmasked portion of the layer. This means that the gradient tool should only be used on a layer of its own, and to control the shape of its area you must use masking or a similar technique.
3. Customizing your Gradient
By default, the gradient tool gradates evenly between your foreground color and background color, but this can be customized. If you click on the gradient preview in the menu bar, you’ll be taken to the gradient window. The long bar in the middle of the window is your gradient, and the small boxes scattered across the edges of it define how the gradient behaves.
Click and drag one of the boxes on the bottom edge of the gradient and notice what happens. These boxes control where changes in gradation occur. If you double-click on one of them, you’ll see the color selection window, where you can customize the color of the point.
Now click and drag the small diamond in between the two boxes. This changes where the gradient’s middle value occurs. Middle values can’t be changed; they can only be moved.
If you click anywhere else on the bottom edge of the gradient, you’ll add a new point. New points can be moved and re-colored in the same way as the original points. An easy way to understand a complex gradient is to think of every point as delimiting a gradient of its own.
4. Final Remarks
This is the basic operation of the gradient tool. Like other tools in Photoshop, the gradient tool seems simple enough, but it has myriad interesting applications. To discover them, visit one of the many Photoshop tutorial repositories on the web, or better still, experiment on your own.