How to Create a Gradient Background in Photoshop

By Barrett Barlowe

Photoshop makes gradients fun. Gradients are graduated color fields that initiate at one chroma and luminance setting and end at another. A gradient can be linear, circular or complex. It might have multiple start and end parameters. Select a preset gradient from many choices, or customize one using the "Gradient Options" tool bar. Use your gradient as a background for a portrait or for a title page. Use back and white gradients to create mattes and masks. Color-correct photographs using gradient masks to achieve subtle tonal nuance.

Things You'll Need

  • Digital background image
  • Photoshop CS software
  • Computer
  • Graphics tablet
  • Stylus
  • Computer mouse

Step 1

Open your Photoshop software. Load in your background digital image.

Step 2

Click on the "Layers" menu and select "New Layer" from the pull-down menu. A second layer appears in the "Layers" control window. Click on the "Gradient" icon in the "Tools" window. The "Gradient" icon is a rectangle with a white-to-black smooth transition displayed inside it.

Step 3

Notice the new horizontal "Gradient Options" bar, and the rectangular "Gradient Preview" box that appears in that bar. Position your mouse or pen in the top left corner of the image window. Click and drag diagonally down to the bottom right of the screen. Release the pen or mouse. A smooth diagonal black-to-white gradient appears on the screen, covering your background image.

Step 4

Click on the "Eye" or "Visibility" icon to the left of your layer display in the "Layers" control window. Your gradation image disappears. Click on "New Layer" in the "Layers" pull-down menu and make a new layer. Click on the "Gradient" tool icon. Find the rectangular "Gradient Preview" window. Click on the triangular icon next to it. A sub-menu with multiple gradation options appears.

Step 5

Select a "Gradient Preset" box containing two different colors. Try purple and orange. Click on the "Radial Gradient" option box in the "Gradient Selector" option boxes to the right of your rectangular "Gradient Preview" window.

Step 6

Click in the center of the picture and drag horizontally to the right side. Release the mouse or pen. A gradient with a purple center blending out to orange appears. Click on "Reverse," a small box option window on the right side of the horizontal "Gradient Options" bar. Click in the center of the screen and drag horizontally to the right side. Release the mouse or pen. Now, orange is in the center and it smoothly transitions to purple at the edges.

Step 7

Select the "Layers" menu. Choose "Add Layer Mask" and "Reveal All" from the pull-down sub-menus. A white icon box appears next to the picture box icon on your "Layers" control window. This is your layer mask. Click on the white icon box.

Step 8

A black-to-white gradient appears in the "Gradient Preview" window. Click and drag from the upper left to the lower right of the screen. Release the pen or mouse. Your orange and purple gradation fades diagonally from the bottom right to the upper left and reveals your original background image.

Tips & Warnings

  • Layer one gradient on top of another and create original artworks.
  • Choose from many presets or customize your own gradient.
  • Use "Layer mask" gradients to color-correct photographs.
  • Save your work in progress in case your computer crashes.