How to Create a Gradual Fade in Photoshop

Knowing how to make a photo gradually fade in Photoshop CC is a useful skill for photographers and graphic designers. This technique, using a Layer Mask and the Gradient Tool, is often used for creating collages as well as transparent PNG images for websites.

Preparing the Layers

To get started, open any photo in Photoshop. Zoom out so that you can see the entire picture. To prepare the layers to create a Layer Mask:

1. Drag the Background layer onto the New Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers panel.

2. Click the New Layer button to add a new blank layer to the canvas. Drag this new Layer 1 below the Background Copy layer.

3. Hide the original Background layer by clicking its Eye icon.

4. Click the Layer Mask button while the Background Copy layer is selected.

The Photoshop Layers panel
Add a Layer Mask to the Background copy layer.
credit: Screenshot courtesy of Adobe.

Selecting  Gradient Options

While the masked Background Copy layer is highlighted, select the Gradient Tool from the Toolbox.

Click the Gradient Picker in the Options bar and select a Black and White gradient. Choose a Gradient Style from the icons in the Options bar: linear, radial, angle, reflected or diamond. In this example, we're applying a linear gradient from right to left.

Gradient Picker options
The first black and white gradient is used in our example.
credit: Screenshot courtesy of Adobe.

Applying the Gradient

Where you drag the Gradient Tool cursor determines what will be faded.

In the first example, the red arrow indicates where the cursor was dragged, from right to left across most of the photo, resulting in a long, gradual fade. Notice that while the image is deeply faded on the edge, it's not completely transparent. The fade ends where you stop dragging the cursor.

A long stroke with the Gradient Tool
Only the right edge of this photo is transparent.
credit: Screenshot courtesy of Adobe.

In the second example, you drag the cursor inside the photo with a much shorter stroke. All of the pixels to the right of where the tool was applied are completely transparent.

A short stroke with the Gradient Tool
The area on the right is completely transparent.
credit: Screenshot courtesy of Adobe.

You may have to try a few times to get the exact fade you want. If it doesn't look right, press Ctrl-Z and try again.

Note that if you click the Reverse check box in the Options bar, where you drag the cursor will be the area that is not faded.

Tips on Finishing Up

To reduce the degree of fading after you've applied the Gradient Tool, drag the Density slider to the left in the Mask Properties panel.

The Masks Properties panel
Drag the Density slider to reduce the fade.
credit: Screenshot courtesy of Adobe.

To have the image fade into transparent pixels, save the file in PSD or PNG format. Saving it as a JPG won't preserve the transparent pixels.

To have the photo fade into a solid color, like white, select a color for the Foreground Color swatch in the Toolbox. Select Layer 1 in the Layers panel and then click the canvas with the Paint Bucket Tool.

To have the photo fade into a second photo, drag the second photo onto the canvas while Layer 1 is selected, adjust its position and size as needed and then press Enter.

One picture fades into another
A second photo has been placed beneath the faded photo.
credit: Screenshot courtesy of Adobe.