Mini Guide – Gradient Fill, Map and Tool

Gradient Fill, Map or Tool ? All involve the term Gradient and in normal use, they couldn’t be farther from each other in their use, but by simply blending two colours together you can add some visual “pop” to your images.

Briefly, Gradient Fills add a directed wash of colour, Gradient Maps are typically used for custom black and white conversions and the Gradient Tool is like the paint bucket with a directed wash.

To illustrate the differences / usages we have selected the following image and Gradient. The Gradient goes from Black in the the darkest areas to Pink in the lightest. Changing the vignette colours and styles is covered mid way down the page in our Unique Vignettes post.

squooshed image

Gradient Fill Layer – can be styled as being linear – radial – angle – reflected and diamond. They can be a quick way to add some variety to selections, blank backgrounds and/or solid colours but, perhaps, their best use is in conjunction with other adjustment layers, eg: the B/W Adjustment Layer, and then varying the Blend Mode and Opacity, which can create interesting looks for your images.







    1. By default, the Gradient Fill tool applies the last gradient selected.
    2. The whole layer gets filled with the gradient colours even if you enlarge the canvas.

Gradient Map Adjustment Layer – Unlike Gradient Fill,  The Gradient Map maps the tonal values in the image to the colours of the gradient eg: in our gradient, the darkest areas will be black and the lightest will be pink. The midtones are coloured with the colours around the middle of the gradient, in our case – Coral. If you want the colour effect reversed, just reverse the gradient.

By using the Color Blend Mode and reducing the Opacity of the Gradient Map Layer you can reveal some of the underlying colour from the image and create a colour graded colour image. For example, a common colour grade used in the movies is adding orange to the highlights and midtones and teal to the shadows. This look is very sympathetic to skin colours and can help lift the shadows.


    1. Appling the Color Blend Mode ensures that full White and full Black are protected.
    2. By default, the Gradient Fill tool applies the last gradient selected.

The Gradient Tool – The Gradient Tool creates a gradual blend between two or more colours. It has the same five operating modes: linear, radial, angle, reflected and diamond as the Gradient Fill Layer.

Using the tool is straight forward and extremely easy to use. It requires little more than the sweep of a mouse but understanding how it affects an image can take some getting used to. Essentially , it’s all down to how far you ‘sweep’ the Gradient Tool pointer – the larger the drag the more gradual the gradient will be.

To demonstrate we created a White Image Layer and divided it into two halves and then using the same gradient as above, the left hand side represents starting the Gradient pointer at the bottom of the panel, for the righthand side we started the slider halfway up the image.



    1. By default, the Gradient Fill tool applies the last gradient selected.
    2. Pressing and holding the shift key will create perfectly aligned gradients.

Example Images

Original Image
Gradient Tool 1/2 way up the page






Gradient Fill 80% Opacity
Gradient Map over BW Adjustment Layer








The Color Blend Mode was used in the above as it ensures that full White and full Black are protected.

Further Viewing / Reading:

When we find what we consider to be a comprehensive and clear material for a topic we see no point in duplicating effort, so we believe you should find the following links useful in furthering your understanding of the various uses of Gradients.

3 Color Toning Methods – Julieanne – Adobe/Youtube
How to use the Gradient Tool – Envato Tuts/Youtube

Gradient Maps – Helen Bradley – Digital Photography School
Gradient Fill – David Weedmark – Techwalla
Gradient Tool – Adobe Photoshop CS6 for Photographers Help Guide – still relevant
Creating a Custom Gradient – Shianne Edelmayer – Make Use Of