Smooth Gradients in Photoshop

Posted on 10/24/2012 at 10:16 am by Kevin Wentworth
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Every now and then, when I look really close at a design in Photoshop, I see that one of my color gradient layers looks really bad.  I didn't know what this was called, until I searched around for how to get smooth gradients in Photoshop. 

Your Gradient's Worst Enemy: Banding

Turns out this lovely effect is called banding.  This makes complete sense if you look at what is happening to your gradient: the colors aren't feathering or blending into each other.  Instead you get what looks like a GIF image that doesn't have enough colors allocated.  You gradient looks blocky, chunky and downright bad.  I guess "banding" is a more polite way of saying "this gradient looks like my two year old drew it with his crayons."

Why is Banding Occuring in My Gradient?

Good question.  I don't really know the science and math behind it, but I'm guessing it's complex.  If Adobe can't make a blue gradient look good, I'm guessing nobody can.  I've found in my experience that it tends to happen with Blue and Red Gradients.  I'm not sure if one color is more prone to banding or not.  From what I've read it sounds like color selection is the reason.  Some people simply recommend changing the shades of the colors being used for the gradient.  Now, if you spent hours making something that looks just right and THEN see the banding, I'm guessing you don't want to change colors.  What can you do?

Eliminating Gradient Banding

If you want to keep your selected gradient colors, sometimes the best you can do is obscure the banding.  This trick has served me well on a few projects now.

  • Duplicate the layer containing the gradient you want to smooth out, leaving the original layer visible (result is 2 visible, duplicate gradient layers)
  • On the duplicate layer, run the Filters > Blur > Gaussian Blur.
    • You are probably going to want to move the slider to a minimum of 30-40 pixels
    • The Guassian Blur will "round" your gradient (unless you use a smaller pixel amount)
    • The Guassian Blur will lead to some transparency around the edges of your gradient (this is why you should leave the original layer visible)
  • For advanced purposes, you can try adding noise on top of the Gaussian Blur Filter
    • Alt-Click / Option-Click on the new layer icon.  A new layer dialog window should open
    • Select Overlay as the mode for the layer
    • Check the box to "Fill with Overlay-neutral color (50% gray)"
    • Add noise by going to Filters > Noise > Add Noise...
    • The noise will help obscure the gradient to your eye.  It's a matter of preference and style that dictates what noise settings you will choose.

Have fun experimenting with smooth color gradients in Photoshop.

-Kevin Wentworth


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Photoshop | Usage | Tutorial | Graphic Design

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