How to Create a Transparent Gradient in Photoshop

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Graphic designers and visual artists often need to fade images into each other or into the background.

With Photoshop, this can be done in a number of different ways. One of the easiest is by creating a transparent gradient.

A transparent gradient will create a smooth, straight transition between your photo and whatever you want to place in the background.

In the process below, we’ll explore how to create a gradient mask in Photoshop and then customize the mask to get the best effect.

Let’s get started.

How to Create a Transparent Gradient in Photoshop

Step 1: Choose the Main Image

First, you’ll need to choose an image that you think will work well being faded into something else. This may be harder than it seems – especially if you’re fading it into another image.

(If your chosen image isn’t exactly how you’d like it, see: how to change background color in Photoshop as one way to alter it.)

I’ve chosen one of my kitchen:

Transparent gradient photoshop: before image, rights reserved.

Step 2: Add a New Layer

Next, you’ll need to add a new layer.

You can do this by clicking on the New Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers panel.

Add layer in photoshop.

If you prefer a keyboard short cut, you can use Command-Option-Shift-N (Mac) or Control-Alt-Shift-N (Windows).

This new layer will be serving as the background, so you’ll need to unlock the original background layer (click on the lock) and then move the new, empty layer so that it’s beneath your image layer.

Unlock the background and drag layer 1 down.

Once you’ve done this, your layer panel should now look like this:

Before adding a mask to your layer select it in the Layers palette.

Step 3: Add a Layer Mask

Your next step is to add a layer mask to the image layer.

Still in the layers panel, select the layer that has the photo by clicking on it. Then go down to the toolbar at the bottom and click on the Add Layer Mask icon.

Click on the add layer mask icon.

Make sure the image layer is selected before clicking on the add layer mask icon.

You’ll now see a little white rectangle next to the layer thumbnail. This is your image mask. When it’s completely white, it means that everything in the image will be visible. Making any part of the layer mask black will hide the corresponding parts of the image.

Put another way, the black in the image mask is what masks parts of the image from being seen. In the next step, we’ll be using the Gradient tool to mask out parts of the image.

Step 4: Create a Transparent Gradient

First, select the Gradient tool from the toolbar on the left. You can do this by simply pressing the G key or by clicking on it.

There are three different tools nested here, so make sure you have the right one. You can right-click on the icon to get the full menu and select the icon with the black fading to white.

On your layer select the gradient icon from the gradient bar.

Photoshop often stacks multiple tools over one icon, so make sure you choose the right tool.

Once you have the Gradient tool selected, go up to the gradient toolbar on top and select the black-to-white gradient (foreground-to-background) option.

Select your fade background option in the gradient bar.

You don’t really need to open the gradient editor here unless you need a gradient that’s really customized. Simply choosing foreground-to-background should be fine.

Now we’ll create the transparent gradient.

Making sure that you’re working on the layer mask, click on the side of the photo you want to fade into and drag the cursor towards the middle of the photo. Let go pretty far into your photo. (I usually go more than halfway.)

To fade image drag the cursor across it.

Make sure that your layer mask is selected before using the gradient tool.

Once you release, part of the image will turn transparent. This is the part that will fade into the background.

It may take a few times to get the gradient you’re looking for. That’s fine. Simply hit Cmd -Z (Mac) or Ctrl-Z (Windows) to undo, then reapply until you get the desired effect. (You can do this at any point in the process.)

For this image, I prefer coming up from the bottom right corner:

The fade picture effect changes depending on how you apply the transparency.

Step 5: Add a Background

Now that you’ve got your gradient, it’s time to add a background that it will fade into.

Fading to a Solid Color

If you’re intending to add text or just want to create a simple background fade effect, a solid color will likely do best.

To use a solid color, select your background layer and then the Paint Bucket tool. As mentioned before, this might be stacked with your gradient tool. If so, right-click on the gradient tool and then select the paint bucket.

To fill the white gradient with colour, select the paint bucket.

Recent versions of Photoshop have the Paint Bucket nested with the Gradient tool.

Choose a color and click somewhere in the image. If your background layer is selected you should get a nice fade from the image to the background color.

The opacity stop you determined with the gradient will change the display of colour.

Fading to A Background Image

If you want to create a fading background from one image to another, you’ll have a few more steps.

First, drag-and-drop/cut-and-paste your background image of choice into Photoshop and make sure it’s the background layer.

If it’s not sized perfectly, don’t worry. We’ll fix that in a moment.

Apply your image overlay with opacity stop, ensuring you're working on the correct layer in the layers palette.

To get your image sized correctly, use the Free Transform tool.

Make sure your background image is selected and then press Command-t (Mac) or Control-t (Windows). Now you can change the size, proportion, and location of your background image.

Use free transform to resize background under your gradient overlay.

With the Free Transform tool, I was able to make the waffle image larger and move it to the right a little. Of course, the Move tool would have been enough to simply move it, but I needed to fill the entire transparent area.

Step 6: Fine Tuning

If you want to make adjustments to how things fade into each other, that’s easy. You can always go back to the layer mask and change the gradient or you can use the Paint Brush tool.

In my image, I didn’t really like how the glasses of the background image were so prominent. To remove them I selected the Paint Brush tool and changed the foreground color to black.

(To add more of the background image, I’d change the color to white.)

Because I still wanted a gentle fade, I made my brush tip feathered and large and then set the opacity to 46%.

Making sure my layer mask was selected, I then painted over the glasses and other parts of the background image that I found distracting.

Here’s the final image:

When happy with your gradients, export your Adobe Photoshop file.

Final Words

As you can see, creating a transparent gradient in Photoshop is quite easy.

It may take a bit of trial and error to make it look exactly right, but since we’re working mostly on the layer mask, it’s always easy to make changes and refinements.

Creating a transparent gradient in Photoshop might not always be the best way to get the fade effect you’re looking for, but it’s a great place to start.

How about you? Have you used a transparent gradient in Photoshop to add effects to your photos? Perhaps when blending exposures or creating brochures? Got any tips you’d like to add?

Usnea Lebendig

Usnea Lebendig is a travel and landscape photographer who loves trekking in the wilderness, exploring other cultures, and using photography for social activism.

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