Gradient Fill Layers / Masks in Photoshop Tutorial

graphicxtras > Adobe Photoshop tutorials > tutorials

By Andrew Buckle, Updated : 2021

Please check out our youtube channel for 1000s of great graphics related video tutorials / online classes

How to create a gradient fill layer in Photoshop and how to use the mask with the gradient, a quick tutorial on gradient fill layers and masks



1. Where is the gradient fill layer in Photoshop

You can find the gradient fill layer via the layer menu in Photoshop and fill layer and gradient


2. Basic use of the gradient fill layer

On using the command, a panel appears with blending mode / name etc (it is a pity that is not on the actual fill layer panel) so set the blending mode etc, you can always change that later. Press OK. Select a gradient, you will see all the gradients available and you can always go to the right side menu of the gradient preset picker and select import some more gradients. Set the gradient style for the current preset such as linear, radial, etc. Set the angle of the gradient fill layer as well as scaling and the other options such as reverse etc. You will see a preview of the layer. You can interactively re-position the gradient fill layer by dragging on the image. Press OK. Go to the layers panel to see the new gradient fill layer as well as a mask on the right side of the entry


3. Mask for the gradient fill layer in Photoshop

By default, the entire selected area (or document) is covered by the gradient fill layer. You can mask the fill layer so less of the gradient is shown. To show the gradient, the mask is filled with white, to not show the mask it is filled with black and you can create a mask of black and white and gray scale, so 50-50 etc.


You can fill the mask with pixel by clicking on the mask thumbnail and then using a gradient or a shape or brush stroke.


You can also, with the thumbnail selected, apply filters such as wave and Gaussian blur etc to the gradient fill layer mask and change the fill layer that way.

4. To change the gradient fill layer

Double click the gradient thumbnail in the layers panel to display the panel and you can change the preset, you can then shift the origin, you can change the scaling and angle etc and once you are happy, press return. You can also change the blending mode of the layer as with any layer via the blending modes and opacity at the top of the layers panel.


5. Combine gradient fill layers in Photoshop

They are just normal layers, though a layer containing no pixel information, you can combine multiple gradient fill layers and use blending modes as well as any changes to the mask to create all kinds of combinations of gradients. Either create a new gradient fill layer and set a new preset or go to the layer menu and duplicate the existing one and then change the blending mode of the top layer. This is not as flexible as using the gradient tool.


6. Add effects to the gradient fill layer

Select the layer or the gradient fill layers (more than one can be combined) and then go to the layer menu and smart objects and convert to a smart object and then apply filters to the gradient fill layer that way.


7. Selections

You can also selections, create any selection such as the rectangular marquee tool and define an area smaller than the document. Go to the layer menu and new fill layer and gradient and add a gradient to that and it will not fill the entire layer (well, it does but you can see from the mask that the range of the colors has been limited to that selection)


8. Dragging from gradients panel

You don't have to use the gradient fill command, you can also simply select a preset from the gradients panel (found in the window menu) and drag there onto the document and you have a new layer. If you drag another one to the same layer it will just replace the existing colors. If you hold down the alt / option key as you drag then a new gradient fill layer will be generated and is a quick way to add multiple layers and you can then change the blending modes and opacity as required