One of the most popular special effects for photos is creating an image that fades away along one or more edges. There are a number of ways to create faded edges in Photoshop, but one of the easiest is to use the Gradient tool. This tutorial shows how to use the tool in Photoshop 5.1, but you’ll find similar commands in earlier and later versions.
Select the Gradient tool from the toolbar (see image at the left) or just press G. (Yep, pressing the “G” key really brings up the menu – it’s that easy!) Activating the Gradient tool causes the tool settings bar to appear just under your main menu bar at the top of the screen. (If you don’t see the tool settings below, check further down in the blog. The image may appear in different locations depending on how your device reflows data.)
There are a lot of things to play with in the Gradient settings bar, but hang with me and we’ll get this faded edge thing done. Then you can go back and explore all you like.
Before we get into the settings of the Gradient tool, you’ll want to make sure that your Foreground color is set to white. That’s because the Gradient preset that we’re going to use is a called Foreground to Transparent. Assuming that the page that you’ll be putting your image on is white, you’ll need a white Foreground to get the effect to work. If your page is a different color, set your Foreground color accordingly. And you’ll also want to have an image open. For the purposes of this tutorial, open any photo, either color or black & white.
Now, let’s go back up to the Gradient tool settings toolbar. Starting at the left edge of the toolbar, there are two drop down boxes. You’ll want the second one, which is wider than the first. This second drop down has the list of default preset gradients. Click on that second drop down to open it.
This brings up a nice array of preset gradients. We’re going to stick with one of the presets in this collection, but you should know that by clicking on the flyout arrow, you open a new menu that lets add additional sets of gradients to this Preset menu, alter existing gradients, or create and save your own — none of which we will be doing for this very easy special effect tutorial.
Hovering your mouse over any of the gradient presets will cause a label to appear giving you the name of the gradient. The one that we want is the second one in the top row (at least in my setup). It’s called Foreground to Transparent. That’s how you know for sure you’ve got the right one selected.
Note: It’s possible you have the hover clues turned off on your setup. If that’s the case, you can be sure you’ve selected the correct preset by right clicking on the preset and then selecting the option “Rename Gradient”. The name of the gradient will appear. It should say Foreground to Transparent. If it doesn’t, go through the process with a different preset until you find the one you’re looking for.
When you’ve found Foreground to Transparent, click on it. It will bring up a dialog box with the default settings for that preset. We’re not going to alter any of the default settings. They should read the following:
Name: Foreground to Transparent, Gradient Type: Solid, and Smoothness: 100%.
Click on OK to load that tool with those settings.
To apply the gradient that you’ve selected, click and drag your mouse across your image. To constrain your line to a perfect vertical, horizontal, or 45° angle, hold down the Shift key as you click and drag.
You can always use the Undo command (Ctrl-Z) to undo your last action. You’ll be using Undo a lot while you’re learning to use this effect – you’ll want to practice with creating different kinds of fades.
Here’s what this Gradient preset does. The place where you start to draw your line with the Gradient tool will be 100% opaque white (or whatever color you’ve made your foreground color). This whiteness (or other color) will fade to transparent along the entire length of the line that you draw with the tool, ending at 100% transparent at the point where you stop drawing the line. Where you start and stop the line will create different variations of the fading effect.
If you begin drawing outside of the edge of your photo, you won’t achieve a full “fade to white” effect in your photo. You’ll still have a discernible edge on the photo because the place where the gradient is 100% white is outside the edge of the image.
If you begin drawing well inside the edges of your image, you’ll white out everything from the place where you started your line to the edge of the image. This is fine if you want to use this tool to crop your edge while it creates the transparency blend, but for most purposes this will be too much.
Starting your line inside the border of your photos somewhat close to the edge and extending your line toward the center of your photo will give you the kind of effect that we most normally see for a faded edge. The length of the line that you draw will determine how gradually or abruptly the effect is applied.
Experiment with drawing your line from different starting point, for different distances, and at different angles. You can do some really nice stuff with this simple preset tool. For the sample shown above, I started my gradient inside the photo, very close to the left , and extended it about two-thirds of the way across the photo.
Once you get your edge the way you want it, you may still not be done. That’s because you can drag more gradient lines to create the effect on other edges of the same image. Do it from all four sides to create a full vignette effect.
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