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How to Apply Gradient Overlays Using Layer Styles in Photoshop

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Photoshop layer styles are a popular way to add effects, such as drop shadows and strokes, to layers in a non-destructive way. With the right knowledge and experience, any effect can be achieved. To achieve these effects, however, you need to understand what each setting does and how they can be combined to create a certain look. In this series by John Shaver from Design Panoply, we will explain every aspect of Photoshop's layer styles feature and show you how to unlock their potential.

In this article, Part 8: Photoshop Layer Styles Gradient Overlay, we will explain the settings behind Gradient Overlay and the ways it can be used to create different effects. Let's get started.


The Uses for Gradient Overlay

Gradient Overlay is mainly used for one thing, adding depth to your design.

Using Gradient Overlay with different Blend Modes can also help you blend items with the layers beneath them.


The Layer Styles Gradient Overlay Dialog Box

Gradient Overlay consists of a few basic settings, and does just what the name says.

It creates a gradient that can be adjusted using different blending modes, transparency, and more to give you different looks.

Tip: When using Gradient Overlay, it can be helpful to set the Fill transparency of your layer to 0% first. Fill can be found just underneath Opacity in the Layers palette.


Blend Mode

The Blend Mode allows you to set the blending mode for your Gradient Overlay.

Leaving it on Normal allows you to create simple gradients, while other options will blend with the layers beneath your gradient.

If you are unfamiliar with how all the different Blending Modes work, I highly recommend checking out the Blending Is Fun Basix tutorial.

In the following example, you can see how changing the Blend Mode from Normal to Linear Burn makes our slight red gradient darken the layer beneath it.


Opacity

A smaller number here makes your Gradient Overlay more transparent, while a higher number gives a stronger effect.

In the following example, you can see that a lower Opacity makes our text see-through.


Gradient

This is where you set the actual colors in your gradient. It can be a simple 2-color fade, or a complex set of colors for special effects, like metal.

Checking the Reverse checkbox will reverse the direction of your gradient.

In the following example, you can see the difference between a simple, 2-color gradient and an intricate, multi-color chrome gradient.


Style

The Style dropdown contains five different choices:

  • Linear: A standard gradient between two points
  • Radial: A gradient starting from a center point and radiating outwards
  • Angle: A gradient that rotates around a center pivot point
  • Reflected: A linear gradient that duplicates itself as a mirror image
  • Diamond: A diamond gradient that radiates from a center point

The Align with Layer checkbox aligns the Gradient with the item it is applied to. You can also click and drag within your document while the Layer Styles dialog box is open to manually position your Gradient.

In the following example, the Linear gradient starts from the top and fades to the bottom, while the Angle gradient rotates around the center point of the text.


Angle

The Angle spinner lets you set the angle of your gradient.

In the following example, you can see the how changing the angle affects the look of the style. Adjusting the Angle is helpful if you need to match the look of your gradients to other lighting effects within your scene.


Scale

You can alter the start and end point locations of your Gradient by adjusting the Scale slider.

In the following example, you can see the how decreasing the Scale parameter can give our style a more dramatic look.


Saving and Loading Default Settings

You can save and load default settings for each effect in the Layer Styles dialog box. By clicking "Make Default", Photoshop will store whatever settings are currently active as the new default settings for that effect.

By clicking "Reset to Default", Photoshop will then load whatever settings were last saved. This allows you to experiment and simply reload custom default settings if you want to start over.


One for the Road

Until next time, this free, exclusive layer style and accompanying .PSD will show you how to use Gradient Overlay for subtle 3D lighting effects.

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