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Photoshop Tips

Adobe Photoshop Toolbar with Gradient Tool HighlightedOne 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.)

Adobe Photoshop Gradient Toolbar

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.

Original image

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.

Faded image

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.

If this tip for creating faded edges in Photoshop has been helpful, use the links below to share it with friends.

As the software that we use matures and becomes more feature-laden, the list of keyboard shortcuts (of which we are HUGE supporters) grows and grows and grows. Both Photoshop and InDesign now have a lot of keyboard shortcuts that involve holding down four keys simultaneously. It’s a lot like playing Twister on your keyboard. But it’s still worth learning the shortcuts and using them.

I subscribe to the e-newsletter from It’s one of a few dozen newsletters I get that have a lot of articles that don’t apply to what I do and even more that are so far over my head that I can’t comprehend. But it’s still worth subscribing because: a) It’s free, and you know what I always say — “If it’s for free, it’s for me!”; b) Once in a while there’s a gem tucked inside that makes sifting through all the other stuff worthwhile; and c) I get to share some of those gems with ya’ll (as my sister would say). Today’s edition was one such piece. Let me share with you just a couple of DesignShack’s long list of Alt key tricks in Photoshop.

Merge Visible to a New Layer
There are a couple of layer merging commands in Photoshop that I use a lot. Ctrl-E will merge two or more selected layers and Shift-Ctrl-E will merge all visible layers. The problem with using these commands is that the original layers are lost when they get mashed into one. But Alt-Shift-Ctrl-E creates a fully merged layer while maintaining all the original layers. That will be very useful.

Unlock the Background Layer
The background layer is locked. It always has been locked and it always will be locked. Right? Wrong! Hold the Alt key down as you double-click the background layer and it becomes unlocked. Free at last!

Learning a couple of keyboard commands can really speed up your work in Photoshop and save a lot of aggravation. Give these a try the next time you need to edit an image.

  •  To quickly increase the size of a brush, press the right bracket key — ]. To decrease the brush size, press the left bracket key — [ . The amount of increase or decrease depends upon the size of the brush before you start resizing it.
  • Do you hate changing tools every time you want to move an image or layer? Just hold down the spacebar. That changes your tool to the hand tool. Click and drag you image wherever you want it. When you release the spacebar, you go back to the tool you were originally using.
  • To quickly make any color within your image the foreground color, press I to use to the Eyedropper tool, then click on any area in your image. To select a new background color, still using the Eyedropper tool, hold down the Alt key when you click an area within your image.
  • Hold down the Shift key when you resize an element to make it retain its proportions.
  • To create the illusion of “depth of field,” outline, copy and paste the part of a photo that you want to draw the viewers attention to. Apply a soft blur to the background layer. The portion that you copied and pasted will now be in sharp focus against a blurred background.

Make a PowerPoint-style Presentation Directly from Photoshop 

Want to create a quick presentation from a bunch of images on your computer? Piece of cake!

Open Photoshop’s File > Automate>/ PDF Presentation dialog box.

Browse your computer to select all of the images that you want for your presentation, then click on Presentation as your Output Option.You can even choose at what speed the pages will flip and select from a variety of page transition effects.

Give your presentation a name, designate a destination folder, and Photoshop will automatically create a PDF presentation of your images.

Too cool!  Smile1

I get so tired of doing the same six steps over and over again! 

Do you need to do a repetitive series of tasks to a large number of images? Why not let Photoshop automate a batch process for you instead?

First you’ll need to create an Action.

  • Open one of the files you need to perform your process on, then open Window > Actions (or use keyboard shortcut Alt+F9).
  • Click on the fly-out menu of the Actions palette and select New Action.
  • Give your series of Photoshop commands a name and press the Record button.
  • Photoshop will now record everything that you do to the image until you press the Stop Recording button.
  • Close the sample image that you have been working with and click on File > Automate > Batch.
  • Select the Action that you have just recorded from the drop down list (Photoshop comes with a set of pre-defined actions):
    • Choose the location of the folder your images are currently located in, and
    • Set a destination folder for the completed images (it can be the same as the source folder, but we recommend that you protect your source files in case something goes wrong)
    • Photoshop also gives you the opportunity to rename your newly batch processed files with an easy-to-use file naming utility built into the batch processing dialog box.
  • Once you have your Action, source folder, destination folder, and (optional) file renaming parameters set, hit the OK button and let Photoshop do all the repetitive work for you.

Now go have a cup of tea.

How can I remember all those keyboard shortcuts? 

It’s no secret that we’re big fans of keyboard shortcuts. They save a lot of time.

If you need help remembering the shortcuts available in Photoshop, select Window > Workspace > Keyboard Shortcuts & Menus.

From this dialog box, select the Keyboard Shortcuts tab at the top of the dialog box. Click on the Summarize button and designate a file name and destination for the keyboard shortcut summary file. Photoshop will generate an HTML file and open it in a browser window for you. Print it for future reference or just open the file anytime you need help remembering a keyboard shortcut.

Do you need to copy an image into a new Photoshop file?

Good news. Copy the item you want to paste into Photoshop. Open Photoshop and select File > New (or press Ctrl-N) to start the process of creating a new file. Photoshop is smart enough to automatically analyze the contents of your clipboard and set the default size, resolution, and color model of the new image file to the exact specifications of the image you are importing. These dimensions will appear in a dialog box on your screen. You can accept Photoshop’s default specs or enter your own. When you have the specs you want, click OK and paste your copied image into the new file.

Don’t you just hate re-inventing the wheel?

It can be a real drag creating a complex selection area in Photoshop. The only thing worse is finding that you need to recreate the same selection area again later.

Don’t duplicate your effort. Save it instead.

Anytime you have an area selected you can go to the Select >  Save Selection menu item to save your selection area for later use.

The next time you need to work on that particular selection area, go to Select > Load Selection and pick your saved selection area from a drop down box.

You can save multiple selection areas in the same graphic by giving each a different name as you save them. This makes your PSD files bigger, but it can be a huge timesaver.

There are lots of file formats for bitmapped images, and one of the most popular is JPG (pronounced JAY-PEG). It’s popular because it can provide compact file sizes. We love small files, but not when it comes at the expense of quality. The appropriate degree of image quality for your project is more important than how small the files are — especially with the size and price of today’s hard drives. Here’s how to maintain the best quality when working with JPGs:

  • Before you start to make any changes to a JPG file, always save it as TIF or Photoshop PSD file before editing it. JPG uses what is called “lossy compression.” It achieves small file sizes by compressing the image and losing image information each time the file is saved. Save a JPG file repeatedly and you can wave goodbye to image quality. It will toss out more image data every time you save it — data that you can never get back. By saving your JPG file as a TIF or PSD before you work on it, you don’t lose any image quality when you save the file. Save as often as you like (which is a pretty good idea in itself) and the quality is maintained. After all the changes have been made you can convert it back to a JPG.
  • Most programs that allow you to save a file in the JPG format will allow you to designate what degree of quality you want to save it at with some kind of sliding numeric scale. Even at the highest quality setting, a JPG will always be smaller than a TIF or PSD. For printed pieces, choose the highest quality available. For onscreen applications, go ahead and squeeze it down a bit. No one will ever notice onscreen.
  • You can’t judge the quality of the JPG image (or any file format for that matter) by how good it looks onscreen. Your computer monitor displays at somewhere between 72 to 96 dpi (dots per inch) or thereabouts. Documents are printed at 300 dpi or more. A 72 dpi image looks great onscreen and much less than great when printed. Always choose your image resolution based on your output medium.
  • JPGs taken by a digital camera will import into your image editing program at a low resolution (usually 72 dpi) but with a large image size. If an image is large (e.g., 28″ x 15″), the resolution can be increased proportionally as the image size is reduced — provided that you are resizing and not resampling the image. But if the image is small to begin with, there’s no room to increase the resolution enough to print well by shrinking the image size.

Make sense? Thoroughly confused? If you’ve got any questions about images, give us a call at 419-660-0500. We can help with anything from file conversion to image editing.