Gradient Maps are a widely used method of adding colour to an image. They offer deeper colouring and more options than simply changing the hue of an image.

What are Gradient Maps?

Gradient Maps can provide an attractive method of toning whilst being quick and easy to do. They are editable and flexible and exist on a separate layer, allowing you to work with them. They can also be worked into Layer Masks.

Below are two locations where you can find the Gradient Map option.

The option below may not be available to you. If you want to make it available, go to Window > Adjustments.


How do Gradient Maps work?

A Gradient Map maps each pixel to an RGB triad found in the active gradient, in proportion to its brightness level. The left side of the gradient colours the dark pixels, and the right side of the gradient colours the light pixels in accordance to the colour they are set.

For example, if we consider this simple gradient image, with two additional circles…


And add a gradient map to it…


Our image becomes:


As you can see, the black has been coloured yellow, to correspond with the layer; likewise, the white has turned purple. The grey shades in the middle have changed to a mix of the two hue’s dependant on their shade. If you look closely, you will also notice that the black border has been changed to yellow.

Does this work on colour?

Answer: Oh yes!

Water lily 3444 by *fa-stock


The same gradient as we displayed above has been used. The text has remained white as it is placed on the layer above.

An example of one in use:

Let’s use the same image again.


I am also going to use the same gradient map, except, we are reversing it.


Once inverted, I have changed the layer style to “Overlay”, creating this effect:



Gradient Maps are a great tool, and one which you should definitely get used to working with. Try making your image greyscale before applying the Gradient Map, or try different layer styles! Any questions? Pop them in the comments below!


  • Britney
    # April 21, 2015

    Hi, I think your website might be having browser compatibility issues.

    When I look at your blog site in Opera, it looks fine but when opening in Internet Explorer, it has some overlapping.
    I just wanted to give you a quick heads up! Other then that, terrific blog!

    • # April 22, 2015

      Thanks for the heads up Britney! I am going through a bit of a redesign at the moment :) But I’ll give this a look into.

  • # May 13, 2013

    Great tutorial Natty! :D It reminds me that I’m also using gradient settings to create a digital background for my traditional drawings. I never thought gradients would be so useful! I guess it all depends on how well you know how to use your tools. I think I’ll try gradient maps with colored images someday! ^_^ The last flower image you’ve got there turned out beautiful!

  • Nike
    # April 27, 2013

    Once again, you write what is in my head. Almost exactly. How do you DO that? Seriously, your answer is spot-on, and says what I do when asked this question, but says it better.

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