Gradient Banding

Smooth Gradients in Photoshop (Dithering)

Skill level

Gradients are a great way to subtly move away from ‘flat’ designs, but sometimes they can cause more harm than good. Gradient banding can occur when transitioning between colors, and the result isn’t always pretty. This article will discuss a few ways to deal with this issue.

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The Issue

When applying a gradient that contains two or more colors, you may see ‘gradient banding’ occur, as seen in the image below.

Gradient Banding

The Fixes

While this issue is certainly frustrating and unpleasing to look at, there are a few things you can do to smooth out your gradients.

Photoshop CS6: Dither

When Photoshop CS6 was released, along with the bigger features, Adobe includes many smaller JDI’s to give users a better designing experience. Once of those features was “Dither“, which you can find when using your Gradient Tool, or when adding a Gradient Overlay Layer Style.

Dither Option

When you now create a gradient with Dither checked ON, Photoshop will mix in some ‘noise’ to help blend the gradient more smoothly. In the image below, you can not only see that the gradient is free of banding, but in the enhanced window, you can see the noise that Photoshop has added from the dither option.

Dithered Gradient

Photoshop CS5 and Earlier

If you’re still running Photoshop CS5 or earlier, these Dither options will not be available to you, which means you need to do a bit more work to get your gradients looking smooth. One of the more common methods, is to add a very subtle amount of noise, similar to what the Dither option within Photoshop CS6 does.

If you’re working with a Gradient Overlay, or a layer that you may want to modify in the future, it’s a good idea to convert that layer into a Smart Object first. (Right-click on the layer in the Layers panel > Convert to Smart Object)

Convert to Smart Object

Once the layer has been converted, you’ll want to add either a Noise filter or a Spatter filter. For this gradient, the Spatter filter, which can be found under the Filter > Brush Strokes menu (or Filter Gallery), did a much better job at smoothing out the gradient.

Spatter Filter

You may need to adjust the Spray Radius and the Smoothness values until you get a smooth result, but the preview window to the left will help you tweak them to perfection. The image below shows the difference the Spatter filter can make on your gradients.

Spatter Filter Results