Blend Your Photos Into Your Background Using the Gradient Tool

Audience: Intermediate
Category: Layout Techniques
Operating System: Windows 7
Software: PSE 12

blend photos using gradient

Stop! Don’t run away! Come back…. I know the words Gradient Tool can be a little daunting but you are going to love this technique. It’s super simple, super versatile, and most importantly, a great timesaver. Yes, really.

As digital scrapbookers, one of the ways we have an advantage over paper scrapbookers is that we can blend our photos into the page. Today, I’m going to share with you my super-quick way of blending a photo into your background with minimal fuss and maximum oomph! using the Gradient Tool.

The Gradient Tool is found under the Draw category of the Tools panel. Its keyboard shortcut is G.

Click on the Gradient Tool button, and the drop-down menu will give a range of options: The key ones are highlighted in my screenshot. For this exercise, the Gradient image with the small arrow needs to be set at Foreground to Transparent (the second one in Default settings) while the blue unlabeled buttons require a Linear setting, the leftmost option. Keep Transparency and Dither selected as these give a smoother blend.

create gradient

I am using a photo that I want to blend downwards from its focal point at the top of the image to a faded-out lower section. In keeping with this, I also want to position it at the top of my blank page. With the Gradient Tool selected, place the cursor where the gradient should extend from. In my screenshot, I started at the top of the blank page and (while holding down Shift) drew a line downwards to the bottom of the page. My gradient started out at 100% opacity and faded away to 0%. Vary the direction of the drag depending on the focal point of the photo.

Clip (Ctrl+G) the photo to the gradient layer and merge. In my example, I did this and then used the Blending mode “Darken” before placing it over the background paper.

clip photo to gradient

With my focal point set, I added a lighting effect and some simple embellishments to complete my page.

Don’t be afraid of the Gradient Tool. Experiment a little and discover quick, easy, and (when done this way) editable gradients for seamless blending. Move the gradient around, stretch it out, or vary the opacity before merging the gradient and the photo. This is a great technique for using a photo that may be less than perfect, and by varying the Blend modes, you can achieve different effects.

I look forward to seeing the blended pages you create using this technique, so be sure to share them with us in the Scrap Girls Gallery.

Digital scrapbooking products used:
(Click on the product images below to be taken to their product page)

Chambray Collection BiggieScrapSimple Paper Templates: Lighting Effects 3 Biggie


Jody WestTutorial written by Jody West


  1. I am having the same problems. It does not work for me. I am using PScs3 I clip the photo to the gradient layer but nothing happens and I cannot go any further. Would love to use this idea.

    • Syndee Rogers-Nuckles says:

      Norah, did you see Jody’s reply below?

    • Hi Norah,

      I am glad you asked, I am happy to help you sort this out as it is a great technique once it starts working :-)
      I see you have clipped your photo layer to your gradient layer? Did your gradient look like mine?

      We will get this working for you! Can you email me ( or pm me with more information? I want you to be happy.

      Thanks! Jody :-)

  2. I have tried these instructions several times but I can’t get my gradient to work like yours so I must be doing something wrong. Do I put my picture on the scrapbook page first and then draw the gradient? Should my photo completely cover the page? Should the gradient be on a separate layer? I’m confused when you talk about merging it down and then applying the darken mode. Can you please clarify this a bit. I’m excited about learning this technique better. I have done it before but I think it was an accident and I’ve never been able to figure out how to do it again.
    Thanks so much!

    • jode2771 says:

      Hi Loretta! Thanks for asking for clarification, that is what we are here for :-)
      Firstly, the gradient works best on a separate page. Use a blank page, set your colour picker to default (D) and draw the gradient directly onto it. You will have a gradient that is black and fades away to clear. In my example I drew from the top so my page was black at the top fading to clear at the bottom.
      Then, CLIP your photo to this gradient layer. This will give you a solid section of your photo where your gradient is black and fade away to clear when your gradient fades.

      Now perhaps this is where the problem is? Try MERGING those layers. Make them into one layer once you have made any modifications. Merging down can be done by right clicking and choosing “Simplify Layer” or by using the shortcut Control +E on a PC.
      Now you have this simplified layer you can treat it like an other paper/embellishment/photo. It can be moved, rotated, colour changed, blend mode applied. Under the drop down menu in the layers palette, you will find the blend mode DARKEN. There are lots of others, this just suited my photo best :-).
      Your photo does not need to fill the entire page, you can resize the gradient layer before you clip and merge. It is fully customisable to your needs. You can resize to fit embellishments too.
      I hope this helps you, I would love to see your page when it is done! Please message me and let me know? And if you have any other questions feel free to ask or send me a PM or email.
      Thanks again for taking the time to ask,


  1. […] Gradient tool. We have used the Gradient tool before when we blended a photo into the background: Blend Your Photos into Your Background Using the Gradient Tool. Key points we learned were to draw our gradient on a blank layer and to clip the layer above the […]

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