6 Innovative Ways to Use Gradients in Your Design

Gradients are more than a blend of vibrant, rainbow hues. Learn how they can add depth, metallic shine, elevate photography, and more.

Ask someone unfamiliar with design about gradients and they’ll probably think of the rainbow text effects in PowerPoint, or the bold gradients used on streaming platforms (think Hulu). While they’ve been around for a long time, gradients have continued to evolve every passing year.

With every creative trend comes a new way to incorporate gradients. Shutterstock’s 2020 Creative Trends showcases The Roaring 2020s along with Minimalist Black, two trends that are amplified with the help of gradients.

Read on to learn the six ways you can incorporate versatile gradients into your next design.


1. Add Depth and Interest to 2D Shapes

It can often be difficult to emulate depth when working on a screen. With the help of gradients, you can add on highlights, midtones, and shadows to mimic a three-dimensional space. Doing this not only creates that illusion of depth, but it also boosts your design and makes it more visually interesting. Gone are the days of just using solid shapes and backgrounds.

6 Innovative Ways to Use Gradients in Your Design — Add Depth to 2D Designs
By applying gradients to shapes and background elements, you can easily boost your poster design. Gradient shape elements can be downloaded for free here.

Adobe Illustrator’s freeform and linear gradient tools work best when attempting to create your own three-dimensional shapes. The rule of thumb to stand by when working with gradients is to find a hue, then add white to that color for highlights and black for shadows. Create a palette of around five swatches to use, then get going with the gradient tool. Don’t be afraid to experiment with your swatches until you have a realistic three-dimensional shape.

For those who would love to assemble a pre-made set of gradients, we have you covered, too! Simply follow the link listed in the caption and scroll down to the download link. I created sixty-four gradient elements to ease up your workflow and take out the guesswork in gradient-making.


2. Bring in Metallic Accents to Line Work

The ’20s are here once again, but with a new take. A major creative trend for this year, The Roaring 2020s brings back all things extravagant, bringing a huge resurgence of all things metallic and opulent.

6 Innovative Ways to Use Gradients in Your Design — Art-Deco Inspired Metallic Accent
Metallic accents add a hint of glam to any Art Deco-inspired work. Vector via IMR.

Gradients are a powerful tool that enables you to add a hint of shine to any project. Need a pop of gold or silver? Adobe Illustrator’s Gradient Tool has you covered in any way. By adding in tints and shades of a single color, you can give the illusion of luster.

The best way to tackle that glossy metallic sheen is to use the freeform gradient tool and layer it over your work. Apply a blend mode to the gradient layer, such as Multiply or Overlay, and you’ll all set! For simpler shapes and typography, you can always add the gradient directly to the vector paths.


3. Create Stunning Minimalist Compositions

Minimalism is on the rise, and designers are embracing the art of depth and contrast that dark hues bring. Shutterstock’s Minimalist Black Creative Trend shows an increase in the love of dark mode.

6 Innovative Ways to Use Gradients in Your Design — On-Trend Black Minimalist Gradient
Dark gradients that recede into space give depth to any composition. Image via selim bekil.

Gradients come in handy when you want to evoke the powers of dark minimalism. Use the linear, radial, or freeform gradient tools in Adobe Illustrator and find varying shades of black to make a stark impact. Opt for all-black or change it up by injecting a vibrant hue into the mix.


4. Pair With Grain Textures

Browse around any design inspiration site, and you’re bound to find a composition that combines the powers of grain and gradients. Those little specks you see on the screen mimic the airbrushing method from famous Art Deco artists. Using grain textures along with gradients is an easy technique many designers adopt to boost any project.

6 Innovative Ways to Use Gradients in Your Design — Adding Grain with Textured Gradients
Using textured gradients is a quick way to elevate any illustration. Vector via GoodStudio.

The beauty of this grain is that it can be applied to any vector path in Adobe Illustrator. Duplicate your object, apply a subtle gradient, and head over to the Grain effect dropdown.


5. Make Your Typography Stand Out

A rising trend in the design discipline is 3D compositions. Three-dimensional shapes, typography, illustrations, and product mockups are gaining popularity amongst designers.

Even though designers are still sticking to vector programs such as Adobe Illustrator, they are experimenting with different ways to mimic depth and space. Working with gradients is a great way to create a transition from one hue to another, giving any path that illusion of shadows and highlights.

6 Innovative Ways to Use Gradients in Your Design — Blending Text Paths to Add Depth to 2D Compositions
Blended text paths give the illusion of depth and space in a 2D composition. Vector via lyeyee.

While you can certainly use drop shadows to mimic depth, one of my favorite techniques to use in Illustrator is the blend setting. To create your realistic 3D type, find a typeface, assign a hue, and expand its path into editable shapes. Duplicate the text path, assign a new hue, and offset it to set the end of your gradient blend. Then head up to the Object > Blend dropdown, experiment with the Blend Options, and apply the blend with Option + Command + B. This is a simple way of incorporating gradients but with a different technique.


6. Layer Over Photography Portraits and Landscapes

Gradients can be bold and striking or subtle and faint. In addition to adding depth, contrast, or shine to vector paths, gradients can also be used to elevate photography. With the help of Photoshop’s gradient tool and blend modes, you can drastically change the mood of any photo in just a few clicks.

6 Innovative Ways to Use Gradients in Your Design — Muted Gradients to Elevate Photography
Cool, muted gradients can soften the look of any photograph. Image via Irina Alexandrovna.

While you can certainly use Lightroom presets or Photoshop effects to alter the look of a photo, gradients are extremely customizable and versatile. Simply add in a warm- or cool-toned gradient to a new layer, assign a blend mode from the Layers panel, and adjust the opacity as needed.

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Creative Entrepreneurshttps://creattiv.net
My name is Reza Barauntu. I am passionate about entrepreneurship, technology, web design, art, and music. I design and develop experiences that make people's lives simpler. Follow Creative Entrepreneur on Instagram @founders.guides
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