Building Blocks – Vignette using Radial Gradient (A GIMP Tutorial)…

While creating a tutorial for an AB Friday Forum, I came to realize that it would be so much easier to have a library of ‘building blocks’ that I could refer to rather than explain each step every time I used it in an image.  Hence the beginning of a series I have called Building Blocks.

I wanted to separate this series from my Workflow Series because these building blocks will not necessarily be used every time on every image.  But rather, may only be employed on a few images that need something a little extra.  Or be in the steps required to get a certain look.

Today, I want to talk about creating a vignette from a radial gradient.  You can make your vignette subtle or drastic, the choice is up to you.

wilber You will need:

  • A photo editor, I used GIMP*
  • Your imagination


Let’s first take a look at some greys that you will be using.  Note the Black/White color block on the left-hand side in this screenshot…

By clicking on either the foreground (FG) or the background (BG) color block…
You’ll get this box, the number in the red square is the Value we will be setting…
By setting the Value to 0 to 100, in increments of 10, you’ll get this set of greys…

I chose increments of 10 because it is easier for me to remember and it is enough of a variation between them that it works for my uses, but you could use any grey you want.  Note that the Value set at 50 is ‘Middle Grey’, which means that when you apply this color and then set it to blend mode Overlay it is basically transparent.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.  Just remember that 50 is Middle Grey and you’ll be good to go.


Next, I want to cover how to create the layer that we will be making various shades of grey.

Create a new transparent layer above the layer you will be putting the vignette over, by using the New Layer new-layer icon and choosing Transparency

Change the blend mode to Overlay

Choosing Your Greys

Now we need to decide the level of subtly of our vignette, by choosing our greys.

If we were to look at an image, say like this one…

And we put the grey blocks over the top (with blend mode set to Overlay) we’d get this…
color-greys-overlayThe closer you get to the edges (100 and 0) the more pronounced the change.  And at 50, there is no change at all.

Radial Gradient

So let’s take that information and run with it.

We will be using a radial gradient to create our vignette.  By clicking on the Blend Tool gradient-toolyou’ll get the options window. Set the Shape to Radial
With the transparent layer selected, click on the middle of your image and drag up (while holding down the Ctrl key)…
black-white-vignette-imageOoops, that’s not what we wanted (unless you wanted a white vignette).  The default color block is FG Black, BG White, but we want that reversed to FG White, BG Black… so click on that little white arrow near the color block and switch those colors…
color-block-greyConversely, you could tell the Blend Tool that you want your Gradient to be BG to FG, by clicking on the little arrow in the options area (red square).

If you were following along, Ctrl-Z should put your transparent layer back.  Let’s try it again with the FG White, BG Black…
white-black-vignette-imageNow we are talking!  Obviously this is too much, but I wanted to show the power of the black and white color blocks.

Let’s play with some greys, Ctrl-Z to bring you back to transparent, then set your FG color to 70 and your BG color to 30
70-30-vignette-imageOooo now that’s nice!  The bird sculpture might be just a tad bit too bright, so let’s try setting the FG to 50 (middle grey), BG to 30
50-30-vignette-imageThere we go!  Much better.

Focal Point

Now if you wanted to draw the viewer’s eye to something specific we can play around some more.

We could put the center of our click and drag on the subject and then up, here I put the center point on the bird sculpture…
50-30-vignette-image-bird-focusOr maybe the subject is the guys working on the sculpture, I clicked in between the two guys and then dragged up…

Maybe you want to make it even more eye drawing.  You know, the vignette doesn’t have to be circular.

How about we set the shape to Square and the FG to 60, BG 30 and click and drag along the path…
60-30-vignette-image-guys-focus-squareNow that you have the basic concepts, you can play around with how subtle and where your focus is for your vignette.

Wanna see all those side by side for comparison?  OK, how about in a slideshow?…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I hope this was helpful.  I plan to use this tutorial as a reference anytime I add a vignette to an image and I’m writing a tutorial.  Let me know if you try this technique and how it worked out for you! 🙂

Until next time…

* GIMP is Open Source software that is available for all platforms (Linux, Mac, and Windows), it is a photo editor that does many (if not all) of the things you can do in Photoshop. You can download it for free here. The GIMP online manual can be found here.


Like Wilber? You can get him here.

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