Using Gradient Maps to Enhance Your Colors

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Gradient Map

Gradient Map is an Adjustment Layer which binds a gradient to the values beneath it.

You can access Gradient Maps in two ways:

- Edit > Tonal Correction > Gradient Map will apply a gradient map to the layer you are currently working on.
- Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Gradient Map will create an adjustment layer above your selected layer, which can be edited and adjusted later.

From Color

If you already have some base colors for your piece chosen, you can use gradient maps to harmonize the colors or get some cool effects.

Here are some rough colors I decided to use as my base for my character. These are picked from his reference image and tweaked a bit to be cohesive.

In a gradient map layer, pick a gradient that appeals to you. I chose a warm pink and brown-toned gradient here just to see the effect it'd have.

After clicking OK, now I can tweak the gradient map layer.

Since the gradient map layer is a correction layer, you can change its Layer Mode and opacity to get different results.

Here are three examples of color palettes I created using the same gradient map, just with varying opacities and layer modes.

You can also stack gradient maps for an even bigger variety of combinations if you want to!

If you want to make sure your values stay consistent with your initial base colors, duplicate your original layer and drag it above the gradient map layer. Then set the layer mode to Brightness and the value will change to match.

From Black and White

If you're starting from a black and white sketch, you can use gradient maps to come up with a unique color scheme.

Depending on the gradient, these color schemes can be good enough to work with already, or they might need to be adjusted.

Setting the gradient map layer mode to Color will force the gradient map to use the same values as your sketch, similar to using the Brightness mode in the previous method.

Like before, you can stack several gradient maps until you achieve an interesting effect.

If you want to totally alter any colors, you can create a new layer set to the Hue layer mode and color in any areas to change them.

Or, to make a clean selection based on color, make sure you have your layer folder selected, then go to Select > Select Color Gamut. Then click the color you want to select and all areas of the drawing featuring that color will be automatically selected. This is a really easy way to adjust specific colors that you want to change.

Here I selected the darkest purple shade. Now I can modify these colors without disturbing the rest.

Have fun with it! I often find myself nervous to try experimental colors sometimes, but using gradient maps has made me much braver with my color choices because it shows me a ton of possibilities I wouldn't have considered on my own.

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