Saving and managing gradients

When you define a new gradient, its icon appears in the palette, the Preset Manger dialog box, and the Gradient Editor dialog box. But if you replace the current gradi ent set or edit the gradient, the original gradient gets trashed. You also lose the gra dient if you delete your Photoshop 6 preferences file because that's where the temporary gradient information is stored.

If you want to preserve a gradient, you must save it as part of a preset—which is nothing more than a collection of gradients. As I mentioned earlier, Photoshop ships with several gradient presets that are stored in the Gradients folder, which lives inside the Presets folder in the main Photoshop program folder. You also can create as many custom presets as you like. Gradient presets have the file extension .grd.

You can save all the gradients in the active preset - including any custom gradients that you define - by clicking Save in the Gradient Editor dialog box or by choosing Save Gradients from the Gradient palette pop-up menu. But if you want to save only some of the current gradients as a preset, choose Edit ^ Preset Manager and display the Gradients panel, shown in Figure 6-21, by pressing Ctrl+3 or by choosing Gradients from the Preset Type pop-up menu. Shift-click the gradients you want to save and then click Save Set. If you want to dump the selected gradients into an existing preset, select the preset file and press Enter. Alternatively, you can enter a new preset name to create a brand new preset that contains only the selected gradients.

Figure 6-21: To select specific gradients and save them as a new preset, use the Preset Manager.

To delete a gradient, Alt-click its icon in the palette, the Preset Manager, or the Gradient Editor dialog box. To delete multiple gradients, Shift-click the gradients in the Preset Manager and then click the Delete button. Save the preset immediately if you want the deleted gradients gone for good; otherwise, it remains an official part of the preset and reappears the next time you load the preset.

All the standard brush modes are available when you apply gradations, and they make a tremendous impression on the performance of the gradient tool. This section examines yet another way to apply a brush mode in conjunction with the tool. Naturally, it barely scrapes the surface of what's possible, but it may inspire you to experiment and discover additional effects on your own.

The following steps tell you how to use the Dissolve mode with a radial gradation to create a supernova explosion. (At least, it looks like a supernova to me — not that I've ever seen one up close, mind you.) Figures 6-22 through 6-24 show the nova in progress. The steps offer you the opportunity to experiment with a brush mode setting and some general insight into creating radial gradations.

These steps involve the use of the elliptical marquee tool. Generally speaking, it's an easy tool to use. But if you find you have problems making it work according to my instructions, you may want to read the "Geometric selection outlines" section of Chapter 8. It's only a few pages long.

STEPS: Creating a Gradient Supernova

1. Create a new image window. Make it 500x500 pixels. A grayscale image is fine for this exercise.

2. Click with the pencil tool at the apparent center of the image. Don't worry if it's not the exact center. This point is merely intended to serve as a guide. If a single point is not large enough for you to identify easily, draw a small cross.

3. Alt-drag from the point with the elliptical marquee tool to draw the marquee outward from the center. While dragging with the tool, press and hold Shift to constrain the marquee to a circle. Release Shift after you release the mouse button. Draw a marquee that fills about 3/4 of the window.

4. Choose Image ^ Adjust ^ Invert (Ctrl+I). This fills the marquee with black and makes the center point white.

5. Choose Select ^ Deselect (Ctrl+D). As the command name suggests, this deselects the circle.

6. Again, Alt-drag from the center point with the elliptical marquee tool. And, again, press Shift to constrain the shape to a circle. Create a marquee roughly 20 pixels larger than the black circle.

7. Alt-drag from the center point with the elliptical marquee tool. This subtracts a hole from the selection. After you begin dragging, release Alt (but keep that mouse button down). Then press and hold both Shift and Alt together and keep them down. Draw a marquee roughly 20 pixels smaller than the black circle. Release the mouse button and finally release the keys. The result is a doughnut-shaped selection — a large circle with a smaller circular hole — as shown in Figure 6-22.

8. Choose Select ^ Feather (Ctrl+Alt+D) and enter 10 for the Radius value.

Then press Enter to feather the section outline.

9. Press D and then press X. This makes the foreground color white and the background color black.

10. Select the gradient tool and click the radial gradient icon on the Options bar. That's the icon that has the white circle at its center. (Flip back to Figure 6-11 if you still don't know what I mean.) If the Options bar is hidden, press Enter to display it.

Figure 6-22: The result of creating a black circle and two circular marquees, all centered about a single point

11. Open the Gradient palette and select the Foreground to Background gradient. Assuming that you have the default gradients preset loaded and haven't altered the preset, the icon is the first one in the palette.

12. Select Dissolve from the Mode menu on the Options bar.

13. Drag from the center point in the image window to anywhere along the outer rim of the largest marquee. The result is the fuzzy gradation shown in Figure 6-23.

Figure 6-23: The Dissolve brush mode option randomizes the pixels around the feathered edges of the selection outlines.

14. Choose Select ^ Deselect (Ctrl+D) to deselect the image.

15. Choose Image ^ Adjust^ Invert (Ctrl+I) to invert the entire image.

16. Press D to restore black and white as foreground and background colors, respectively. Then use the eraser tool to erase the center point. The finished supernova appears in Figure 6-24.

Figure 6-24: By inverting the image from the previous figure and erasing the center point, you create an expanding series of progressively lighter rings dissolving into the black void of space, an effect better known to its friends as a supernova.
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