Ombre design (and how to create your own)

workerbee

Ombre design is an important term to have in your vocabulary and a great tool for your toolkit. An ombre effect is the visual gradation from a light color to a dark color or vice-versa. It is a type of gradient that is specific in it’s light-to-dark nature, and is often characterized by its inherent drama and mood swings.

This article showcases several examples, then explains how to create your own ombre design in Photoshop. Enjoy!

Ombre design in practice

ombre design by Jelle Zweegers
Jelle Zweegers (via Behance

In the example above, designer Jelle Zweegers creates an ombre by fading the white edges of the page into a darker teal color towards the center. The affect is atmospheric and visceral. It pulls the reader in, almost absorbing you into the center of the book. The darker color is deep enough to create the dramatic mood-swing that is typical of an ombre, while still allowing for legibility.

ombre design for skinny ships
Skinny Ships

In the example to the left, Skinny Ships showcases a slightly more conceptual use of the ombre. Rather than implementing an ombre as an abstract design element, it is manifested through the natural lighting of the scene.

The deep and saturated blue forest in the foreground gradates in four steps to the distant light and desaturated sky. This is a great reminder that there are no rules for how to create an ombre.

The way in which a designer arrives at dark from light is wide open to possibility and imagination. Skinny ships encourages us to think of creative ways to get from one side of an ombre to the other.

In addition to using natural lighting effects, we can think about using patterns—such as polkadots or interlocking arrows—or even natural phenomena, such as a leaf changing color in the fall.

The final example (below) explores the nuance that separates an ombre design from a gradient. Can you guess which one of these is an ombre? The example to the left gradates between several colors, however the lightness, is analogous.

ombre design by joe rudi
Joe Rudi (via Behance)

The effect is nice and works in its own right, however it lacks the unmistakable feel and impact of an ombre. On the other hand, the iteration to the right fades from light to dark. The impact contains a more dramatic mood shift. This is an ombre!

Additionally it speaks more to the concept of a city—a blue sky fading down into a dirtier, grungier ground.

Make your own ombre design

ombre design tutorial

In the creative spirit of the Skinny Ships example, we will make an ombre using an interlocking arrow pattern. To start off, we create a white background layer, a black arrows layer, and a paper texture layer just to help diffuse the gradation.

In order to control the gradation of the left-facing and right-facing arrows separately, we will use layer masks.

ombre design tutorial

In the screenshot above, we select the contents of the “Black Arrows” layer by Cmd + clicking on the layer thumbnail. With the arrows selected, we highlight the new gradient fill layer and click Layer>Layer Mask>Reveal Selection. This conforms the gradient fill layer to the shape of the arrows. The “Black Arrows” layer is no longer needed.

Finally, the “White Background” layer will be replaced with another gradient layer. This layer won’t need a mask as it is already “masked” by the arrows in the layer above.

Now we can control the gradients of the left-facing and right-facing arrows separately.

ombre design tutorial

Here, we begin playing with the gradient layer settings. In the Gradient Editor to the left, there is a spectrum bar with small “swatches” on the top and the bottom. The top “swatches” can be clicked to control opacity. As you can see, we’ve set the left side of this gradient to be 100% opaque (as indicated by black) and the right side to 100% transparent (as indicated by white).

The Swatches below the spectrum bar can be clicked to set the colors of the gradient. For this ombre we will use subtle blues and greens while keeping in mind that we need to get from dark to light. By playing with subtle differences in gradation between the foreground and background arrows, we can create a very unique and graphic ombre!

ombre design tutorial

Here, we add a Brightness/Contrast adjustment layer above everything to exaggerate the fade from light to dark. This lets us fine tune the overall design without needing to adjust all the settings in the Gradient Editor.

ombre design tutorial

Lastly we add a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer. This allows us to try out different color palettes by simply dragging the hue slider left and right.

Congratulations! You’ve created a creative, sharp and unique ombre.

Conclusion

While the definition of an ombre is simple, there are many ways to get from dark to light, to create drama and to add intrigue. Use this article as a starting point, and channel your inner mood to create one-of-a-kind ombre design!

What’s your favorite example of an ombre design? Share it in the comments!

The author

workerbee
workerbee

workerbee is a self taught designer from the east coast with a relentless curiosity in all realms of life. 99designs profile: workerbee.

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