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Why is the "white to brown & white to blue" gradient generally considered a shiny metal?

block of chrome

What is the reasoning/theory behind this? Why those colours? (If someone says chrome, you might first think of shiny silver & gray — not brown & blue!)

Where was it first used to depict metal?

(Bonus: could it be succesfully used without the metal/chrome association?)

Image shows how Photoshop thinks the "chrome" gradient is oriented by default.

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I get two associations from that gradient: (1) The chrome parts of a Harley Davidson that is parked on a desert (2) Aviator sunglasses... on a desert. To get the desert association right, the chrome-surface should be round so the upside down image is formed. –  koiyu Jan 9 '11 at 1:38
    
Google Chrome thinks a blue to light-blue gradient is "Chromish". Of course, it looks better than silver/gray, so I'm not complaining. –  muntoo Jan 9 '11 at 5:26
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I know you mention Photoshop's default orientation, but surely it's generally used the other way up in practice? –  e100 Jan 9 '11 at 10:18
    
@e100, yeah probably (in matter of a fact I'm currently holding a paperback which cover has text in chrome with blue on top) –  koiyu Jan 9 '11 at 13:03
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Honestly, I think it's because back in circa 1980 someone at KPT effects or some other filter vendor felt that's what chrome should be. And none of the newer apps have been creative enough to stray from the orange/blue scheme in some areas. If you look at "chrome" created digitally in the 80s it's all that same color spectrum to a degree. –  Scott Sep 13 '12 at 22:41
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2 Answers

That image can go either way, but I would say it is upside down to understand the context of the name.

Essentially, "chrome" in its classic context really doesn't have a color—it's a mirrored finish on metal parts—and it can only reflect the environment it is in. Think desert horizon on an antique car fender, like a '57 Chevy, and there's your "metallic chrome".

The one thing that I always found fault with that gradient is the fact that the white part of the two sub-gradients is they both go in the same direction when they should go towards each other. The white is a representation of haze in the air, which increases towards the horizon. In the default, the haze is increasing towards the background in the sky but in the foreground in the ground.

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Chrome has no color, just as a mirror has no color; it's all specular reflection. The colors in that gradient, then, are completely arbitrary.

What gives the illusion of a specular reflection as opposed to diffused (such as from brushed chrome or any non-glossy surface) is the hard edge on color transitions or highlights/shadows. If the highlight edges on the image below were blurred, the illusion would change from a polished surface to a matte.

enter image description here

Photoshop's chrome gradient attempts the hard edge, not terribly successfully imo, but without any other detail it really can't sell the illusion of a shiny metal. That kind of hard edge lends itself to vectors more than rasters, which is why Illustrator is actually a better tool (other than actual 3D rendering tools) for building "glossy" textures.

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