I am applying a BW adjustment layer to another layer, and would like to use the mask of the adjustment layer in order to gently fade the adjustment in/out, i.e. by filling the mask with a BW gradient:

screen shot of adjustment layer in layer menu with linked mask selected

However I can't figure out how to edit the layer mask so as to put a (BW) gradient in it. I think this should be possible... but maybe it isn't? When I go to edit the layer mask I seem to just have a limited set of options. Not including creating a gradient.

enter properties menu when layer mask selected has options for density and feather

Is there any way of doing this "obvious" thing - of creating a gradient mask for the adjusment layer?

Or.. there may be another way of doing the same thing. Maybe a Gradient overlap as an effect to the adjustment layer? Or clipping a gradient on it? (etc)

How can I best understand what's (not) going on here, and how can I best get where I want to go?


  • 2
    Any particular reasons why you won't use Gradient tool and create the gradient you want? Jul 4, 2023 at 12:46
  • The "reason" is that I couldn't figure out how to use the gradient tool from that context. I'd get the tool up, with the layer mask selected, but couldn't figure out what to do, to apply it to the layer mask. My problem was that (a) you can't apply it to a whole layer in a single operation and I was looking for a way to do that (b) the click-drag operation was not how I typically use gradients (believe it or not), so it wasn't in my repetoire of "things to do with gradients". All good now. Jul 5, 2023 at 13:21

2 Answers 2


Yes it's possible.

  1. Add an adjustment layer to an image, and select the mask thumbnail in the layers panel. It will be highlighted with a white outline showing that it is selected.

  2. Choose the gradient tool, set a black to white gradient from the drop down

enter image description here

  1. Click and drag on the main image window, and the gradient will be applied to the selected mask.

enter image description here

Note: you can also use this method to apply a gradient to any layer mask, not just adjustment layer masks. You can also paint with brushes directly on a layer mask to edit it, you aren't just limited to using the gradient tool. Painting in white makes the mask opaque, painting in black makes the mask transparent, painting in shades of grey makes the mask semi-transparent.

  • Thank you! That's very clear. Your illustrations really helped demonstrate what I was missing in my understanding (as I mentioned in other comments), so this is the answer I am accepting. Everyone else spotted what I was missing, but your illustration made it clear to me so I could understand it easily. Jul 5, 2023 at 15:52

Grab the Gradient Tool...

.... set the Gradient to Black -> White, or Black -> Transparent..

....then click-drag on the layer mask in the direction you want the gradient to follow.

As far as I'm aware, there's no "automated" way to fill any layer mask (on an adjustment layer or any other layer type) with a gradient. It always required the user to click-drag with the Gradient Tool.

  • Thank you! One thing missing in my understanding (believe it or not...) was the 'normal' click and drag way of using Gradients. I usually use gradients as adjustment layers - applying to the whole layer - or maps. Another issue was that I was double clicking the layer mask as a way of trying to enter an edit mode for it. This does in fact give you an edit mode of sorts, but it's very cut down one, and is more of a 'tweak' mode, plus the properties panel. Live and learn! Jul 5, 2023 at 15:38
  • If you click the thumbnail in the gradients panel, it will fill the frame with the gradient depending on what mode is selected in the tool options. I'm not sure if there is a menu item that also does this, but it's there. So no, it isn't necessary to manipulate the tool in order to produce a gradient. What I can't figure out is how to apply this to a layer mask. If I have the mask selected and click it, it just applies the gradient to the layer itself and not the mask.
    – AVLien
    Mar 28 at 0:00
  • Reread the answer.. "....no "automated" way to fill any layer mask.... "
    – Scott
    Mar 28 at 0:03

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