How to remove a color banding (steps) and smooth a gradient in Photoshop?

A gradient applied to a large surface may cause a visible color banding effect (steps, strips) if start & end point color components (red, green and blue) are enough similar. To fix this problem you can use diffuse and Gaussian blur effects.

A color banding effect

Color banding effect (steps) in a gradient

Let's take a look at a common example of color banding effect. You can clearly see strips (steps) of the gradient. That effect caused by a way the gradient was generated. I used Gradient Tool which generates an array of ideal strips. In the real world, gradients don't exist in such a perfect form. To get a smoother look you may add a noise and some distortion. A typical photo may be completely destroyed, but not gradients.

A Gaussian blur effect

A Gaussian blur or Gaussian smoothing is an image processing effect that mixes pixels using a Gaussian function.

If a gradient was generated in an image editor that step may not help. To apply it use menu Filter → Blur → Gaussian Blur....

How to apply a Gaussian Blur effect in Photoshop

Set Radius parameter to 10 pixels and tweak it a bit to get best results. Click on OK to apply the effect.

Gaussian Blur effect options in Photoshop

The Gaussian blur effect worked well. Colors are much smoother, but not perfect. You can still note small steps.

A diffuse effect

To reduce color steps apply Diffuse effect. Go to Filter → Blur → Gaussian Blur...

How to apply a diffuse effect in Photoshop

Set Mode to Normal and click on OK.

A diffuse effect options in Adobe Photoshop

You will notice a small difference. Apply the effect 5-10 more times to get a final result. To quickly repeat last effect press Alt + Ctrl + F in Adobe Photoshop CC version 19 or newer. Or press Ctrl + F in older versions.

Compare final result with color banding effect (steps) and without

29 April 2018 14 July 2019 7942

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