How To Create a Soft Fade Vignette Effect in Adobe Photoshop CC

The Mask Properties dialog box is shown.
Adjust a vignette by using the sliders in the Mask dialog box.

A vignette, or soft fade, is a popular photo effect where the photo gradually fades into the background, usually in an oval shape. This technique can also be used with a dark fill to simulate a camera vignette which is a darkening around the edges of a photo that was commonly produced by older cameras. By using Photoshop's layer masks you can create the vignette effect flexibly and non-destructively.

This technique is one of the fundamentals of Photoshop because it gives you the opportunity to explore Layers, Masks, Brushes and the masking Properties panel.  Though this is a basic technique it can be used as the jumping off point for some pretty creative techniques and skills in Photoshop. Once you understand how vignettes are created ,you can then move on to using this technique when compositing photos.

There are a couple of ways of achieving this technique. Let's look at both methods

Technique One: Add A Layer Mask

  1. Open a photo in Photoshop.
  2. Convert the background to a layer by double clicking on it in the layers palette. When an image is opened in Photoshop it always opens as a locked background layer. When you double click the layer the New layer dialog box will open and you can either choose to name the layer or leave the name - Layer 0 - as is. If you don't do this you won't be able to complete the rest of this tutorial.
    A common practice is to also convert the layer to a Smart Object. This is a non-destructive technique which preserves the original image.
  1. With the layer selected in the Layers panel, select the Elliptical Marquee tool.and drag  a marquee selection around the area of the photo you want to keep.
  2. Click the "Add Layer Mask" button at the bottom of the layers palette. The Add Layer Mask icon is the "Box With The Hole" at the bottom of the Layers panel. When you release the mouse, the Layer will sport a chain and a new thumbnail. The new thumbnail is the mask.
  1. Double-click the layer mask thumbnail in the layers palette.This will open the Properties panel for the mask.
  2. If it isn't open, twirl down the Global Refinements area, What we are going to do is to fade the edges of the mask to create the vignette effect.
  3. There are four sliders designed to let you get things just right. Here's what they do:​
  • Smooth: This slider makes the edge transition less sharp.
  • Feather: Moving this in or out will increase or decrease the fade at the edges of the mask.
  • Contrast: Moving this slider makes the edge of the selection sharper and more defined.
  • Shift Edge: Sliding this in or out increases or decreases the diameter of the selection area set in Step2. When finished, click OK to return to the Layers panel.

Add a new layer under the photo and fill it with the desired background colour.

Technique Two: Use A Vector Shape As The Mask

The great thing about working with a vector is you can use or create any vector shape and then apply it as a mask for the image. Of course vectors, are well known for their crisop edges which, on the surface may strike you as defeating the purpose of this "How To". Not quite. Here's how:

  1. With an image open, select the Ellipse Tool and draw the mask shape.
  1. When the properties open,  click the Fill colour and select the Gradient Fill.
  2. Set the Gradient Fill type to Radial and make sure the colours are Black and White.
  3. When you return to your Layers you should see an Ellipse layer above the image. Drag the Layer below the image.
  4. With your Command/Ctrl key pressed down, drag the Ellipse Layer on to the image Layer. You will see a mask icon and when you release the mouse the shape has been applied to the image as a mask.
  5. Double click the mask and the Vector Mask Properties panel opens.
  6. Drag the Feather slider to the right to add the vignette. 
  7. The neat thing about vectors in Photoshop is they can be edited. To edit the shape of the mask,select the mask in the Layers panel and switch to the  Path Selection tool. You can drag points out or add points using the Pen tool.

    Tips:

    1. You can paint in the layer mask with shades of gray for other effects. Just click the mask thumbnail in the layers palette to activate it for painting. To do this default the forground and background colours to Black and White. Then select the Brush tool and, with the mask layer selected, paint over the mask area. be careful with this. Black hides and White reveals.The shades of grey between them control opacity.
    2. If you decide you don't like the effect, simply drag the mask thumbnail to the trash icon on the layers palette and then click discard.
    3. To reposition the vignette, click the link icon between the layer thumbnail and the mask thumbnail to move the mask independently of the layer. Don't forget to relink them when you're done.
    4. you don't have to use the Elliptical Marquee tool, The Rectangular Marquee or text can be used as a mask in Photoshop.

    Update by Tom Green