Image mode: 8-bit to 16-bit

The O series tutorial

I received a fantastic email from James Mellers last night which serves as a very helpful extension on my recent O Series tutorial. I work with a lot of layers and overlays in each piece that I do, and this sometimes results in gradients on lower layers becoming fragmented and chunky. I attempted to remedy the problem before posting the O pieces with very little success. Here is James’ suggestion:

“By working with a 16-bit canvas in Photoshop (instead of regular 8-bit), the problem of choppy grads from heavy pushing is almost entirely removed. When you’re done, you can save your 16-bit PSD, to keep that precious source file ;)  …then flatten, convert to 8-bit and save out separately for whatever else you may normally do - put it out on the web, have posters printed, etc.”

As you can see by the image above, this technique completely removes the fragmentation that was causing me problems and regardless of my numerous overlays, the gradients below remain smooth and nice. With all of your layers intact, you can switch your canvas by going to Image > Mode > 16 Bits/Channel.

I had no idea this could be achieved in this manner, and goes to show that you can be using software for a great many years yet still pick up little tips along the way. Now the daunting task of switching all of my work to 16-bit to see how it looks :)

Many thanks James!

14 Comments

  1. Fascinating! Thanks so much for posting this, man! I always try to work in 16 bit when I’m working on photos, but like you, I never realized that it would help with gradients too. Word up.

  2. Scott

    Ive noticed that several features stop working at higher “bit levels” (CS3). Namely features in the filter menu like lens flare. Just something to watch out for.

  3. Great little tip. Thanks James & James.

  4. been wondering about this for a while. thank you

  5. That’s odd. A true photoshopmaster like yourself didn’t knew that??

    I’m a newbie and I knew it from day one. Everytime you start a new document you can choose between 8/16/32 bit.

    BUT, I have to admit that sometimes when I want to use a certain effect, it doesn’t work in 16 bit or higher. Which is one thing ADOBE should work on. Really annoying.

    Anyway…keep up the very good work!! (In 16 bit. :P)

  6. james (Author)

    Daniel, I first started learning Photoshop in college at version 2 and I don’t think bit modes were in existence at the time, or the instructor neglected to teach us about it. That being the case, I just continued on with my normal processes throughout the years as this situation never arose before :) Always nice to learn a new element that can change your workflow, even if it is something that has been around for a while.

  7. jc

    Great tip. I’ve always had problems with gradients banding in Photoshop and had never found a solution.

  8. Ryan

    Excellent tip. I’m sure this will come in very handy. BTW, I love the site and your work. I’ve been visiting now for a few months. Thanks for the inspiration and great work.

  9. Sweet! I had this problem just the other day and it was driving me crazy. Thanks for the tip, James!

    Daniel, I didn’t know that 16 bit had that effect either…it’s just not something the professors ever mentioned when I was in school (a bit more recently than James).

  10. senks a lot from rus)

  11. soopafly

    I knew that already but thanks anyway.

    But I had a strange problem a few days ago, I had those chunky gradients in 16 bits, then I went back to 8 bit and it was gone. Lol strange.

  12. Eva

    Thanx, I tried this but it didn’t smooth out all my gradients. The gradient with dark greys is still very chunky, nothing changed. Why could it be? Maybe a bad monitor? I have Samsung SyncMaster T200

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