Color Gradients are a fantastic tool for creating more realistic looking graphics and vector art.
They allow you to make a transition between colors giving an optical illusion of depth and vibrance. As cool as they can be, they are a tool you should use with care, as poorly applied gradients can easily make your art look cheap, dated or unprofessional, or sometimes even worse: drag your artwork down to the uncanny valley.
For those who don’t know what the uncanny valley is, here’s the definition:
In aesthetics, the uncanny valley is the hypothesis that human replicas that appear almost but not exactly like real human beings elicit feelings of eeriness and revulsion among some observers.Wikipedia
This definition relates more to the human replication approach in visual perception, but it can apply to any object when represented digitally.
When something attempts to look realistic, and it reaches that point of being too real but remains disconcertingly unreal-looking at the same time, it’s in the uncanny valley.
Like some weird, unsuccessful Hollywood movies, or all those cheesy vector graphics from stock pages that show up on Google searches that you can only feel sorry for (Google image search “Vector character”).
That’s exactly why Gradients should only be used with care, to give hints of realism and keep everything neat. As you can see with this character’s subtle gradient use, gradients are just a complement that should not be overused.
Back when web design was a new field of discovery, color gradients were popular and designers enjoyed applying them to excess. Today they can be seen as an outdated tool, just like the Drop Shadow and the infamous Lens flare. Just because these effects were applied so poorly in the 90s doesn’t mean they can’t be used in a more modern way today.
As long as you can find a way to use them properly and with subtlety, Gradients can be a great asset in your daily work.