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Quick and Easy Vignettes in Adobe After Effects

Aaron Williams
By Aaron Williams
By Aaron Williams

Here’s a quick and easy way to create great looking vignette in After Effects!

Adobe After Effects

Vignettes are a great visual tool to add depth and bring focus to your subject. There are a lot of ways to create vignettes in After Effects, but here are my two favorites. Both use a layer with an inverted (or “subtracted”) circle mask, and the mask feathering set pretty high (500px in this example case):

A circle mask

Mask settings

Adjustment Layers

The most basic way is to use a filter on an adjustment layer with the circle mask applied. Here are a few examples based on this raw image:

The raw image

The first way uses an Exposure effect with the exposure set to -3. It lowers the exposure across the entire tonal range:

An exposure vignette at -3

This one uses the same Exposure effect, but instead of adjusting the exposure, the gamma correction is set to .5, which has the benefit of just increasing contrast, and leaving the highlights mostly alone:

An gamma vignette at .5

This way uses a 3 way color corrector (Colorista Free in this particular case), but the same effect could be achieved using levels, curves, Color Finesse, etc. You get a little more fine-tuned control this way, being able to choose how you affect each tonal range:

An color corrector vignette

The Colorista Free settings for the above image

Black Solids

My preferred my of creating a vignette is to make a black solid with the circle mask settings mentioned above, then adjust opacity. Here’s a black solid at 40% opacity:

A black solid vignette at 40% opacity

Things get a little bit more fun when you start experimenting with blend modes on the solid. This one uses the blend mode Classic Color Burn, which makes a pretty extreme change at first, but you can use opacity to dial it in to the desired amount. I used 18% opacity for this. Classic Color Burn leaves a lot of the highlight detail alone, crunches the shadows, and even saturates the colors a bit, for a very cool effect:

A classic color burn black solid vignette at 18% opacity

My absolute favorite way of creating vignettes in After Effects is to combine 2 black solid layers: one with no blend mode (“Normal”) at around 20% opacity and one above it set to Classic Color Burn at around 20% opacity. the combination of the two gets you a little bit of both worlds. This is what I do the vast majority of the time:

a combination of two black solids, blend modes, and opacities

Vignettes for Motion Graphics

You can use the same technique to create vignettes for motion graphic pieces. It adds some nice depth when working with solid colors, like this:

A raw motion graphic image

Here’s the adjustment layer vignette with exposure set to -3:

An exposure vignette at -3

In my opinion, you tend to get better results from the black solid method when doing motion graphics. Here’s the solid with no blend mode at 40% opacity:

A black solid vignette at 40% opacity

Here’s the solid with the Classic Color Burn blend mode at 18% opacity like above:

A classic color burn black solid vignette at 18% opacity

And here’s the Normal/Classic Color Burn 20%/18% combination from above:

a combination vignette

With motion graphics, you can often push the vignette a littler further than you can with footage for a really fun look. Here’s the Classic Color Burn solid set to 60% opacity. You can really see how Classic Color Burn starts to up the saturation:

Classic Color Burn solid set to 60% opacity

And here’s the Normal/Classic Color Burn combination with both layers set to 60% opacity. It’s pretty extreme, but pretty dramatic too:

Classic Color Burn solid set to 60% opacity, normal set to 60% opacity

So there you have some fun, quick ways to make vignettes in After Effects.

What’s your favorite way to make vignettes in After Effects?
Share in the comments below!