If you’re wanting to add a gradient to an image I have found a lot of posts that explain how to do it with background images. This has been the go-to strategy of mine for a while but I thought it didn’t feel quite right for every case.

Gradient on image example

In order to help keep a codebase maintainable the background image solution didn’t seem like the best solution. Whenever possible I want to keep my content in the html and the styles in the css. I don’t feel like that is what the background-image property is for. If an image is a part of the content and not the background, separation of concerns says to put the image in the html.

::after css pseudo-element

When I needed to add a gradient on an image this week I decided to get a cup of coffee* and think about it for a minute before going with the background-image approach. The quick ponder paid off as I sat back down to try what came to mind. ::after

TL;DR The How To

I created a CodePen but thought I’d explain some things here.

  • You need to surround the <img /> tag with a <div>. This is because presently, the CSS spec doesn’t specify how exactly the ::after interacts with replaced elements and the img is a replaced element.
  • This isn’t supported before IE 10 or below. caniuse linear-gradient
  • You can do a lot with that linear-gradient. Using multiple color stops will give you a lot of flexibility.
  • To adapt for different size layouts you might need to add those breakpoints in and adjust the height of the ::after.


  • ::after vs :after: If you’re referring to content, :: should be used. after and before are examples of content whereas active or hover aren’t content. The :: is supported above IE8 but if you need IE8 support you can’t use linear-gradient and thus all this is for not. I understand…IE must be supported in some cases. Your pain is real.
  • ::after vs :before: You could do this with a before but after feels right here. If you want a gradient from the top then before would be perfect. Adapt this to your needs.

See the Pen Adding a Gradient to an Image using ::after by Peter Ramsing (@peterramsing) on CodePen.

* I recently joined the Portland WeWork and they have ready-made coffee. #awesome