During directional solidification, thermal gradients in front of the liquid-solid interface (G) are important in defining the subsequent cooling rate and the solidification microstructure. An elevated G is frequently demanded, especially in the production of single-crystal superalloys and most metallic materials. In this study, the heat transfer during directional solidification by Bridgman-type directional solidification has been analyzed and a relationship has been established that reflects the effect of alloy properties, process parameters and equipment characteristics on thermal gradients. Based on this relationship, some methods for obtaining high thermal gradients have been developed. By using zone-intensified overheating and liquid-metal cooling, high thermal gradients of up to 800 K/cm were achieved. Application of these methods in the processing of single crystal superalloys indicated that high thermal gradient directional solidification produced more uniform microstructures, less microsegregation and optimized mechanical properties.