Adobe Illustrator has the ability to print gradients, a technique where colour transitions from one tint to another through intermediate steps. This is useful for lighting effects and many other conventional graphic design elements. The problems with gradients can appear when they're printed. Illustrator divides the number of tints between two tones in a typical gradient into a finite number of steps. When a gradient is stretched over a large visual area, these steps can become visible to the human eye, and the gradient looks banded with tints of colour.
- Skill level:
- Moderately Easy
Choose your colours carefully; the closer the two colours are in saturation or brightness, the less likely it is that you'll see gradient banding. Likewise, lighter colours blending into each other are less likely to have gradient banding.
Use process colour components, with PANTONE swatches or something else that uses a predefined colour mix, and give your printer the beginning and ending colours of both ends of a gradient. As PANTONE and process colours are mixed and blended together, they can overcome the limited number of gradient steps Illustrator uses.
If your design permits it, make your gradients cover smaller areas of space. Gradient banding is an artefact of how the human eye sees patterns, and compressing the steps into a smaller area can trick the eye.
Rasterise your gradients at the highest resolution possible before printing, or if possible, create the gradients in Photoshop. Rasterised gradients do not use an algorithm to interpolate how much a colour changes; they're actual pixel-by-pixel colour values. Photoshop's gradient tools are built around rasterisation and are much more efficient.
Tips and warnings
- Always talk to your offset printing provider about how they handle gradients, and ask about the quirks of their particular colour process.
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