Creating Smooth Vignettes, Blends, Gradients and Transparency

Production Tips & Tricks

Vignettes, gradients and blends can add character to your design. But how do you fix banding or steps?

The first rule of thumb for blends or vignettes is to not vary the shading of a single color blend by more than 50%. So if one side of the blend has a shade of 100% the other side should not be below 50%. Also, watch the colors you are using, blending cyan into magenta is more problematic than blending a blue (100% cyan, 50% magenta, 0% yellow, 20% black) into a red (100% magenta, 100% yellow, 20% black). In mixing cyan and magenta you only have two colors to blend together so the possibility of “flaws” is greater, by blending blue to red there are more colors (magenta, yellow, black) to blend together thus reducing viable “flaws”.

In QuarkXpress there is not much control over blends and their steps. Make sure when you print or create the PDF that in the Transparency dialog, you set the transparency options to 300 dpi. This will give you the best results. It may not solve the step problem for you blend completely, if not, please see the paragraphs on Photoshop or Illustrator.

Again in InDesign there isn’t much control over the blend (or Gradient in Adobespeak). When you print or make the PDF, make sure your Transparency Flattening settings are set to High Resolution. This will give you the best results. It may not solve the step problem for you blend, for more control over the blend please see the paragraphs on Photoshop or Illustrator.

With Illustrator you have more control over the gradient or blend. There are two places to set the proper controls. First, when you create a document, set the Transparency Flattening to High Resolution. If you forget to do that, you can change it from the Document Setup dialog box under the File Menu. The second place to adjust a gradient is from the Object Menu > Blend. From here you set the document wide settings for blends, we suggest using Smooth Color. You can also refer to this Support Article from Adobe for more information on Illustrator Blends.

Photoshop will give you the most control over a blend. First you must make sure that a blend you create in Photoshop is created at 100% of the size it will be used at and it should be 300dpi (if you intend to print the blend). You can still get steps in Photoshop blends, to remove them, you can use Filters to help reduce the effect such as Noise and Gaussian Blur. Try a small amount of Noise usually a setting of 1-4 is good. You can experiment with it being Uniform or Gaussian and Monochromatic. You can see the changes on screen, but remember you want them to be subtle, get too much Noise and it will detract from the blend. Sometimes, not always so use your best judgment, you can also Blur the blend to reduce the banding or steps. You can do this in combination with the Noise as well. Each instance will be different.

Usually what you see on your screen will be accurate to what you get on proofs or on press. If you have created great blends and then suddenly your contract proofs show banding, you may want to have your printer check their settings or their RIP may be very old and incapable of producing a smooth blend. Just remember if you see it on the contract proof, odds are it will be on the plates. Check things carefully and ask questions.

If you have any questions about this, ask your salesperson. They are always willing to work with you. And if this is a continual problem in your files, you can ask to work with one of our prepress operators to see if we can figure out a solution.

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