In the image below you'll see two gradients:

  • Both were made in Illustrator (CC 2019, v23.1)
  • Both use the colors #ee2d38 and #624a9e
  • Both swatches are set to the same Color Mode as the Color Space
  • Color space (RGB vs CMYK) is not a factor as issue occurs in both

The difference is:

  • Top one goes from Red to Purple using the Gradient Tool
  • Bottom one has two layers: Red to Red Gradient with Opacity 100% to 0%, Purple only layer underneath

This does not happen in Freeform Gradient, only Linear and Radial.

Clearly Illustrator can render the desired result in Freeform and the workaround. This happens with many gradients I try an make. Honestly, it's the largest reason I don't design with gradients at all. I can't find a single guide, answer, tutorial, or article anywhere that explains why this happens and how to correct it. I got the workaround for the bottom from a Color to Black workaround but never an explanation of why so I can avoid and self correct in the future.

Any ideas?

Side note: Muddy Gradients would be a great Jazz Band

Muddy Gradients v Workaround Sans Mud

  • Pure guesswork, based on my major as a sound engineer - you don't want linear, you want logarithmic. [idk how you could achieve that, so can't post an answer]
    – Tetsujin
    Oct 24, 2019 at 17:00
  • I wouldn't complain, no. Great pull btw! Oct 24, 2019 at 19:39
  • I can't replicate the problem in Illustrator CC. Here's a screen shot showing a regular CMYK linear gradient made using the gradient tool - your examples are shown for comparison
    – Billy Kerr
    Oct 25, 2019 at 7:31
  • @Scott - does it? I think it matches the OP's two layer work around almost perfectly. It doesn't match the top one which the OP says is a CMYK gradient.
    – Billy Kerr
    Oct 25, 2019 at 20:15
  • @BillyKerr .. err.. do you know I'm a blonde??? I was looking at the top portion, which is clearly the image you took from the post :) Never mind...... it was roughly 2 am at the time....
    – Scott
    Oct 25, 2019 at 20:24

1 Answer 1


You already know --

"Bottom one has two layers: Red to Red Gradient with Opacity 100% to 0%, Purple only layer underneath"

You can use additional fills in the Appearance Panel rather than multiple layers. That way everything remains one object.

For CMYK you would create both gradients with opacity and stack them.

In RGB merely using opacity on the top gradient is sufficient (Because there's no overprinting in RGB).

For spot colors, you should avoid opacity and merely create gradients from 0% color to 100% color (or whatever max) and then stack them.

  • I agree that the Appearance Panel is an option, as is stacking the gradients for CMYK. I will admit, I hadn't thought about the latter before so hats off to you! My main issue is that these are both workarounds. What I was looking for is more on whether I am doing something wrong or if there's any sort of reason why it's working as expected. Given that the newer option of Freeform works immediately as desired the other two modes should too. Oct 24, 2019 at 19:36
  • The old form gradients are code from 1980-something. Adobe typically doesn't rush to update old code blocks if they work. And what's worked for 40 years I'm sure is not high on Adobe's priority list to update. The Freeform stuff is all new, so it was written with more up to date blending specifications. That's really the primary difference. There's a possibility that eventually the old gradient code will be updated and this visual anomaly will be corrected -- but, well, I wouldn't hold my breath :).
    – Scott
    Oct 24, 2019 at 19:51
  • @KevinHandy there is no set way to interpolate color, there are many paths to the goal. To date i have written maybe 50 different kinds of color interpolation routines for different tasks. Just simply interpolating per channel is easy to implement and easy to understand. This interpolation is the one you will always get by default unless you specify otherwise, it also works ok in RGB mode. Just not so well in cmyk. Adobe also can not change this! To change this would mean that every vendor of a PDF reader would need to change their code, ever browser etc etc.
    – joojaa
    Oct 25, 2019 at 15:18

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