Edit: I was able to make the output look a little bit better (not perfect). For anyone finding this from web searches, here's what I did:

To remove the hairlines I used the X-4 PDF settings.

The opaque->transparent gradient was not saving properly. I realised that using a solid black->white gradient as a transparency mask achieved a very similar result. This looked much better when saved as a PDF.

I realise now that making vector PDFs is just as much about what objects comprise the graphic as what the final image looks like.

I have a vector graphic, produces in Adobe Illustrator CS6, which I am having some trouble saving. More specifically, there is a layer with a gradient that fades from a solid colour to transparent.

What settings should I be using to save this?

When I save it as PDF 1.3, X-1a, I see small hairlines: enter image description here (I understand that these are not visible upon printing.)

When I save it as PDF 1.6, X-4, the hairlines are gone but the gradient is noticeably worse: enter image description here

Here's what it looks like for me whilst I'm editing the file in Illustrator: enter image description here

Ideally I would have it look roughly the same as I see it when editing. I understand that colour profiles will inevitably vary from machine-to-machine, but it would be nice to simultaneously have the proper gradient and no hairlines. If all else fails I will just rasterise the image, I'd rather not do this though.

NOTE: This graphic will be used in an academic paper, which will be uploaded to an online repository. Hence I cannot have separate print and web versions. Some readers will be viewing it digitally, whilst some will be printing it.

1 Answer 1


Correct: generally, whoever prints this will not see the issue.

This is mostly a screen-related problem which depends on the software being used, the device being used, the settings and so on. What you see on your screen may not be what your readers will see on theirs. You cannot control this. Some people will read this on an iPhone 8, others on a 2014 laptop with Internet Explorer still running, others on the latest Surface Pro with the proper Acrobat Reader installed, etc. Have you tried this on your phone by the way?

More so, even on your machine (the actual designer-source machine) there will always be a difference between the preview in AI and the preview in Acrobat.

Personal experience: i produce alot of PDF output, there is always a bit of this and that happening with gradients, outlined text and so on. I just don't think about it anymore, it kind of is what it is.. :)

  • 1
    I thought that would be the case. I went with X-4 in the end. By making a couple of tweaks I was able to make it look a little better (I've edited my post to show what I did).
    – Vielbein
    Commented Nov 5, 2019 at 4:26
  • 1
    When recreating a gradient effect, also try placing a white to transparent gradient shape over the objects below, knock out to white is an alternative to desaturating colours. I also use this method when creating a gradient between two colours as the transition can 'muddy' the effect with undesired colour mixing. Place the darker colour on top and try different blend modes.
    – Mark Read
    Commented Nov 5, 2019 at 4:55

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.