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Tip of the Week: Get the Gray Out of Your Gradients

This tip was sent to Tip of the Week email subscribers on July 10, 2014.

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If you've ever made a gradient that went from a color to black in a print document, you might have been less than excited about the results. Take the example below, see how it gets drained of saturation as it goes from red to black?


That's because the black end of the gradient was created with the black swatch, which yields just pure black ink. So for half the gradient you get a warm charcoal gray effect.

Instead, you can get a much "richer" effect by adding black to the red. In other words, use rich black for the black end of the gradient.

To do this, start by making both ends of the gradient the same color (in this case, red).


Then with the second gradient stop selected, switch the Stop Color from Swatches to CMYK, and drag the black ink slider all the way to 100% and click OK.


Now your gradient won't be so gray!
Also, to stay on your printer's good side, make sure the total ink amount in the rich black gradient stop doesn't go over the limit for your intended output. Not sure what your total ink limit is? Ask your printer! They'll be glad to tell you.

Mike Rankin
Editor in Chief of, InDesign Magazine, and Author of courses on InDesign and Illustrator. Husband. Dad. Dog walker.
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13 Comments on “Tip of the Week: Get the Gray Out of Your Gradients

  1. It’s really good practice to use rich black where black is appearing as a block colour, or in headline type where it’s about 36pt or above.

    Always apply to everything, gradient, block colours, large blocks of text etc. that’s appearing in black.

    Always have a rich black ready in your swatches for these kind of things.


    As always – it’s best to consult your printers on what the “best build” for the rich black will be.

    As with this build it’s using 3 colours – and reversing out type (putting white text) over this could be problematic depending on the print method (screen, flexo, litho, etc)


    Nonetheless – sweet tip!

  2. Sweet Louise

    This is one of those things I’ve just never figured out.

    As soon as you said the end swatch was created with black, even before you’d given the answer, I’d figured it out… but I’d never figured it out on my own. After years of disgruntledly looking at my gradients.

    Nice. Thanks

  3. Technically more correct would bet to add over transparent-to-black gradient in Multiply mode. That will work more tech-savvy even if you don’t know what printer want’s from you.

    • That’s an alternative, but I wouldn’t say more correct. I’ve used it with a radial gradient to make a spotlight effect. You still have to be aware of the ink limit and you’d have keep the two objects aligned.

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