# Alpha blending in linear colour space

I've been making a simple game in OpenGL, and implemented a screen fade-out using the old 'draw a black fullscreen quad and ramp up the alpha' trick. I'm doing all my shaders in linear space and using GL_FRAMEBUFFER_SRGB to automatically apply gamma. When fading out the screen I noticed that the alpha blending also becomes nonlinear - to fade to ~25% brightness I need to use an alpha of ~0.95.

I fired up Unity for comparison, and its alpha blending also seems to work this way - when rendering in linear mode most of the opacity is bunched towards the top of the alpha range.

Is this expected behaviour? Is it correct from a PBR point of view? It seems very unintuitive. As a workaround, to get more intuitive blending, would it be reasonable to apply gamma correction of 0.45 to the alpha channel before blending?

EDIT: this is the result I get after blending a .95 alpha black quad over a pure white button. It could be bad gamma on my display as Simon F suggested in the comments, but it looks a lot brighter than 5% to me.

• IMHO, the alpha channel should always be linearand treated as such, though I've no idea what Unity is doing. Oh! It just occurred to me: are you expecting a perceptually linear fade-out? I.e. Over, say, 16 frames, frames 4, 8, & 12 should look, respectively, 3/4s, 1/2, and 1/4 as bright as the original? Jul 9, 2018 at 8:24
• Yeah that's what I mean. When using the gamma rendering mode that's what happens, but in linear mode it gets bunched to one end - rendering a black quad over a white one at .95 alpha gives a final pixel value of 63,63,63.
– russ
Jul 9, 2018 at 8:34
• So blending a black over white with alpha=0.95 implies you want something that's only 5% of "fully bright"? Assuming an sRGB mapping, then 61 (i.e. hex 3D) is 5% brightness. If your display is reasonably calibrated, you can verify this by creating a, say 5x4 black image, set one pixel to white, and then tile that to a suitable size, e.g 200x200 pixels. Then draw a, say, 50x50 square in the middle and fill it with 0x3D3D3D. Take a few steps back, squint, and they should be almost indistinguishable. (Again it relies on your monitor behaving correctly). Maybe I should post the image. Jul 9, 2018 at 13:37
• RE: "EDIT: this is the result I get after blending a .95 alpha black quad over a pure white button. It could be bad gamma on my display as Simon F suggested in the comments, but it looks a lot brighter than 5% to me." Ahh but our visual system is non-linear - much as our hearing is too. For example, the analogue volume control on a hifi amplifier will use a logarithmic potentiometer rather than a linear one (electronics.stackexchange.com/questions/101191/…). You simply need to change your per-frame alpha non-linearly. Jul 10, 2018 at 10:47
• Ok that makes sense. So a pixel value of 63 would be physically around .05 brightness on a properly calibrated monitor, but perceptually it will appear brighter. Thanks for your help.
– russ
Jul 10, 2018 at 11:15

Just turning the comments into a fully-fledged answer as it may prove useful to others.

IMHO, the alpha channel should always be linear and treated as such.

You described blending a black quad over a white background using alpha=0.95, and mapping the result back to non-linear space. We'd expect a resulting, physical intensity value of 0.05.

If the non-linear space is sRGB, then a linear value of "0.05" would correspond to an sRGB value of "0.248" which, when mapped to 8-bit, is around 63 (or hex, 3D)

If your display is reasonably calibrated, you can verify this by creating, say, a 5x4 black image, setting one pixel to white, and then tiling that to a suitable size, e.g 200x200 pixels. Then draw a, say, 50x50 square in the middle and fill it with 0x3D3D3D. Here's an example:

If you take a few steps back from your monitor and squint, the centre grey region and the dithered outer should be almost indistinguishable, demonstrating a correct physical model.

The problem you are describing appears to be related to the fact that our visual system is non-linear, much as our hearing is too (though probably not with the same curve). For example, the analogue volume control on a hifi amplifier will use a logarithmic potentiometer rather than a linear one .

You thus 'simply' need to change your per-frame alpha non-linearly to get a perceptually even fade out.