ImageMagick Examples --
Blur Transparency Bug -- FIXED

ImageMagick Examples Preface and Index
Known and Fixed Bugs Index
Blur with Transparency OR Transparency has a Color!
Blurs with a Non-Black Color
This is a demostration the blur with transparency bug. This was extracted from the main examples page, when it was realised that this was really a bug, and not just a quirk with the blur function. As such these pages are written as if the problem being discussed was not a bug.

This major bug has now been fixed for IM version 6.2.5. Blurs with transparency now do things properly when the alpha channel is also blurred with the other channels.

For examples of using the fixed version of blur see, Blurring Images.

This page is for reference for older IM users who may still have to deal with this bug. The examples on this page have not been re-created when/if the bug was fixed.

First of all remember...
Blur and other greyscale operators are limited by the channel setting.
Use "-channel" to add the alpha channel if needed.

As such in these examples pay particular attension to the "-channel" setting of the IM commands.

Transparency has a Color

As "-blur" and "-gaussian" are greyscale operators, they really have no idea what color or transparency actually means. All they do is take the image they are working with and treat each channel of the image as a separate grey scale image.

Now this works great on grey scale images, and surprisingly it works equally well with RGB colored images when you apply the same algorithm to all three collor channels (the default). But if you try to combine blurring of color with an alpha channel you run into serious problems. Basically a RGBA color needs to be handled in a very special way. But greyscale operators do not understand how color and transparency relates to each other. What is worse, in a RGBA image, transparency has a color!

Because of this lack of understanding blurring images with colors other than black (and sometimes even with just black) produces serious side effects. For example, what if instead of a black circle on a transparent background we used a yellow circle instead...

    magick -size 70x70 xc:none \
              -fill yellow -draw 'circle 35,35 20,25'  blur_yellow.png
    magick blur_yellow.png  -channel RGBA -blur 0x8  blur_yellow_2.png
[IM Output] [IM Output]

Where did all that dark color come from?

Well as the blur operators have no idea of transparency, it blurred our yellow circle, NOT into transparency, but into but a fully-transparent black!

It basically did not realise that a transparent area should not produce any sort of color, so it just blindly merged the invisible black background with our yellow circle. The result is a yellow center, fading into a semi-transparent black, then on into full-transparency.

In summary...
Transparency has a Color, even if you can't see it.
Blur and other greyscale operators do not understand transparency.

This was not a problem with a black circle, as your were blurring an opaque black drawn on a transparent black (the IM color of 'none'). As such no color blurring occurred, and only the alpha or transparency channel was modified.

But with colors and transparency, as you see we do have problems. We can demonstrate that this is what is happening by using an unusual fully-transparent red canvas, rather than the more typical 'none'.

    magick -size 70x70 xc:'#F00F' \
              -fill yellow -draw 'circle 35,35 20,25'  blur_on_red.png
    magick blur_on_red.png  -channel RGBA -blur 0x8  blur_on_red_2.png
[IM Output] [IM Output]

As you can see, this time we get dark reddish colors, even though the starting image looks exactly the same as it did in the previous case.

We can highlight this problem even more limiting the blur to just the alpha channel of the image. In this case the colors are left completely alone and only the transparency of the image is blurred.

    magick blur_on_red.png  -channel A -blur 0x8  blur_on_red_3.png
[IM Output]
Horrible looking isn't it!

But what is that black area? Isn't this a yellow circle on a transparent red.

Well no actually it isn't! At that is the point.

To see what colors we were actually blurring, lets just turn off the alpha channel on our source image...

    magick blur_on_red.png   +matte blur_on_red_4.png
[IM Output]

When IM drew the yellow circle on a fully-transparent red background, it generated some fully-transparent black around the circle. That is, because the mathematics it used told it that 'it does not matter, it's fully-transparent!'. Well in most cases it really doesn't matter. But for blurs it does matter, as blurs do not understand transparency. As such you need to be aware of just what the transparency colors are present when using the blur operators.

Most blurring is with either fully opaque images, or just the alpha channel for the creation of shadows. Keeping the two types of blurring separate works well. As such...
Either blur colors, or blur transparency, do not blur both.

Blurs with Non-Black Colors

So how can we generate a blurred yellow circle (or any other shape), without all those extra colors?

First if you are blurring a black shape, just do it. and you should have no problems as the black shape should (most of the time) be on a fully-transparent black canvas.

For any other color, the best technique is to blur only the alpha channel, then replace the colors of the image using some fancy alpha compositing. (See Compose ATop Method for details.

    magick -size 70x70 xc:none -draw 'circle 35,35 20,25' \
            -channel A -blur 0x8  blur_black.png
    magick composite -compose Atop -size 70x70 xc:yellow blur_black.png \
[IM Output] [IM Output]

You can do this in a single command, with the help of some IM v6 constructs. The one real difference here is we limited the blur to just the the alpha channel of the image. Yes that image will look horrible but it will not be seen in the output as we immediately replace the colors in the image, use some color canvas generation methods.

    magick -size 70x70 xc:none -draw 'circle 35,35 20,25' \
            -channel A -blur 0x8 \
            \( +clone  -fill green  -draw 'color 0,0 reset' \) \
            -compose ATop -composite    blur_green.png
[IM Output]

Using "-compose ATop" does not just limit you to a simple color. You can use any fully-opaque colored image as a source. For example a simple white to grey gradient, can produce a interesting looking 'cloud' like object.

    magick -size 70x70 xc:none  -draw 'circle 35,35 15,25' \
            -channel A -blur 0x4  -size 70x70 gradient:white-grey40 \
            -compose ATop -composite      blur_gradient.png
[IM Output]

While on the subject of re-adding colors, some of the simplier colors can be also be added by using one or two "-fx" operators. Here is a blur that is re-colored as 'navy' or half-bright blue. Only the blue channel is replaced, as the red and green channels are already 0 in value as the source image is black.

    magick -size 70x70 xc:none -draw 'circle 35,35 20,25' \
            -channel A -blur 0x8   -channel B -fx .5    blur_navy.png
[IM Output]

In actual fact you can color the whole image in this way before you blur. If all the RGB channels already have the right color, bluring the alpha channel will then produce the desired result.

Here for example we set all the colors to white, wether they were transparent or not. Then we blur just the alpha channel.

    magick -size 70x70 xc:none -draw 'circle 35,35 20,25' \
            -fx 1   -channel A -blur 0x8   blur_white.png
[IM Output]

Note you can not use a normal color replacement for this, as was done for Canvases with a Specific Color as this image operator does understand transparency, so a transparent white is different to a opaque white.

Alturnativally as all the RGB colors were black, "-negate" them to white.

    magick -size 70x70 xc:none -draw 'circle 35,35 20,25' \
            -negate   -channel A -blur 0x8   blur_negate.png
[IM Output]

Negate is another operator that does not understand transparency, and obeys the "-channel" setting. It just does not have quite the same problem that blur has with transparent colors.

In summary, blur operations, like many IM image operators, do not understand the difference between a color and an alpha channel. Blurring fully-opaque colors work prefectally fine. Blurring just the alpha channel or image mask also works fine. As long as you ensure the colors that will become semi-transparent are also set correctly, before or more easilly, after, the blur operation, you should have no problems.

Basically, be cautious, and think before you blur.

Created: 19 April 2004
Updated: 6 May 2005
Author: Anthony Thyssen, <>
Examples Generated with: [version image]