Cadmium-doped magnesium aluminate (MgAl2O4:x% Cd2+) powders with different cadmium concentrations (0 < x ≤ 1.75) were prepared by the sol–gel method. Energy dispersive x-ray spectroscopy (EDS) analysis confirmed the presence of the expected elements (Mg, Al, O, and Cd). The x-ray diffraction (XRD) analysis revealed that the powders crystallized into the cubic spinel structure. Cd2+ doping influenced crystallinity of the powder samples. The crystallite size and particle morphology were not affected by variation in the Cd2+ concentration. Ultraviolet–visible spectroscopy (UV–vis) measurements revealed that the band gap of the MgAl2O4 was influenced by Cd2+ doping. Un-doped and Cd2+-doped MgAl2O4 nanophosphors exhibited violet emission at 392 nm. There was no evidence of the emission peak shift, which suggested that all emissions originated from the defects within the host material. Increasing the Cd2+ concentration up-to 0.88 mol.% lead to luminescence intensity enhancement, while further increase of Cd2+ concentration lead to concentration quenching. The critical energy transfer distance (Rc) between the neighbouring donors and acceptors was found to be 5.21 Å, suggesting that the multipole–multipole interaction (M-MI) is the major cause of concentration quenching. Commission Internationale de l’Elcairage (CIE) colour coordinates confirmed non-tuneable violet emission with intensity dependent on the Cd2+ concentration.