Reviewing Adobe Illustrator’s Extensive Gradients Toolset

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While vector based artwork lets designers take advantage of small file sizes and lossless scaling it can also be limiting when trying to add depth and richness to a design. Adobe Illustrator offers a plethora of gradient tools that can help artist produce more organic and vivid pieces.

This extended video tutorial covers a wide variety of topics including basic gradient tools (0:30), the appearance pannel and multiple gradient fill layers (2:30), creating gradients with the blending tool (3:45), gradient strokes (6:30), gradient mesh (7:45), using gradients with type (14:00), wrapping gradients with envelope distort (16:30), and using opacity masks.

Highlights and Takeaways:

  • Use the gradient tool (from the tool palette) rather then the gradient window to edit your gradients within the context of the object.
  • Gradients can have several sliders each of which has its own opacity.
  • The appearance window lets you add multiple gradient fills and strokes to a single object.
  • Every fill or stroke applied to an object can have a unique opacity and blending mode, and each stroke can have a different line weight.
  • Gradient strokes can be applied within, along, or across an object’s stroke for a variety of effects.
  • Use the blend tool (set to smooth color) to create gradients that align more closely to complex or organic shapes.
  • The gradient mesh tool is great for developing complex vectors that can be used to illustrate organic shapes, but they can also be hard to work with pretty quickly. To avoid frustration, start with the basic shape (like a circle) that most clearly matches the object you want to illustrate and try to shape it to match before adding additional points.
  • When creating a gradient mesh, be sure to set the fill for your base shape to the most prevalent color on the object you are trying to illustrate.
  • When using an image for reference, make the image layer a template. This will allow you to switch to outline mode without hiding the image.
  • You can use the envelope distort command to bend rectilinear gradient shapes into natural curves.
  • Gradient opacity masks let you fade the opacity of an object (or group) to create natural blends.

Please feel free to add your favorit gradient tips and tricks!

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Adrian is an Interactive Creative Director and Principal at Pushstart Creative, a multidisciplinary agency focused on the convergence of physical product, interactive technology and brand experience. While much of his current work is focused on research, strategy development, and UX he will always have a passion for pushing pixels. Stop by designtaylor.com or find Adrian on Twitter.

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  1. 1

    Nice techniques!
    Thanks for sharing!

  2. 3

    Loved this tutorial. I primarily work in photoshop and it’s easy for me to get stuck using it exclusively because obtaining gradient effects that work well in Illustrator has always been a stumbling block of mine. I had no idea you could do so much robust gradient work with the newer versions of Illustrator.

    Excited to try this out on my next project!

    Nick

  3. 4

    Thanks for the kind words folk.

    @Nick Adams: I end up in Photoshop most of the time but when I need to do something more vector based it’s nice to know that illustrator has a few tricks up its sleeve to achieve more organic looks.

  4. 5

    Nice tutorial, this gave me alot of inspiration to start working with Illustrator more often. Adrian Taylor, i need to send you a message – where can i e-mail you?

  5. 6

    Tony, best way to reach me is through the contact form on my company’s site:
    http://pushstartcreative.com/thanks.html#contact

  6. 7

    I wanted ti thank you for your clear explaination. You made me discover the illimited world of gradiant in Illustrator !
    Thanks.

  7. 8

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but I assume applying a gradient to a stroke is a feature of CS5.5. I’m running CS5 and the only way I know how to apply a gradient to a stroke is by Object>Path>Outline Stroke.

    Great tutorial otherwise, I’m excited to implement some of these methods in my own work.

  8. 9

    Awesome tutorial! What other video tutorials do you have?! Going to take a look. Thanks for the inspiration.

  9. 10

    A plethora?!

  10. 11

    Good article, love your site.

    cheers!

  11. 12

    Great tutorial. It will stretch my understanding to encompass new things. Thanks.
    I do agree with christine’s comment above.
    With my somewhat limited experience with Illustrator, how, again, do you apply a gradient to a stroke? I use Illustrator 5.5 on two operating systems. Win 7 64bit and win7 ultimate.
    Advice or direction is encouraged..!

  12. 13

    Wow! What a great tutorial. So many little lessons within this great exercise!

    Thanks for sharing with the community.

  13. 14

    One of the best tutorial. We want more :}

  14. 15

    this is one of the best tutorials I ve seen about the gradients.
    thnx dude!

  15. 16

    Great article, I think Illustrator is often overshadowed by Photoshop when it comes to creating imagery and I can’t get enough of Illustrator. Love your tips!

  16. 17

    Great tutorial; thank you! Little did I know how much gradient power is within Illustrator. Will refer back to this a lot!

  17. 18

    Brilliant tutorial. Very helpful as well. Definitely sharing this one with my class mates. :)

  18. 19

    Excellent video, Adrian’s also a fine presenter and designer. I believe the actual gradient mesh discussion in the video begins more like 10:30 than 7:45 as stated in the blurb. Just clarifying so people can get to that part more quickly. 7:45 is around where AT starts building the outline of the red area of the pepper.

  19. 20

    Aleksander Pujszo

    March 27, 2013 6:32 pm

    Great! Thanks!

  20. 21

    Really nice! Thank you, learned a lot =)

  21. 22

    When I first switched from Freehand to Illustrator I hated the gradiant tools that were encompassed within Illustrator. I have grown to love them and it’s nice to have seen the major migration in control the last few upgrades. Thanks for sharing!

  22. 23

    Thanks for the really great tutorial: very helpful. I thought it might be worth mentioning, though, that you need to turn on the gradient annotator before you can see it. It took a while for me to find that out!

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