I’m Bananas for Illustrator’s Gradient Mesh Tool
by Sara Froehlich
Illustrator’s Gradient Mesh lets you add shading you never though possible with a vector application. Here’s how to get started using it…
Using Illustrator’s Gradient Mesh feature you can make complex fills that have amazing realism. I have seen incredible examples of this, like the flower that was the logo for Illustrator CS and of course, Venus, who graced the Illustrator box and the top of the toolbox for many versions. So how do you use this wonderful tool? The best way to learn it is to jump right in and experiment with it.
To experiment with the tool, draw a simple shape like this ellipse. Use a solid color fill for this exercise; the Gradient Mesh tool will not work with pattern fills, and to keep a gradient fill you already have on an object there is an extra step. (Select the object, and go to Object > Expand and choose Fill. Then create the gradient mesh.) You can have a stroke, but the Gradient Mesh tool will remove it. One thing to remember when using the Gradient Mesh tool is that when you use this tool on an object, it converts it to a Gradient Mesh Object. Editing the points of the Gradient Mesh can also change the shape of the object as well as the color.
Make sure the fill color is the active chip in the toolbox or the Gradient Mesh tool will have no effect. Activate the Gradient Mesh tool in the toolbox and click once on the ellipse. I clicked in the center just to show how much difference this tool can make even with one point of color added. The center point is selected; just use the color palette to change the color, and the color of the point changes, and shades into the rest of the ellipse.
Add points clicking with the Gradient Mesh tool, and change the color as desired with the color palette.
Points can be moved and edited using the direct selection tool or the Gradient Mesh tool, and the colors are redistributed on the mesh automatically. If you are using the Gradient Mesh tool, make sure you are exactly on the point you want to move, or the tool will add another point. Select multiple points to recolor or move by holding the shift key as you click on the point with the Direct Selection tool. You can also use the arrow keys to precisely move selected points.
You can set up the mesh with as many points as you wish before coloring too. Go to Objects > Create Gradient Mesh and set the desired number of points across and down. For an automatic start to the shading, choose whether you want the mesh to shade to the center or to the outside. If you choose Flat, there will be points but no shading until you change the color of the points. Even though you can do it this way, I rarely do as I find it doesn’t always place the points where I want them, so I prefer to add them myself with the Gradient Mesh tool.
Start off by drawing a rough design. The banana is very rough, but it’s all I needed since the majority of the work will be using the Gradient Mesh tool. The stem and the bottom are separate objects from the banana.
Use the Gradient Mesh tool for the shading.
When you are finished adding the colors, you will have something like the one below.
Use scatter brushes for the banana spots and other brushes to add accents.
You can use also recolor clipart. There is some clipart already in Illustrator format in the Goodies folder on your Illustrator CD. Inside the Goodies folder is a folder called Clip Art and Stock Photos. Find a piece of clipart you like and start experimenting.
Tracing clipart works as well. Your initial drawing can be very rough, as mentioned before. Not only doesn’t it have to be perfect, the lines can overlap. Use Live Paint to fill the parts of the drawing with the base colors, and then use the Gradient Mesh tool to add the shading. After you start to use the mesh tool, the strokes are removed, and you’ll be able to move individual points to close any gaps.
You could also use Illustrator’s Live Trace feature to trace a photo and use the Gradient Mesh tool for shading. This is an extremely powerful tool that is also a lot of fun to use!
©2005-2008 Sara Froehlich