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Deke's Techniques is a collection of short Photoshop and Illustrator projects and creative effects that can be completed in ten minutes or less. The series is taught by computer graphics guru Deke McClelland, and presented in his signature step-by-step style. The intent is to reveal how various Photoshop and Illustrator features can be combined and leveraged in real-world examples so that they can be applied to creative projects right away.
Hey gang! This is Deke McClelland. Welcome to Deke's Techniques, and happy Fourth of July, a day early, which is a big deal for us Americans because it's the day we declared independence, from France--at least that's what I was taught. But let's not quibble; I am here to celebrate by showing you how to create a patriotic superhero shield in Illustrator. We'll start by building out these base shapes, a five-pointed star along with four circles, and then we'll add some highlights using this thing called the Flare tool that most people don't even know exists inside Illustrator, and then we'll go ahead and integrate the entire thing to create this highly-reflective vector-based superhero shield. Here, let me show you exactly how it works. All right! Here's that final version of the shield open inside Illustrator.
I am going to turn the shield layer off. Notice that I'm working on an empty layer called new drawing. In the background, we have a rectangle filled with a gradient. The layer is locked, so we can't mess it up. Now, first thing I'd like you to do if you're working along with me, is confirm that you have Smart Guides turned on, by going up to the View menu and choosing the Smart Guides command. You also have a keyboard shortcut of Ctrl+U or Command+U on the Mac. Now, that will help us get a sense for the size of the star, at least in CS6. Then go to the Shape tool flyout menu and select the Star tool.
Now I'll start drawing any old place inside of your document. I am using the spacebar to change the position of my star. Now, by default, you will see a five-pointed star. If you see more or fewer points, you can press the up or down arrow key in order to change the number of points. But we do want five points, and you also want to go ahead and press the Shift and Alt keys-- that would be the Shift and Option keys on the Mac--to constrain the sides in alignment with each other, and to make the star upright just like a classic American star. If you see your Width and Height values there, we're looking for a Width value of approximately 180 points, and I have 179.66, which is just fine.
And by the way, if your star is sized a little differently, that's not going to hurt things. Next, I'll go up to the control panel and I will click on that second swatch there, which represents a stroke, and I'll switch it to none because we don't want a stroke for these shapes. All right! Now, what I'd like you to do is go ahead and switch back to your Black Arrow tool, which you can get by pressing the V key, drag your star to more or less the center of the illustration here. And if you're not seeing the bounding box, go up to the View menu and choose Show Bounding Box to turn it on. Now, we're going to need to draw a series of concentric circles to represent the shield, and they need to be exactly aligned with the outside perimeter of the star here, and that means centering all the shapes, so we need to know exactly where the center of the star is. And Illustrator is not that great at showing you the center of a star.
Let me show you what I mean. I'll go up to the Window menu and choose the Attributes command. That brings up this tiny little Attributes panel. Go ahead and click on that double arrow in order to expand it, and turn on this option, Show Center. And notice that you get a center point, but it's not located at the center of star; instead, it's located at the center of the bounding box that contains the star, and the center of that bounding box and the center of that star are not the same thing. So we're going to have to create our own custom center point, by selecting Don't Show Center, here in the Attributes panel. Go ahead and close the panel as well, go up to the View menu, and choose Hide Bounding Box to get rid of that bounding box.
Now, in order to find the center of the star, we have to destroy it. So you'll do well to create a copy before you move forward here, by going up to the Edit menu and choosing the Copy command, or press Ctrl+C or Command+C on the Mac. Now, switch to the White Arrow tool, which you can get by pressing the A key, and I want you to press the Shift key and marquee around the five anchor points in order to deselect them. That leaves the outer five anchor points selected. We don't want them, so go ahead and press the Backspace key, or the Delete key on a Mac, in order to get rid of them.
Now I'll go ahead and zoom in on our remaining points. We want to average these points' locations, and you do that by clicking on the word Align, up here on the control panel, and then make sure that the Align To option is set to Align to Selection. That's very important. And then click on Horizontal Align Center and then click on Vertical Align Center in order to find the center of that star. Now, what we have is five anchor points directly on top of each other. That's not what we want; we just need one of them. So twirl open your new drawing layer and you should see a series of items that Illustrator is calling Path.
Each one of them is one of the anchor points. Just go ahead and Shift+Click on that target for any one of them--just one, however--in order to deselect that item, then press the Backspace key or the Delete key on the Mac to get rid of all the other ones. You should still see one point right there remaining. You can't see it, however, when it's deselected in the Preview mode, so press Ctrl+Y or Command+Y on the Mac in order to see the point represented as an X. Now, one of those Xs is going to be the center of the big gradient rectangle, and if you click on that X, you won't be able to select it because the layer is locked.
In my case, I am going to click on the other anchor point. It turns orange. That tells me that is the center of my star. Of course I need to bring the star back, so I will go up to the Edit menu and choose Paste in Front or I can press Ctrl+F or Command+F on the Mac in order to bring back that star, and now you can see that the star is centered on that anchor point. Now, I am going to go ahead and merge these two items together. I want you to Shift+Click on the anchor point to select it, so both the star and that center point should be selected. Then go up to the Object menu, choose Compound Path, and choose Make, and that essentially fuses those items into a single shape, and you can go ahead and rename it star inside the Layers panel if you like. All right! Now, it's not properly centered inside of the artboard, and even if we were to use Illustrator's automatic centering functions, it wouldn't get it quite right.
So, what we're best off doing is dragging the shape by its center point until we snap into alignment with the center of the rectangle, like so. And again, you're going to be able to sense that snap better if you're working with Smart Guides. All right! I am going to press Ctrl+Y, or Command+Y on the Mac in order to switch back to the Preview mode, and I am going to zoom out a little bit here. I am also going to switch over to the Color panel for a moment. If you don't see your CMYK values, go ahead and expand the panel. You may also have to choose CMYK from the flyout menu. And I am going to change the K value to 15%, so we have just a little bit of darkness associated with the star.
All right! Now let's start drawing the circles by switching from the Star tool to the Ellipse tool here in the Shape tool flyout menu, and we'll create the ellipse from the center out by pressing the Alt key or the Option key on the Mac and dragging outward like so. You also want to press the Shift key, and you want to see that you're snapping into alignment with the top of the star. So I have both the Shift and Alt keys down--that would be Shift and Option on the Mac--and you can see that we're going to exactly center and align the circle on the star. Then go ahead and release in order to create the shape.
Now, let's enter a shade of blue, by changing the Cyan value to 100. I am going to change the Magenta value to 75; Yellow is fine at 0; and then I'll change the K value, which is Black, to 35%. Next, we need to send the shape to the back, so go ahead and right-click inside the shape, choose Arrange, and choose Send to Back. Notice that it has a keyboard shortcut that we'll be using in the future of Ctrl+Shift+Left Bracket; that's Command+Shift+Left Bracket on the Mac. All right! I am going to press Ctrl+0 or Command+0 on the Mac in order to center my view.
Now, we need to draw the other circles, and we'll do that by creating the shapes from the center out, by Alt+Clicking or Option+Clicking on that center point. That brings up the Ellipse dialog box. And because you have the Alt or Option key down, you're going to be creating the shape from the center outward. These Width and Height values here represent the size of the last shape you drew. What I want you to do is click at the end of the value and enter +60, and assuming that you're working in points, then Illustrator will go ahead and add 60 points to that Width value after you press the Tab key. Then do the same for the Height value, and press the Tab key there as well, and click OK, and you'll create an ellipse that is exactly 60 points larger in both directions.
This circle wants to be red, so I am going to change the Cyan value to 0. I will increase the Magenta value to 100%. I will change the Y value to 100%. A K value of 35 is just fine. Then go ahead and press Ctrl+Shift+Left Bracket or Command+Shift+Left Bracket on the Mac in order to send the shape to the back of the stack. Alt+Click at that center point again-- we've got two more stripes here--in order to bring up the Ellipse dialog box. Add +60 to each one of these values, taking care to press the Tab key in order to invoke those changes after entering the values.
Then click OK to create yet a larger ellipse. Press Ctrl+Shift+Left Bracket or Command+Shift+Left Bracket on the Mac in order to send the shape to the back of the stack, press the I key to switch to the Eyedropper tool, and click inside the star in order to load that shade of white. All right! Now I'll switch back to the Ellipse tool, one final time, Alt+Click or Option+Click on its center point, press the right arrow key to advance to the end of the value, enter +60, do the same for the Height value as well, press the Tab key, click OK in order to create that shape, press Ctrl+Shift+Left Bracket, Command+Shift+Left Bracket on the Mac to send the shape to the back of the stack, press the I key for the eyedropper, click in the red stripe, and you have now created all of your base path outlines.
Go ahead and press the V key to switch back to the Black Arrow tool. Now, I am going to add a little bit of a bevel using a couple of drop shadow effects. So press Ctrl+A or Command+A on the Mac to select all the shapes. Then go up to the Effect menu, choose Stylize, and choose Drop Shadow. And the settings we're looking for are a mode of Multiply, an Opacity of 50%. However, I want the X Offset value to be -1, the Y Offset value should be 1. The Blur value should be 0. A color of black is just fine.
You can turn on the Preview checkbox to see what you're up to, in which case you should see some dark areas down left of the shapes. Then go ahead and click OK in order to create those shadows. Let's do it again, but this time we'll make highlights, by going up to the Effect menu and choosing that very first command, Drop Shadow... and that will bring back your last applied settings. This time, however, we want the mode to be Screen. I want the color, instead of being black-- so go ahead and click on that black swatch--to be white, so go ahead and drag to the upper-left corner of this field and click OK.
And then let's reverse these values, that is, the X Offset value should be 1 and the one Y Offset value should be -1. Then press the Tab key. Turn on the Preview checkbox. You will see a little bit of a highlight to the up and the right of each one of the shapes. Then click OK. And finally, click off the paths to deselect them, click on the rearmost path in order to select it--the largest of the two red circles-- then go up to the Effect menu, and choose Drop Shadow... again. This time Illustrator is going to get kind of mad at you, and say, do you really want to apply a new effect, which is what you're going to do, or do you want to change the drop shows you've already applied? We want to apply yet another effect, so click that Apply New Effect button, and then change the mode to Multiply, click in the little color swatch, go ahead and drag down left inside the Color field in order to dial on black, and this time, we want an X Offset value of -2, a Y Offset value of 2, and a Blur value of 2 as well.
Turn on the Preview checkbox and you will see a drop shadow at the back of the shield. Now, go ahead and click OK in order to accept that effect, and you can press Ctrl+Shift+A or Command+Shift+A on the Mac in order to deselect your artwork. All right! We've got a little more left to do, and this is the stuff that really sells the effect, in my opinion. I am going to twirl close this new drawing layer, turn it off for a moment and turn on the shield layer, and you can see that we have all these highlights and this darkness showing up inside of the shield, and that's the result of this rarely used tool inside of Illustrator: the Flare tool.
So let me show you how it works. I will go ahead and turn the shield layer off and turn the new drawing layer back on, and I will click on that layer as well to make sure it's active. Now, what you want to do is click and hold on that Ellipse tool to bring up the Shape tool flyout menu, and select the Flare tool. What you do with the Flare tool is you drag from about here in the upper-right region of that first red stripe down into the star in order to create the initial part of the flare, and you can make it as big or small as you want. And then after you get done with that initial flare, you can see that Illustrator is automatically creating a series of circles and lines and so forth.
Then you want to click right about here in order to set the end of your flare, and then Illustrator will draw all kinds of additional circles as well. All right! At this point, just because it's going to get pretty gnarly if we don't, press Ctrl+U, or Command+U on the Mac in order to turn off your Smart Guides. And you might want to press Ctrl+H or Command+H on the Mac in order to hide the selection for now. It's still selected. We're just not seeing the edges. Then click on the word Opacity on the left side of the control panel and change the blend mode from Normal to Color Dodge in order to create this over- the-top-effect, I realize.
But we can soften it a little bit, and we're going to blend it better as well. First, for the softening, what you want to do is go up to the Effect menu, choose Blur, and then choose Gaussian Blur. And then inside the Gaussian Blur dialog box, dial in a Radius of 3 pixels and just go ahead and click OK. Now, this is most time-consuming part of the process. Illustrator has to run some fairly intense computations, but it seems to be done in my case. Now, we want to go ahead and clip this flare inside the shield. So twirl open the new drawing layer, go ahead and scroll to the bottommost red circle here, and click on its little target meatball in order to select it.
Now, we're not seeing the selection edges because they're hidden at the moment. Go up to the Edit menu and choose the Copy command or press Ctrl+C or Command+C on the Mac. Now, go ahead and scroll back up the stack, and meatball that flare--that is, click on that little circular meatball-- in order to select it, and return to the Edit menu and choose Paste in Front, or press Ctrl+F or Command+F on the Mac. And now we want to combine these two together, so press the Shift key and click on that circle next to the flare again so both of these objects are selected, and go up to the Object menu, choose Clipping Mask and choose Make, and you'll end up masking the flare inside of the shield.
Now, return to the Layers panel. Notice you now have this item called Clip Mask. I want you to twirl it open, and you'll see two items inside of there: one is the clipping mask itself, the circle, and the other is the flare. I want you to click on the meatball, this little guy here--that's what it's called--for this empty circle and then switch over to the Swatches panel. And you'll see that I've created a swatch for you in advance. It's called Cool Gradient. Go ahead and click on it to select it. What it is is a radial gradient going from white all the way over to a very dark shade of blue.
And notice this little diamond here. If I expand my Gradient panel, you can see that it's set to a location of 75%. That represents the center of the gradient, and what that means is I've stretched out the light portion like crazy there. Now, I want you to click on the word Opacity up here in the control panel, and I want you to change the blend mode to Multiply in order to create that darkening effect. All right! Just one more shape that we're going to need to create here. I am going to collapse the Gradient panel as well as lift these panels up here so I have a little more room to work. And I am going to twirl closed this clipping mask, and I will click on the meatball next to the blue circle in order to select it.
Then go up to the Edit menu, choose the Copy command, or press Ctrl+C or Command+C on a Mac, and then meatball this clipping mask item here, and press Ctrl+F or Command+F on the Mac to paste that guy in front. I want to fill it with that same gradient, so go ahead and find cool gradient here in the Swatches panel and click on it. And finally, click on the word Opacity up in the control panel, change the Opacity value to 50%, and then change the Blend mode to Multiply in order to achieve this final effect.
And if you like, you can go ahead and press Ctrl+H or Command+H on the Mac to bring back your selection edges, and then press Ctrl+Shift+A or Command+Shift+A on the Mac in order to deselect your artwork. And that, friends, is how you create a reflective superhero shield here inside Illustrator.
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