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In this movie I'll show you how to change the number of steps between blended path outlines, and when and why you might want to do so. I'll start off by pressing and holding the Ctrl and Spacebar keys, that's Command and Spacebar on the Mac, in order to get the Zoom tool, and then I'll marquee around this approximate area here. And if you look closely inside of either the green gradient or the reddish one above it, then you may be able to make out a series of striations, which are the steps themselves. And when you're able to see the steps like this, it's called stair stepping.
Now, what you want of course is not to see those steps as much as possible, so that you're simulating the effect of a smooth color transition. The thing is, the stair stepping you see on screen isn't necessarily indicative of the stair stepping you might get when you print the document. Ostensibly, every gradient, whether created with Gradient tool or using blending, should look nice and smooth for output. However, what I'm going to do, just so you can see how these steps work, I'm going to click on the path outline with the Black Arrow tool in order to select it, and then I'll go up to the Control panel and click on the Edit Contents icon in order to gain access to the mast blend.
Now, to change the number of steps, you go up to the Object menu, choose Blend, and choose the Blend Options command. That will bring up this dialog box right here. Notice that Spacing by default is set to Smooth Color. I'll turn on the Preview checkbox so I can see what I'm doing, and I'll switch this option either to Specified Steps--which allows you to dial in the number of steps between the path outlines--or you can choose Specified Distance to determine the distance between each step. Most of the time, just because it's easier to wrap your brain around, you go ahead and choose Specified Steps.
Notice that Illustrator tells me that it came up with 76 steps automatically. Now, I could take that value and reduce it to just 6 steps and then press the Tab key, and now you can see those steps very easily. We've got 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and then a hidden sixth step that's outside of the clipping path. Now, it may look like every one of the steps is filled with a gradient that starts dark at the bottom and becomes lighter at the top, that's absolutely an optical illusion created by the contrast between the colors of each step. In fact, each step is filled with a solid color, and that's how it works inside standard gradients as well.
Illustrator uses bands of solid color that are so tightly packed together that they look like smooth color transitions. Now, I could take this value up to something extreme, such as let's say 776 steps and press the Tab key, and then I'll end up with a smooth gradient. However, I can still see the stepping that I saw just a moment ago. All I've done is created a much more complicated blend. So I'll go ahead and take that value back down to 76, just so you can see the difference, press the Tab key; almost no difference on screen.
So in this case, Illustrator got it exactly right. So I can just Cancel out of this dialog box. So you may well ask, well if Illustrator gets it right nearly all the time--which is true--then why do you ever have to monkey around with the steps? And the answer is because sometimes Illustrator doesn't get it right. And one of the most common situations is when you're working with a very small blend. I'm going to switch over to this illustration here, which should be familiar from the previous chapter. I've gone ahead and included another version of the file inside the 23_blends_masks folder.
And I'll go ahead and zoom in on that Windows icon right there, and you can see it's very tiny, because it fits in between these characters of type. I'll go ahead and zoom in two more increments here. This icon is a group, so I'll double-click on this light blue path outline in order to enter the Group Isolation mode, and then I'll click on this light blue ellipse to select it; and then I'll move my cursor around to right about there, until I can see a little black square next to my arrow cursor. I'll Shift+ Click in order to select that dark blue ellipse. And now I want to blend between the two of them.
So I'll go up to the Object menu, choose Blend, and then choose the Make command--or you can just press Ctrl+Alt+B or Command+Option+B on the Mac-- and it comes up with a single step. Why just one step? Because the distance between these path outlines is so miniscule that this is all Illustrator thinks you need. In fact though, you are going to see this step when you print the document. So what you want to do is change the number of steps. You can do so by going to the Object menu, choosing Blend, and choosing Blend Options. But there's an easier way to get to this function, and that is to just double-click on the Blend tool icon in the toolbox.
And notice that brings up that same Blending Options dialog box. I'll switch from Smooth Color, which is certainly not what we're getting, to Specified Steps. Illustrator is telling me it just created one step for me. I'll turn on the Preview checkbox so I can see what I am doing, and then you can nudge this value up from the keyboard by pressing the Up Arrow Key, or if you want to nudge in 10 step increments, you press Shift+Up Arrow. And at about 50 steps I'm getting very smooth results, so I'll go ahead and click the OK button, and then I'll press Ctrl+Shift+A or Command+Shift+A to deselect my artwork.
So that's one situation in which you might need to change the number of steps. Here is another. I'll go ahead and switch back to my sarcophagus illustration and press Ctrl+0 or Command+0 on the Mac in order to zoom out. And then I'll zoom in on this region here which features these folds between the batwings, and I'll press the V key to switch to my Black Arrow tool, click on this path outline. Let's say I want to create a few more folds in between these two extreme path outlines here. One way to achieve the effect would be to rotate the path outline. So I could switch to the Rotate tool.
Click on the top anchor point in order to set the transformation origin, and then drag up to about here and press the Alt key or the Option key on the Mac in order to create a copy. Then I'll press Ctrl+D or Command+D a couple of times in order to create three more folds. Two big problems however; I'm not matching the curvature of the top segment and I'm not matching its scale either, so I'd have to monkey around with each one of these path outlines, which is not what I want. So I'll press Ctrl+Z or Command+Z on the Mac a few times in order to undo those modifications. Press the V key to switch back to my Black Arrow tool and Shift+Click on this top path outline.
Notice that each of these path outlines features two anchor points connected by a curve segment. And now I'll press that keyboard shortcut for the Make Blend command, which is Ctrl+Alt+B or Command+Option+B on the Mac, and I just get one path outline. And the reason in this case is Illustrator is looking at these two paths and saying okay, neither of them has a Fill, both of them have identical black Strokes, so what in the world do you want from me? I can't create a smooth color transition because you haven't given me anything to work with. So what you do of course is you double- click on the Blend tool icon here in the toolbox in order to bring up the Blend Options dialog box. You switch from Smooth Color Spacing to Specified Steps, turn on the Preview checkbox, and then just Up Arrow that value there to 3, and we end up getting the effect we're looking for.
And notice that this time around Illustrator is both rotating and scaling and matching the curvature of the steps to match those of the two extreme blended paths. Now go ahead and click OK in order to accept that change. That's how and why you change the number of steps between blended path outlines here inside Illustrator.
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