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In Illustrator CS5 Essential Training, author Mordy Golding explains the core concepts and techniques that apply to any workflow in Illustrator, whether designing for print, the web, or assets for other applications. This course includes a detailed explanation of the elements that make up vector graphics—paths, strokes, and fills—and shows how to use each of the Illustrator drawing tools. Also demonstrated are techniques for combining and cleaning up paths, organizing paths into groups and layers, text editing, working with color, effects, and much more. Exercise files accompany the course.
So we've explored, inside of Illustrator, how to create things like clipping masks, which allow you to hide portions of a piece of artwork. However, in all these cases, the masks themselves have hard, or sharp edges just like vectors do. However, there may be plenty of times when you want a mask to have a soft edge, something like a feather that you might be able to apply, for example, in Photoshop. Well, you can actually use those kinds of soft objects here inside of Illustrator as a mask. But you have to apply them somewhat differently using a different type of a mask called an Opacity mask.
Let's take a quick look at two examples of how Opacity masks can be valuable inside of Illustrator. Let's begin by first creating some kind of a circle here, and rather than just mask this in a regular circle, we want to create some kind of a vignette effect where the circle has a soft edge, and the photo slowly fades out over time. I'll start by creating a circle here. I am going to use my Ellipse tool. I'll hold down my Option+Shift keys or Alt+Shift on Windows. I'll draw a nice circle here, and I don't need the stroke weight here. So I am going to change the Stroke to none.
So it's simply filled with white, and I'm now going to go to the Effect menu, I am going to choose Blur and then Gaussian Blur, and I want to soften up the edges of the circle. So I am going to increase the Radius to around maybe 35 pixels, and click OK. Now, I have a nice soft edge on that shape. I am going to switch to my Selection tool, and I am now going to click and drag to select both the circle that has the Gaussian Blur applied to it and also the photograph beneath it. Remember that when I define Masks, the topmost object becomes the Mask. Whatever is on the bottom of the stacking order gets clipped inside of that mask.
Now if I were to actually create a clipping mask right now, the path itself would become that clipping area. So I would still have a hard edge on my mask. Instead, I am going to open up my Transparency panel right over here. In fact, I am going to bring that out onto the art board here so we could take a better look at it. You can see that I now have this thumbnail that appears in this section right over here. It's giving me a preview of my artwork. By the way, on your screen if you don't see this area, you might need to come to the Transparency panel and double-click on the tab to expand it so that you see all of its settings.
At this point, I want to apply an Opacity mask. It's an incredibly powerful mask. In fact, so powerful that Adobe seems to hide it in a very hard place to find. You won't find it in the menu item, and you won't find it as one of the tools. Instead, inside of the Transparency panel, in the flyout menu, there is a setting here called Make Opacity mask. I am going to choose that option, and I can now see that the photograph fades out. It's basically using the Gaussian Blur to define the mask for the shape and not the path itself.
Now, that we know how to apply an Opacity mask, let's use it to create a different type of an effect. For example, come down to the gift card. You know the latest look right now out there is that you have all these cool reflections. Well, let's say I want to create a reflection of this card right here on the bottom, and I want it to fade out into that black background. I can't use a gradient for that because, after all, this art is made up of many different objects. So instead I'm going to use an Opacity mask to help me create this really cool reflection. The first thing that I want to do is come over here to the Gift Card layer.
I am going to deselect any artwork right now. I'm going to highlight the Gift Card layer, and I am going to turn on the layer Clipping Mask for this layer, so that all I see is the card itself. Next, I am going to close the layer here. I need to make a duplicate of this layer. After all in order to make your reflection I need to now have a copy of that gift card. A really easy way to do that is directly inside of the Layers panel. Simply take the entire Gift Card layer and drag it onto this new layer icon. This actually creates an entire copy of not just the layer, but all the artwork inside of it.
Now what I need to do is flip that entire layer upside down so it looks like a reflected copy. I'll select the entire layer by just clicking on this blank area inside of the Layers panel, and then I'll tap the O key on my keyboard to switch to the Reflect tool. Now I want it to reflect from the bottom part of the card itself, so I am going to move my cursor down to right at the base of the card, and I am going to Option+Click. Remember, when I Option+Click, it allows me to define the origin point for that reflection, and it brings up the Reflect dialog box. I'll make sure the Horizontal Axis option is chosen, and I'll click OK.
So far, I have exactly what I need. If I deselect this right now, so I am going to switch back to my Selection tool, I'll see that I now have a copy of this card that is now flipped upside down. At this point, we're ready to start working on the Opacity mask. I am going to switch to my Regular Rectangle tool, and I am going to click and drag to draw a rectangle over this shape right now. Then I am going to change its Fill color to a gradient instead of white. I can do that right over here just by clicking on this Fill indicator and choosing the regular black to white gradient.
Now I need the gradient to travel in a different direction. To make it easy to do that, I'm simply going to go right to the Gradient panel with that object still selected, and I am going to type in a value here of -90. I am going to hit the Tab key to accept that value, and you can see that right now my gradient starts from white at the top and then fades down to black. Basically, any part of my mask that's white will mean that the artwork underneath it will be visible. Any area that's black will be invisible. However, any gray areas will become partially visible.
So if you look at it right now, if I were to create a mask, my card would really be visible for most of it here. I only want to create a small reflection. So I am going to modify this gradient. I am going to take the black color stop right here, and drag it in. So basically the black starts a lot earlier. I also want the reflection to fade out a little bit more smoothly, so I am going to take the midpoint indicator, and drag that towards the white side. So now basically I am going to have a very strong part of the image right here, but it's going to quickly fade into nothing. So all I've done right now is I've taken a regular object, and I filled it with a gradient.
But now I am going to use the appearance of that gradient, even more specifically, the Luminance values of that gradient, and that's now going to become a mask for all the artwork inside of that layer. I am going to take my Regular Selection tool. I am going to click and drag to select both the artwork and the mask, which is currently on top. And then in my Transparency panel here, I'm going to click on the flyout menu and choose Make Opacity mask. If I deselect my art, I see that I've now created a really cool reflection for this card.
Now if I am not really so happy with the way that gradient looks, I can always edit it. I am going to click over here on this artwork, and in the Transparency panel, I now see two thumbnails. Currently, there is a thick black line around the thumbnail on the left. That means that right now my artwork is currently selected. However, if I click on the Mask icon, now Illustrator switches me to the mask. Here I can go back to my Gradient panel and continue to modify the gradient and how it looks. So I can get exactly just the right results for my reflection, maybe I'll kind of increase it just a little bit more this way, and maybe spread it out just a little bit further like that, or maybe even go just a bit further here to make it more dramatic.
Then I'll come back to the Transparency panel, and make sure that I click back on the artwork over here to stop editing the mask. It's important to realize if I don't come back and click on this icon, I will still be editing only the mask itself. Illustrator basically puts me in one of either two modes: either I am editing the Opacity mask or the artwork inside of my document. I just want to show you one other interesting thing about how the Layers panel works with this type of feature. Remember, how we discussed it when I create a mask inside of Illustrator, the mask is identified inside of the Layers panel by an underline.
Well, if I take a look over here at the Gift Card copy layer, you can see that right now the Group has a dashed underline underneath it. That means that that object has an Opacity mask applied to it. So Regular Masks have a solid line, and Opacity masks have a dash line.
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