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In Illustrator CS5 One-on-One: Mastery, the third and final part of the comprehensive Illustrator One-on-One series, author and industry expert Deke McClelland shows how to take advantage of the wide array of dynamic effects in Illustrator CS5. Deke explores Illustrator’s powerful Gradient Mesh feature, great for creating photorealistic airbrushing effects. He also covers graphic styles, the liquify tools, envelope-style distortions, the new Bristle Brushes, 3D text, and perspective drawing. Exercise files accompany the course.
In this project we are going to take this base photograph that happens to come to us from Szerdahelyi Adam of the Fotolia Image Library. And it's a low resolution photograph, you should note that. I've set it up as a tracing template so that we can easily lift colors from it. And we are going to be rendering these peppers out using a series of gradient meshes. So I'll go ahead and switch to the final version of this illustration, which I call Final product.ai. And the great thing about gradient meshes is that you can blend colors between multiple neighboring points. So as opposed to setting up basically a string of colors, the way you do with a linear or radial gradient, so that you start at one color, you end at another, you might have a few other color stops in between, you are actually setting up a grid of colors, so it's a 2D grid of colors.
And I'll go ahead and click on this shape right here with my Black Arrow tool to show you what a sample gradient mesh looks like. Every single one of these anchor points has a color associated with it and that color is blending to each one of the neighboring anchor points, so we are blending a little sort of micro- gradient here to the right, to the left, down, and upward from that central point, and each one of those other anchor points is doing the same. They have colors associated with them as well. Each one of these segments in between the anchor points is a true Bezier segment, meaning it has control handles associated with it.
So this is a fairly complicated feature. Now, I've spent a lot of time in previous chapters telling you how to get efficient results out of Illustrator, telling you how to avoid using the Pen tool in many cases. That's not going to be the tone of this chapter. Creating a gradient mesh is a labor of love. There's not too many quick and fast workarounds. Mostly you're spending an awful lot of time setting up these Mesh points and coloring them, but the results can be well worth the effort. So now everything that you're seeing here in this final graphic is a gradient mesh, with one exception: this little base item at the bottom of the stem, that's filled with a standard gradient but otherwise everything you're seeing is a gradient mesh.
Now, you might be a little bit troubled by the fact that we have some banding down here in these shadows underneath the peppers. That is not something to worry about. That's ultimately a screen redraw issue inside of Illustrator. And just to prove my point, I've gone ahead and rasterized this artwork inside of Photoshop, so I'll go ahead and switch over to Photoshop for a moment. The name of this image, in case you care, is Smooth raster gradients.tiff. Again, found inside the 24_gradient_mesh folder. But there's not really any reason for you to open it. I just want you to see it here on-screen and notice that we have some very smooth gradient transitions going on.
So this is essentially a wicked, cool, awesome feature. Now, it does get rasterized. I should note that Illustrator goes ahead and rasterizes its gradient meshes by default at a resolution of 300 pixels per inch, which is plenty of resolution for smooth flowing colors like these. All right, let's switch back to Illustrator so I can give you a sense of how you set things up in the first place. I am going to switch back to my base graphic, which I'm calling Base peppers.ai, and I'm going to turn on my base paths layer right there. And you can see that these are the base paths that we'll be working with.
Not very many of them. I believe there's a total of nine paths. I created every single one of them using the Pen tool, so I just went ahead and traced the peppers as I saw them. Now, rather than making you create gradient meshes inside of both peppers, because it would be a lot of duplication of effort if you did that, I've set up the right pepper in advance for you. So I am going to turn off the base paths layer and then turn on mesh peppers, and you'll see that the right-hand pepper is all ready to go and the left hand pepper is still eagerly awaiting us. So now there is three different ways to set up a gradient mesh in the first place.
One is to use this command under the Object menu that's called Create Gradient Mesh, and that's how we're going to start things off. Another is, if I escape out of there, you could just grab the Mesh tool, which has a keyboard shortcut of U by the way, and then you can just start clicking inside of a shape in order to add mesh lines. And then finally, if the shape is already filled with a gradient, which this one is not, but if it were, you could go up to the Object menu and choose the Expand command and then expand that gradient into a gradient mesh. And we'll see examples of every single one of these approaches.
We're going to start things off though, as I say, with Create gradient mesh. And that brings up this dialog box right here, which determines how many rows and columns you want to set up initially. And bear in mind, you can always change your mind later on. You can delete mesh lines, you can add new ones anytime you like. And you probably need to, because if you take a look at this, what needs to be a volumetric form, we should probably have more mesh lines on the outer edges in order to really do justice to the shape. We don't need as many mesh lines toward the center, whereas this Create gradient mesh command goes ahead and equally spaces our rows and columns.
So what I found worked best, this is just trial and error stuff, you're just going to have to sort of find your way around as you're working with this feature, but for this specific illustration I found that 6 rows and 6 columns was a good place to start. And I've got the Preview check box turned on so I can see what I'm doing. Now, my Appearance option is currently set to Flat, which means that I'm not seeing any color variation. We're just going from one red point to another red point. If you want to breathe some color into the image, then you could choose To Center. In our case that's going to work. The other option is To Edge, which is going to reverse the color, so dark in the center and bright on the edge.
No matter what, we're going from the initial Fill color to brightness, to white essentially, and so I'm going to set this To Center. And then you could say well, gosh, maybe I just want a 50% Highlight for starters. And that's actually kind of nice, because what you're doing right off the bat is you're creating a Shape Gradient, so the Gradient is already contoured to that shape that it fills, which is otherwise an unavailable kind of Gradient inside of Illustrator. You've got linear gradients, you've got radial gradients, but you don't have shape gradients, except for this one right here.
Anyway, I might take this up a little bit actually. I'll take this Highlight value, let's say, to 65, just so that we're breathing a little additional life into the shape, and then I'll click OK and we have now created a gradient mesh. In subsequent exercises, I'll show you how to make this mesh look wicked cool.
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