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Covering a wide range of topics, from advanced masking to chart creation, Illustrator CS4 Beyond the Basics reveals a whole new level of power, creativity, and efficiency with Illustrator. Instructor Mordy Golding explores how to work with Live Paint groups, get the most out of the Live Trace feature, and take advantage of Illustrator’s wide range of effects. He also discusses advanced transformation techniques, powerful 3D functionality, and important color concepts. Exercise files accompany the course.
One of the more mysterious features inside of Illustrator is Gradient Mesh. Now we are already familiar with what a gradient is. A gradient basically allows us to take a single fill for an object and have it be made up of multiple colors. Those colors actually travel in a single direction and they blend seamlessly into each other. But the most important part of the definition is those particular colors travel in one direction. So for example, we know that there are two kinds of gradients fills, something called the Linear Gradient fill and something called the Radial Gradient fill. Now in this case over here, I have a Linear Gradient fill on this object and you could see that I have a start color and an end color. We could have multiple colors but all the colors, the transition of those colors, always travel in one direction.
I can have it go up, down or at an angle but again they all travel in one direction. Let me open up my Swatches panel here and I'll choose a Radial Gradient. So again the Radial Gradient has to abide by the same rules. The gradient itself travels in one direction, except it travels from the center outwards but I can't really have anything else deviate from that inside of this particular gradient. Well that is where Gradient Mesh comes into play. As we are going to see Gradient Mesh is actually an object that is made up of a grid of many anchor points, what we are going to be calling mesh points. You can think of those mesh points as different stops in a gradient but the benefit is that because these are actual mesh points, the gradients themselves can travel in any different direction.
Let me show you exactly what I mean. There are two ways to define or create a Gradient Mesh inside of Illustrator. Now a mesh object inside of Illustrator is actually different than a path. You can't just start off by creating a mesh object from scratch. You need to first start with the path and then convert that path into a mesh object and the tricky thing is also that once you create a mesh object, that object no longer can be turned back into a path again. As we are going to learn mesh objects and paths are like apples and oranges. They are not exact same type of object inside of Illustrator. So I'm going to start off with this object right here. I'm actually going to change its fill color just to solid red and I'm now going to show you that there are two ways to define a Gradient Mesh inside of Illustrator.
The easiest way is actually go straight to your Tools panel and choose the Mesh tool. Now in previous versions of Illustrator, this is actually called the Gradient Mesh tool but now there are many technologies or features inside of Illustrator that actually use mesh. For example, we know that the envelope feature which is used to store objects inside of Illustrator also uses mesh, but in this case here we'll be dealing specifically with gradient, so I'm going to use the Mesh tool to move my cursor outside on to the artboard. You can see, by the way, right now there is a circle with a line going through that cursor. That is identifying that right now I can't use that particular tool. Remember the tool itself can only be used on an existing path. That is also important to know that it has to be a regular plane path; it can't be a compound path or text object for example. And what I'll do is I'll actually move my mouse cursor over that particular object.
Now I'll see that I now have the ability to add a mesh point inside of this particular object. So the first thing is I'm going to move my cursor just about right about over here. I'm going to click once Define a mesh point. Now, actually two things just happened right now. First of all, I took my path and I have converted it now into a mesh object. Second of all, I have defined my first mesh point on my object. Now Illustrator automatically creates mesh points around the outsides of the object as well, which we'll talk about in a minute, but let us first understand what this mesh point actually is. So like I mentioned before, a mesh point can be thought of as a color stop in a gradient.
So right now, this particular mesh point is selected. I'm now going to go to my Swatches panel and choose, let's say, white. So here is the first main difference between a Gradient Mesh and anything else inside of Illustrator. Now we know that we can apply fill attributes to entire objects inside of Illustrator. I can have multiple fills that overlap each other but every object itself has a fill. What I can do inside of Illustrator though is I can apply a fill color to just one anchor point or in this case here, a mesh point inside of the object. Now just like the color stops in a gradient when I define one color, it automatically blends that color into the other side of the color of that particular gradient. If we take a look at this mesh point right now, this mesh point has a white fill attribute applied to it.
This particular mesh point right over here has a red fill color applied to it. So Illustrator is now basically creating a gradient from this anchor point or mesh point to this mesh point right here. So you see it goes from white and it transitions all the way to red. Now the thing though was that we discussed before, Gradient Meshes go in all different directions. So now, the actual blend or gradient that exists between this anchor point and this anchor point or mesh points also goes from white to red. Same thing in this direction and the same thing-- I'm going to move my screen just a little bit over here to the side-- actually exists from this mesh point to this mesh point as well. But because the distance between these two mesh points is far greater than the ones that appear between these, the actual gradient itself is kind of stretched out. So I get a really nice smooth transition which is different that what exists right here. In addition, you will also note that at every mesh point, I also have control handles, which is really not unlike any smooth anchor point inside of Illustrator. In fact, I can use my Direct Selection tool to actually click and drag on these control handles and what that does it actually adjust the contour of the gradient as it goes along this particular path between the two mesh points.
So right now I'm basically telling Illustrator, here is one mesh point which is filled white, here is one mesh point which is filled red, create a blend of the color between those two points and while you are doing that, follow this particular contour the path. So this is really at the core of the power of the Gradient Mesh tool. Let's take a look over here. I'm going to actually delete this object. I'm going to show you the other way to create a Gradient Mesh object. That is one way using the Mesh tool. I'm actually going to use my Ellipse tool here, hold down the Option key on the Mac or Alt on Windows. I want to start drawing it out from the center. I'm actually going to create an oval somewhere about that size. It does not make a difference what it is.
I'm going to change its fill color, let's say, to green. Again, I'm just choosing an arbitrary color here. So now instead of using the Mesh tool itself, I'm going to go to the Object menu. With that path selected, I'm going to choose Create Gradient Mesh. It opens up the Create Gradient Mesh dialog box. Now here I have the ability to specify a number of rows and columns which automatically define mesh points at standardized areas throughout the particular object. Now there is also an option here where it says Appearance. Right now it is set to Flat. [00:05:51. 22] That means that all of the color right now is remaining flat. Illustrator does have the ability to automatically say to center, just uses white as like a highlight color and it basically goes ahead and applies some colors here to make it appear as some kind of a 3D appearance. We'll talk more about this in a moment.
Or I can choose To Edge which is just reverse. I can also choose the intensity of what highlight is right now, but in reality when I go ahead and I work with Gradient Mesh, I really go ahead and I choose that as my appearance. So I want to that on my own by I choosing my own colors. So I can specify the number of rows and columns. I could add more rows and columns. For example, I could add let's say 20 rows and 20 columns and that adds that many more mesh points to my object. Now here is the thing about working with mesh points in a Gradient Mesh object. The more mesh points you have, the more transitions of color you can have. At the same time though, it also makes your Gradient Mesh object more complex and more difficult to control as we'll see when you start working with these mesh points. So you really are kind of faced with this kind of thing.
Do you want more color divisions or do you want to be able to actually have an easier object to work with? That depends on the task that you have at hand. But my advice is always to kind of err on the lower side basically meaning I add fewer rows and columns to my object because it's easier to add mesh points later on. Starting to delete mesh points is easy to do but you still have to worry about all the extra rows or columns that exist. So what I'm just going to is I'm actually going to set this back to just the original, let's say, 5 rows and 5 columns and click OK. So at this point now, I have the ability to use my Mesh tool over here. I'm going to go back over here to the Mesh tool and I can click on a mesh point to select that mesh point and assign a color to it.
Now I also have the ability to move over mesh points and I can actually hold down the Option or the Alt key and click to remove that particular mesh point. Notice now that mesh point disappeared. I also have the ability to just simply click and add a mesh point anywhere that I want to as well. So adding mesh points, removing mesh points, very easy. One thing that I really want to point though about what the Gradient Mesh tool really kind of brings here is that even on a very simplistic level, you have the ability over here to create these contours, which is very difficult to do working with blends or gradients otherwise. Even if you are not going to create some kind of complex shape, you could still take advantage of the Gradient Mesh feature. Let me show you exactly what I mean. I'm going to press Undo a few times.
I want to go back to my shape before as it turns into a mesh object. Notice over here in my control panel it says I'm working with a path. I'm going to basically work with this object. I have it selected. I'm going to use my Mesh tool here. To click, let's say, in the upper right hand region of this particular oval and when I click, you can see that the actual lines that are defined here are kind of contoured match my shape. This happens automatically when you are working with Gradient Mesh and that is extremely powerful because when I choose another color, let's say for a highlight color here, I can see that I automatically get a very nice transition and the contour matches the shape.
So I get an appearance that normally would not happen with the regular flat type of gradient or blend even that I would create. So this is really, I think, where Gradient Mesh kind of comes into play. You don't have to worry about creating all different kinds of things. We are actually going to explore in this chapter, two different ways to actually employ Gradient Mesh. So for example, if I look at these two items down here. Here I actually used Gradient Mesh to create a realistic highlight, a reflection, on this particular shape right here. Notice how it kind of transitions and it also kind of matches the contour of the shape as well. So I want to use Gradient Mesh to help me do that instead of me trying to figure how to do that on my own.
Additionally, you can also use Gradient Mesh to create photorealistic images. For example, in this case here I wanted to create some kind of a stylized image of a guy surfing. In fact, I'll even show you the image that I started with before I created this and you will see how easy it is when you are working with Gradient Mesh to basically start with a photograph and then convert that step by step into something that looks rather cool. To now understand what Gradient Mesh is, how it works, the elements that basically make it tick, we can start to explore how to actually go about creating these two different types of effects.
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