TUTORIAL: Gradient Mesh Editing and Effects, Using Adobe Illustrator (CS2)
I wanted to create a tutorial on Gradient Meshes. In working with them, I've found that with a few simple tricks, the complexity of the subject almost completely disappears (Although sometimes you can't escape the tediousness.) Prolonged exposure to gradient meshes in the Adobe Illustrator workspace will also prepare your mind to understanding the workings of space-time and dimensional travel. Ok, the last statement I can't promise…but the following tutorial I can!
We will be re-creating this image:
So…where to start. The beginning, I guess! I've noticed that many people avoid the use of gradient meshes for a few reasons. The biggest of which seem to be complexity and time.
When I first got accepted onto Istockphoto, I searched a lot of Gradient Mesh based vector images, and I was simply amazed at some of the stuff people were doing with the gradient mesh tool. The skill, at first glance, would almost seem un-attainable! And they are amazing images! I'm sure it would be exciting to many of you out there who use Adobe Illustrator to know that it is quite within your ability to do this sort of work.
What I've found is that the complexity is not as bad as it seems. And time? If you strike the right chord, an image that took an amount of time can be very successful (please keep in mind that this tutorial was originally created for stock photographers and illustrators). And believe it or not, you can create simple gradient mesh images in about the same time it would take to make a nice clean basic vector image, or a simple hyperdrive circuit for a UFO.
Gradient meshes open new horizons in your creative flow. The drawbacks to using them are quite minimal (such as compatibility with other editing software).
So, I've planned out this highly unprofessional, mispelled, but informative nonetheless…tutorial… Bear with me. Try to fill in the blanks with educated assumptions and caffeine. No doubt this is common knowledge to a few of you out there. Also note that many different artists have many different techniques, and of course you will find a lot of standard practices in the official textbooks. This tutorial just happens to be what helps me produce good images easily, and gets me profitable attention as an illustrator under the guise of being generous with my techniques.
Ok, moving on…
1: I set up a sophisticated photography environment in which to shoot the image I'd be working from – the hood of my car, in front of my house, on a piece of printer paper. Behind the car there are some local hillbillies staging a UFO hoax by dangling a hubcap from the powerlines you see there in the backgound. Who needs photoshop? If you plan to work along with this tutorial, the photograph I used can be found here from my wife's photobucket account (Didn't I say unprofessional?): We're going to be making the Red Crayon to the same general appearance of the blue one you see here. Since this tutorial does some tricks using the RGB (red, blue, green) filter, a red, green, and blue crayon work pretty well!
2:3: As you can see below, the actual structure of the mesh is not very complicated. Even on the photorealistic vectors that some people around here on earth do, the meshes do not get much more complicated than this!
4: First, make a rectangle roughly the size of the red crayon. Then, with it selected, go to Object/Create Gradient Mesh. A window will pop up with some options, such as rows, columns, and some other stuff I don't remember. Whats important is that you type a "1" into the rows and columns. This will give you a blank rectangle, not much unlike the original one you started with, but the difference is it has a nicer personality, and its has a fill color. Its also a gradient mesh in disguise. The idea here is that starting with *NO* inner lines (rows/columns) gives you much greater control over how the mesh is formed. You'll see as we continue.
5. Now, go to your transparency pallet (I know transparencies are scary things, but you can trust me on this one) and bring the opacity all the way down to zero. Now, not only is it a gradient mesh in disguise, but its also invisible. This will help you see through to the object below as you start recontructing the basic form of the object. (In case you're not familar with the transparency pallet, simply go to Window/Transparency to open it.
6. A very important step: Go get something caffinated and turn on some music that you like. I find this very helpful in getting through boring tutorials.
7: The reason why we didn't start the mesh with any lines is this: The beginning stages of creating the mesh are most crucial. By taking your time on the most important, beginning vectors, you will find that the lines you add will fall properly with minimal need for modification on your part. So, below you can see that the mesh has been modified to fit the general perspective of the crayon. Take note that the rectangle falls short of the curved end of the crayon. You'll see the reason for this.
Now I'd like to note a few things. First, the tutorial will get a little less reading-intense about third into it! Right now is actually where the foundation for most of the main facts are laid. Hence the coffee.
Note: As you modify the mesh with the direct selection tool (which hopefully you use most of the time in your basic vector work) you will see that the mesh does not want to deform in an angular manner. You actually have to manipulate the handles like with curved vectors. The question might come to you: Why can't I just make a basic vector rectangle, fit it to the crayon, and then do the "Create Gradient Mesh" option. I've tried this, and in doing so, I noticed that the mesh derived from that particular method is a bit harder to work with in its controlability.
That having been said, by taking a little time to fit the mesh properly, you will find that the ending steps are greatly simplified for you. So try to keep the straight lines straight as possible. While you will be modifying the angle of the vector handles, the lengths should remain as unchanged as possible in this step. (If you are experienced manipulating basic vector shapes, you will quickly see what I'm talking about).
8: Here is where you get to venture back into familiar territory! The back of the crayon has to be fitted to the curve using your well-established vector skills. By falling short of the back-end-curve of the crayon, you made it easier to fit the curve overall, but also avoided having to "scrunch back" the rectangle to create it. Believe it or not, that action would have had slightly negative influences over adding future lines to the mesh.
So, fit the back-end curve as closely as possible, keeping the opposing vector handles somewhat equal in length. Then, on your Tools pallet select the gradient mesh button (thats the little wavy grid-like button, not too much unlike a mathematical depiction of space-time) and click the edge of the mesh object right at the bottom of the black band at the front of the crayon. Fit the curve as well as you can. This step is the last of those "most important" steps I've been refering to, since you've now layed the "governing lines" of the mesh. I've coined this term on the spot. It almost sounds intelligent! You will not find it in text books – yet! Basically they set the "rythm" of how your future lines will fall. You'll see exactly what I'm talking about in the next step.
9: Ok, I just took a break to feed the baby, so let me figure out what I was saying before I lost my train of thought…
Oh, I remember now.
I believe this will be the last "Long explaination" step, so that should be exciting.
Like in the picture below your going to add some more lines on the sides of the black bands, which you see. Now you can see all that mumbo-jumbo I was talking about come together. If you lay the lines on the side of the mesh like you see below, you will find that the lines generally follow the contours of the bands without modification. If they do not *perfectly* match the crayon below, thats ok. The image your producing has to be as accurate as possible relative to itself. If you manually fit every curve to the bands in the image your copying, your going to sacrifice the accuracy that comes from having set those "governing lines" and letting the computer do the rest of the work.
If your finding that the lines are not falling anywhere close to accurate, you may have to *ctrl Z* your way back to when you were laying those curves in step 8.
This might seem a little excessive, but it is very helpful in meshes bodies. Let the computer do the work!
10. Using the same method above, add some more lines to the outer contours of the outer contours. Yes, that is the best way I could find to frame that instruction. Thank goodness for pictures! What we see here, where I obvously fall grievously short in the verbal aspect, is that these lines are placed a little outside the lines that are meant to frame the black. These are going to control how far the color (black) spreads out into the mesh. I'll explain more later.
11. Finally, short explanations! Add a line to the top of the conical part of the crayon tip. Again, thank goodness for pictures.
12: Back into familiar territory again! Edit the vectors to encompass the crayon tip. The only thing you should note is that while with basic vectors you can get away with leaving your vector handles at somewhat randomn lengths (as this often does not harm the shape) with Gradient Meshes it will effect your color placements. So keep them equal, consistent, and obedient to your vector authority. You'll see this make more sense when colors are being placed.
13. You know this vector editing stuff…I'm just including the pictures for fun.
14: Oh…here's something important. I've added another line. Ok, continue…
15: I said you could trust me! Go back to your transparency pallet and bring the opacity back up to 100! (If you don't get the joke here, transparencies tend to get vector artists in trouble a lot because they cause many, many glitches, especially in printing! Come to think of it, I think a lot of designers share a dread for transparencies.) So if you havent done so already, find a red you like. Preferably a mid-tone close to the color of the crayon.
16: Now it gets fun! With your direct selection tool, click right smack in the middle of a band area on the crayon, and then push the "I" key. "I" stands for "Eye" Dropper. It will bring up your "I-dropper" tool. Or you can push the button on your tools pallet that has a little eye-dropper. Sample a black band of the blue crayon with it. You will probobly notice that it samples the color from the exact area you've chosen. Try to sample a mid-tone, since your darkening/lightening operations in future steps will bring this value up and down.
Once you sample this, the area you selected will turn the same color that you chose with the eye-dropper.
17: Do this for all the bands, and then select the area that will end up being the wax top of the crayon. Like the picture, it should be somewhat darker. Also note that I've moved the crayon from over the original image. I think different artists have different styles in doing derivative work. Some always work with the base image directly below. I tend to use the base image mostly as a guide for form, and then as a visual guide color-wise. From this point, my accuracy level diminishes greatly, giving a lot of room for "artistic licence". Boy, thats a dangerous term. But thats just my style. In no time you'll be finding things that work better for you.
quick note: If you zoom in close to the bands, you'll see how the color works with a gradient mesh. The outer lines you placed are setting a limit to how the far the gradation extends. I'd encourage you to manipulate them a bit, to see how they effect the color flow, and CTRL Z (undo) your experiments. Try direct-selecting a fill point and deleting it, and you'll see the gradient extend all the way to the next line.
18: There's a few things to this step.
Take note of where the dark area is on the crayon. Place a line in these areas:
1. The middle of the lightest point on top.
2. Below that, place a line where the dark tone has become the darkest.
3. Slightly above the lighter point on the bottom.
…or just copy what I did in the picture. You will see in a few seconds whats going to happen here.
If you look closely at the picture, you will see which anchor points I've selected. If you use a graphic tablet or your an pro with the mouse, I'd suggest using the lassoe tool to select them (towards the top of your tools pallet). It saves TONS of clicking. Once you've selected the the rows 1 and 2 from the bottom,
Next, go to Filters/Adjust Colors. I've found this to be THE most instrumental tool in creating gradient mesh lighting effects.
19. In the window that pops up, you will see a little drop down pallet (color mode). Make sure it says "RGB". Skip the blue text below if you already know some fundamentals in RGB. I'm only going to say whats relevant here. Set the values on the RGB sliders to: -28, -37, -48.
In using this method, you save yourself lots of clicking and problem solving with colors. They will all be adjusted on equal levels.
Most vector design is done in CMYK, which is used in printing. I use RGB since most of my work is created for web design. But its an important fact to remember that both vector imaging and CMYK color are complimentary sciences in design because vector work is resolution independent, and therefor will "rasterize" (or become pixel based) to any desired DPI (dots per inch), where a high DPI is needed for printing. CMYK (cyan, yellow, magenta, black) are colors used in printing.
RGB stands for Red, Blue, Green, and is capable of a much wider color spectrum. For more technical info on this, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RGB_color_model The thing we need to cover here is what modifying the sliders will do for you. Believe it or not, HUGE color advantages come with a small understanding of manipulating the RGB values of the points you selected. As you can see, they all start at zero. You can bring their values negative or positive.
Most importantly: If you bring all three values up equally (Positive numbers) you will notice that it lightens the area you selected. If you bring them all down equally (negative) it darkens the selected area.
Secondarily: If, say, you bring red and green down to a negative value, and leave the blue, the image will darken, with the blue remaining, changing the color slightly. The same will happen if you leave the R and G values at zero and move the Blue value up. A LOT could be mentioned on the how to obtain different colors, but by simply playing around with the sliders, you can learn through a little experience how the relative values of RGB work.
20. Using the lassoe tool, I've selected the line in the middle of the crayon's highlight, the one just below the top edge of the crayon.
21. As meshes start getting more complex, the lines and points can start getting in your way. If you need to hide them before doing a color change, simply select the points you are going to change, then go to View/Hide Edges and they will disapear, leaving only a box around your selected object. Now you can make your color changes more accurate without having to stare through a mess of lines and dots.
22. Now its starting to look good! I've brought the RGB values of the selected points to 33, 26, and 32. Thats just me though. You might find values that work better artistically or truer-to-life.
23. Now that all of the basics have been covered, I'm going to speed it up a bit, since now the directions are more visual, than needing explanation. Here, I'm adding mesh lines to the tip of the maker, adding the detail of the flat tip. I've sampled the lighter color into the new area created. You can also note that one line is placed to hold the color, another one is placed to govern how far it extends.
24: Here I've selected the bottom edge of the mesh/crayon and did an RGB change to darken it. I merely brought all three sliders very low until it looked good. They are all in the -60-70 range. That formed the bottom shadow.
25: Here I added a mesh line just barely above the one we modified the color on. You are probobly noticing by now that my creative licence should probobly be suspended or revoked. Not everything I'm doing on this mesh is based on the original! May the vector derivative authorities have mercy on me! I'm just doing what "looks good" but I'm sure you're already getting ideas of your own. This is going to be a highlight.
26. Then I selected the points of that line and moved the RGB values back up, making this little highlight.
27. Just for the fun of it, I placed the directions in the image this time. Actually, I think I did that as a note more to myself when I was working, so I didn't forget what I did on these steps…
More mesh lines were added where edge tip of crayon wrap occurs. Once Then the middle line was selected, and the RGB values were raised, giving the look you see there. Note too, that if the color isn't "flowing" over the points quite the way you want, you can select those points and sample (CTRL I) any color higher or lower on the transition, and it will increase or decrease it to the amount you find suites you.
31. Here, I've done a similar set of modifications, bringing out the edge of the paper. I've also inset the outer edges of the mesh, making a more pronounced separate between the wax and the paper. That was a simple "Pulling in" of the vector points.
Here you can see the lines I added in this step:
Wherever definition and distinction were needed, I merely added more "columns." Usually the pattern is, one line (and resulting set of control points) to hold the colors, two to dictate how far they will extend. Thats just a re-itteration of what we've been seeing all along.
And that finishes the red crayon!
32. The green crayon is made almost completely similar to the red. The only difference is the black circle on the crayon utilizes some slightly more careful mesh line work. I'm going to be making a separate tutorial dedicated to easier mesh deformations.
The image shown simply has some shadow effects added (shown below) and a background gradient, simply for depth.
The shadow was loosely added simply by selecting a few points and dimming them down a bit.
And that completes the image. Quite honestly, the verbage is far more complicated than the actual work. After a few images of this nature, you will take to it quite fast! A sort of "logic" and "instinct" develop around the principles the more you use them, and you'll start to employ them naturally.
Once I started really getting into the gradient mesh aspect of vector work, and it started coming a little more easily, I tacked the below project:
Its all gadient meshes, with the exception of the wings which use some basic vectors and gradients. I'll be making a separate tutorial that outline the mesh deformation techniques used to get more complicated forms like this duplicated easily. Special thanks to arlindo71 for giving me the legal clearance to use one of his un-submitted images as a base image for this project!!!
If you want some inspiration on really cool Gradient Meshes, check out this lightbox!
To navigate your way to some more of my gradient mesh work, visit http://www.jesterarts.net/, there you will find all of my vector work plus the plans to create a working antigravity UFO using sciences based on the mathematics of gradient mesh deformation. Well, not really, but you'll have a similar amount of fun in discovery of your new skills!
Here are some I've done:
Classic Pen Writing Binary Code
TAGS and Abstract Concept
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