Blending, shading and the blend tool in Illustrator

As promised, here are some tips on using the blend tool to make gradients in Illustrator. We’ll take the jellybean in the previous post about shading and do this:

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First off, if you are unfamiliar with the awesomeness of the blend tool, here is some great reading to get your started:

The Blend Tool really is a great tool that can not only help you create custom gradients, but can help you create custom shapes and effects easily. In this case, I’m using it for creating gradients, but it’s really a fun tool that’s worth playing around with.

People always ask why you’d bother to use the Blend tool to make a gradient as opposed to the Gradient tool. Well, gradients created with the Gradient tool are mostly radial or linear. But sometimes you need a gradient to follow a specific path. In the instance above, I didn’t want the gradient to cover the entire jellybean (you’ll notice there is still some dark green to the left of the highlight, and that’s intentional).

Here’s a comparison between using the Gradient tool with a radial gradient (left image) and the Blend tool (right image):

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See the difference in the spread of the gradient? You could probably manipulate the gradient’s size to get the same effect as the blend tool, but the gradient will still be a circle. This jellybean isn’t a perfect circle, so using the Blend tool can help in that aspect because you need the gradient to follow a certain path.

And with the Blend tool, I could also change the shape of the highlight (which was a thin oval to begin with) to also manipulate the gradient. If I needed a shorter highlight, I could do that, or if I wanted to change the curve of the highlight and move it closer to the middle, I could change the original shape and the blend would follow.

Blending is really simple and before you know it, you’ll wind up with a bunch of fun jellybeans:

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Here’s how we go from basic shaded jellybean to smooth shading:

1. The first transition you want to make is between the two different shades of color on the jellybean. So, select the dark and light green parts of the jellybean. Then, go to Object > Blend > Make and you’ll wind up with this:

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By default, the Blend tool should be set to Smooth Color. If the jellybean doesn’t look like this, it may be at a different setting (Specified Distance or Specified Steps). Make sure it’s set to Smooth Color for the gradient effect.

2. Next, you’ll want to blend the oval highlight into the rest of your jellybean. Select the jellybean body and the highlight and again, go to Object > Blend > Make. Here’s what you get:

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If you find that a white highlight is a little intense, you can always select the highlight oval using the direct selection tool and change the color to a very pale gray. Once you make the color change, the blend will change accordingly. If you need to move your highlight around, just do that by selecting the highlight shape and moving it as you please, or even changing its shape as needed.

3. The shadow now needs a little manipulating, since shadows in real life are fuzzy, not sharp. This is just a simple blur. Select the shadow shape and go to Effect > Blur > Gaussian Blur. Select a radius (in this case, 12.5 pixels).

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And there’s your jellybean.

To create the multiple jellybean graphic, all I did was copy the jellybeans, change the colors and rotate them in different positions. I moved the highlights and the shadows so they would be all facing in the proper direction. Some of the highlights might be a little off-kilter, but this is my excuse: The real-life reference I based the composition on (a drawing exercise with four jellybeans) is currently in my drawing teacher’s hands, not mine. :)

But do play with the Blend tool and learn to manipulate things using it. It can go a long way toward making your illustrations more three-dimensional and lifelike.

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