Illustrator Tip

Quite often getting gradients to do exactly what you want them to do can be a challenge. In this short article, I’ll cover gradients within Adobe Illustrator but the principles can be used in other Adobe products.

First up, what is a gradient? It is the smooth transition from one colour to another colour or more colours. This is done mathematically by apply some of the target colour to the starting colour in the pixels between those colours. A gradient starting out as black and ending as white will go through many shades of grey depending on how many pixels there are between the start and end points.

There are two types of gradient, linear and radial. Linear starts from one side of a shape and ends at the other side whereas radial starts at a point within the shape and moves outwards towards another point.

To use or modify a gradient, you can click on the gradient tool or go to the gradients panel directly it’s the tab next to stroke.

Illustrator Gradient 01

The gradient panel has everything you need to customise your gradient.

Illustrator Gradient 02

  • Fill shows the currently selected gradient and allows you to select another from the swatches menu.
  • Gradient Bar is the work area for the currently selected gradient.
  • Type allows you to select Linear or Radial.
  • Reverse changes the direction of the gradient so left to right becomes right to left and centre to outer becomes outer to centre.
  • Angle allows you to adjust the angle for linear gradients so it doesn’t have to be completely horizontal.
  • Ratio allows you to set the vertical aspect ratio for radial gradients for times when you don’t want to set the gradient for 100% of the space in the shape.
  • Start is the starting point colour and you can click on it to change the colour.
  • End is the ending point colour and you can click on it to change the colour.
  • Add Stop allows you to add more colour points simply by hovering over the area beneath the gradient bar and waiting for a plus sign. Clicking this will define a colour stop allowing your gradient to change colours at any point between start and end.
  • Delete allows you to remove the selected colour stop.
  • Slider allows you to move the mid-point of the gradient so you can focus more on one colour than the other.
  • Opacity allows you to apply transparency to the selected colour stop including the start and end points which is handy for fading a colour into an image.
  • Location allows you to set the location of a colour stop relative to others on the gradient bar.

Illustrator contains its own library of pre-designed gradients so you don’t have to create all gradients from scratch. These can be found in the Swatches panel, select Gradients and pick a Category from there. You can use any of these as a base for your own custom gradients.

Make sure you save your custom gradient to the swatches panel if you want to reuse it.

Illustrator Gradient 03

Applying a gradient to a shape is very easy, just select the gradient tool then click and drag anywhere in the shape. For gradients not covering the full shape click and drag where you want the gradient to appear. Here’s some examples showing normal and reversed linear and radial together with some adjusted from the gradient panel (rotated 90 degrees and the one rotated -45 degrees and 60% vertical). The examples for narrow band and small radial were done by applying a gradient and then using the gradient tool adjustment handles to manually create the required effect.

Illustrator Gradient 04

Now for an example. I have a T-shirt design that I want to apply the same gradient to both the star shape and the text.

The first thing I need to do is to convert the text into a shape by right clicking and selecting Create Outlines.

Illustrator Gradient 05

Next up in this example using the selection tool at the top of the toolbar select both the star shape and the text shape.

With both selected, using the gradient tool from the toolbar, select the gradient that you want to apply. In my example, I chose a predefined Spectrum gradient and applied a -90 degree adjustment.

Illustrator Gradient 06

However, as you can see the gradient is applied to the star shape separately from the word shape so the blue at the top and green at the bottom apply to each shape independently.

So what if I wanted to start with blue at the bottom of the word “Technology” and green right at the topmost point of the star spanning all the objects. For this you need to group first so once again select both the star shape and the word shape together then right click and select Group.

Illustrator Gradient 07

Selecting the gradient tool will apply the last gradient that you used but you can easily overwrite that. Apply the gradient that you want but this time drag the gradient selector from the bottom of the word “Technology” to the top of the star.

Illustrator Gradient 08

When you unselect you can see the result.

Illustrator Gradient 09

That’s it. I hope you find that useful.

How to use and customise gradients in Adobe Illustrator

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