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How to Use the Gradient Mesh Tool in Adobe Illustrator

If you are new to graphic design, you may be wondering what the Gradient Mesh Tool does on Adobe Illustrator. To be frank,  even if you’ve been in the industry for a while, you could also be asking the same question. This is because the Gradient Mesh Tool is considered to be a relatively new function in the program.

But don’t you worry, we are here to cover all the things you need to know about this design tool and how it works. 

Firstly, the Gradient Mesh Tool allows for a flexible and detailed application of color to your design. What it does is that it creates a grid inside a specific object in your design, and within this grid, you may choose to apply color to the different grid points. Once applied,  the colors between each grid point blend into each with a feather effect. So essentially, the tool helps with shading and blending different colors, hence why it has the word ‘gradient’ as a part of its name.

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By using this tool, you will be able to enhance the colors in your design, personalizing it even more and transforming it into something that is even more unique. It will add more depth to your image, making it appear less flat. Furthermore, it can also make your overall design appear more realistic. 

Before we dive into the step-by-step tutorial of the amazing Gradient Mesh Tool, it is good to note that this function can be found on Adobe Illustrator CS5, CS6, and CC. However, as the CS5 version is considered to be out-dated, it is best recommended to use either the CS6 or CC version of the program.

In this guide, we will be instructing you on how you can create a graphic design using the Gradient Mesh Tool on the CS6 and CC versions. As the two versions are very similar to one another, the steps within this tutorial can be applied to both. 

 

How to Use the Gradient Mesh Tool: The Step-by-Step Ultimate Guide

 

Step 1: Select the object

The first thing you’re going to want to do is to select the object that you want to use for your design. You may do this by either creating a shape with the shape tool.

After that, you need to move your cursor over to the top of the screen to ‘Object’ and then click on ‘Create Gradient Mesh’.

Create Gradient Mesh

Step 2: Set the number of rows and columns

 

Next, you will have to set the number of rows and columns you want within the object. If you want to see what the grid would look like with the specific numbers you have chosen, make sure that the ‘Preview’ option is checked. Once that’s done, click ‘OK’

Set the number of rows and columns
Set the number of rows and columns

Step 3: Adjust the contour of grid lines

At every end and intersection of the grid lines, you will see that the grid has anchor points. Click on the ‘Direct Selection Tool’ and select any of the anchor points.

Adjust the contour of grid lines in Adobe Illustrator

Once you do that, the Connector Points with Bezier handles will appear. This will allow you to adjust the contour of the grid lines in any way that you want. 

 

Step 4: Adding color to the object

To add colors to your object, you have to select the ‘Gradient Mesh Tool’. Do make sure that the ‘Fill’ function is active.

Once you have checked that, click on any of the grid points within the object. Then, pick any color that you may want to use from the ‘Swatches Panel’. To add more colors to the object, you can continue selecting different grid points and apply different colors to them.

However, one thing that you must remember is that you should be careful not to click on a path where there is no grid point. Doing this will instead create another grid line to your object. If that is not what you want, avoid doing this. 

Another factor that you should keep in mind that the Gradient Mesh Tool only allows you to select one grid point at a time. Therefore, if you want to apply the same color to multiple grid points, you should use the ‘Direct Selection Tool’ instead.

Adding color to the object in Adobe Illustrator

Direct Selection Tool in Adobe IllustratorWhen using this tool, you hold down the ‘Shift’ key after clicking the first grid point. Doing this will allow you to select additional grid points that you want to apply the color to. 

hold down the ‘Shift’ key in Adobe Illustrator

After adding in the first color, you may continue selecting different grid points to add other shades or colors. As you can see in the example below, darker shades of indigo are being added to the outer edges of this circular shape. Doing this helps add more depth to the object, creating more of a 3-dimensional feel to it. 

Adding color to the object in Adobe Illustrator

5) Adjusting the shape of your object

Moreover, if you click and drag any of the grid points, the object’s shape will begin to change accordingly. Therefore, depending on the specific shape that you desire for your design, you may adjust the grid points in any way that best suits you.

Adjusting the shape of your object in Adobe Illustrator

Adjusting the shape of your object in Adobe IllustratorFor a full video tutorial of how to use the Gradient Mesh Tool, feel free to check out the screen recording below:

The Gradient Mesh Tool can be applied to all types of designs. It ultimately provides you with the flexibility to customize the colors within your design in any way that you want.

The screenshot examples that we have shown earlier is a simple demonstration of how the tool can be used. If you are beginner, you may start practicing by following the instructions given above. The steps are very easy to learn, therefore you will be able to grasp it in no time.

However, for a better and more complex illustration of how the Gradient Mesh Tool can be applied to designs, here are some other stunning examples of how the tool can be used:

Gradient Mesh Tool example tomatoGradient Mesh Tool example lightGradient Mesh Tool example bugGradient Mesh Tool exampleGradient Mesh Tool example iphoneGradient Mesh Tool example bold

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Written by Christiaan

Besides having grown up in the design Industry, Christiaan has advised some of the world's largest companies on their branding & packaging designs. Has been the resident judge for design awards, and has spoken at numerous global design & marketing events. Christiaan founded the London office of the award-winning Cartils agency, and has founded the DesignBro.com platform.

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