Mastering Illustrator's Gradient Mesh

September 27, 2006 - 1:00am ||| 1 Comment | Add new
When was the Gradient Mesh tool added to Adobe Illustrator, would you guess? Are you thinking with CS (version 11)? Nope. Version 10? Still way off! The Gradient Mesh tool was introduced with Illustrator EIGHT (when was that, back in 1964?) along with the new-fangled Bounding Box and the "enhanced pencil tool"!

Yet for all its longevity, I've yet to meet a person face-to-face who knows how to use the feature. Illustrator is one of those programs that everyone's been using for years, but basically stopped learning after they got through the essentials (Pen tool, Type tool, Fill and Stroke) regardless how many new gewgaws Adobe added over the years. Oh you might have a couple office geeks around who know how to do a Warp or release a compound path, but a gradient mesh that actually looks good? Those people are in a rarified strata.

I'm like most of you, I've tried the Gradient Mesh but the grid and points and stretchiness of it all scared me off. I know it just enough to teach it "in theory" during Illustrator training, but as my students can attest, "You, sir, are no Kevin Hulsey."

Whenever I see some of the photo-realistic drawings that can be accomplished by talented people who've mastered the Mesh, such as Mr. Hulsey, I'm chartreuse with envy.

Oh Let's Just Learn the Thing

Are you ready to join me in mastering the Gradient Mesh tool? Here are some wonderful, free on-line tutorials I've found.

Creative Bush
I love this one, the writer speaks just like any other hard-working designer whose boss isn't in the room. The tutorial is all on one page and covers how to use the Gradient Mesh tool starting with a scanned head shot as the base.

Magical Butterfly
Okay, the author won't win any awards for web site design, but the tutorial is well-done. I like it because it starts out with a simple illustration you draw with the Pen tool, and after you go at it with the Gradient Mesh tool, you end up with three-dimensional curtains. Cool.

Kevin Hulsey
Yes, the master himself has a number of great Illustrator tutorials on his site, and here's the one he wrote on the Gradient Mesh tool. Kevin's not a bad Photoshop user either, have you seen his cruise ship? Be sure you're sitting down before you go to

Brooke Nunez
Brooke is a Chicago-based freelance designer who has written up an excellent 12-page PDF tutorial on the Gradient Mesh tool. I only learned about it because so many other Mesh-wannabes gush about it and link to it on many of the designer forums and listservs. Go to that URL and click the picture of the red bell pepper to download the tutorial. Not only do you get the PDF in the .zip file, but Brooke thoughtfully included the photograph of the pepper and the final meshed illustration of it as an .ai file.

Comments (Subscribe to Comments RSS)

1 May 16, 2011 - 9:08pm by Ryan Bentin (not verified):

The mesh tool is frustrating, time consuming, complicated, but above all else, Amazing. I’ve been using Illustrator since Dec. 2010, so not a very long time. I have seemed to take to it quiet well, though. If you can create a photorealistic image using the mesh tool than awesome, but is it practical? If you use a photograph to trace and copy the tones and colors, that is considered a craft to me, not so much an art. In my opinion, an illustration should look like an illustration, and stem from your imagination and not just a traced photograph. If you need something that is photorealistic, use a photograph! If it needs to be animated, use a 3D model!
Of coarse, if you are an artist starting to use the mesh tool, tracing an imagine is probably the best way to start and get the hang of the thing before attempting something original from memory.My advice would be to use reference photographs, especially when trying to recreate certain textures and surfaces. (That to me is the most challenging aspect of illustrating, period.)
If you want to straight copy a photograph then use your own, put it beside your art board rather then underneath it. Only then is it not considered cheating and a real piece of art.
Do not get me wrong, I have much respect for those that do use photographs and recreate them perfectly. I hope to be able to accomplish this one day. I’m just saying, it is not real art, its tracing. Sorry.

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