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Shading with the Adobe Illustrator CS5 Mesh Object

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Simple lines can convey straightforward ideas, but subtlety often requires shading. Brian Wood, contributor to Adobe Illustrator CS5 Classroom in a Book, demonstrates using mesh objects to add gradients to curves. Brian shares his best tips for saving steps and preventing headaches as you work with mesh objects.

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Tips for Working with a Gradient Mesh

Tips for Working with a Gradient Mesh

Now that you have most of the basics down for working with a gradient mesh, what next? Following are some techniques for using the gradients effectively. Some of these techniques don't involve the Mesh tool or gradient meshes at all, because sometimes it's easier to create a gradient effect by using other methods.

  • Use global colors! When you're adding colors to a mesh object, make sure that the colors you apply to the gradient mesh points are global colors. Before applying a color swatch in the Swatches panel, double-click the swatch and select Global in the Swatch Options dialog box. This action will save time later. If you get three hours into a mesh project, and then realize that the color you're using for most of the mesh needs to shift just a bit, you can change the global color, and it will update throughout the mesh.
  • Create separate objects whenever possible. One mistake I've made is expecting to create a single shape and simply applying a complex mesh to the object to achieve my color goals. While you might be able to get this technique to work, it's easier in the long run to create multiple objects and apply separate meshes, rather than using one complex object. Figure 13 shows an example. I created a monster with a somewhat complex mesh. Instead of attaching the hands to the arms, I created them separately. This approach allows me to position them differently, and I can more easily create a mesh that follows the contours of the hands.
  • Figure 13 Create separate objects when you can.

  • Use multiple mesh points. If you want to create the effect of an "edge" in a gradient mesh, create several mesh points in close proximity to each other (see Figure 14).
  • Figure 14 Creating "edges" in a gradient.

  • Keep it simple. I can't stress this point enough. When you attack a mesh, you want your blends to look a certain way. Believe me, I understand that. But keep it as simple as possible. Using fewer mesh points helps with printing and editing later.
  • Use blends, not gradient mesh in certain areas. Instead of adding gradient details to a complex mesh object, sometimes you can accomplish the same results much more easily with a blend.
  • For instance, suppose you have an image of a face, and you need to add those lines around the mouth that appear in the skin when someone smiles. Here's an easy method to add the detail: Draw one curved line in the shape you want. Copy that line and move it away from the original a bit. Apply two different colors to the strokes of the lines; then select the Blend tool. Click on one line and then the other. With the objects selected, double-click the Blend tool. In the Blend Options dialog box, choose Smooth Color and click OK. There you go! Adjust the lines and the colors, and you have a great little blend that adds detail (see Figure 15).
  • Figure 15 Use a blend for some gradients.

  • Working with the Mesh tool can be tedious and time-consuming. Be patient. This is a no-brainer, but I think that it needs to be said. In addition to practice, the next most useful activity is patience. You will mess it up sometimes. The mesh will become overly complex. Suddenly the mesh lines will look like twisted coat hangers. Remember to use the direction lines on the mesh points to try and follow object contours.