Beginner’s Guide to the Mesh Tool for creating photo-realistic illustrations (Part 1 of 2)

Long title, but it doesn’t get any more clearer than that. This is a tutorial to learn the basics on how to create photo-realistic illustrations using Adobe Illustrator’s Mesh Tool.

About this tutorial:
This tutorial is not designed for slackers. Patience is a virtue, and you need a lot of it when dealing with the Mesh Tool. I’m also dividing this into two posts. The first post introduces you to the mesh tool and everything else associated with it. The second is the actual process/tutorial. Both are important, so you serve yourself no justice if you skip to the second part.

Use the find function on your web browser (Usually Command or Ctrl + F) to return to a specific part.

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Table of Contents

1. Overview
1a. What is the (Gradient) Mesh Tool?
1b. Uses

2. Tools/Functions
2a. -Mesh Tool
2b. -Rectangle/Circle Tool vs. Pen Tool
2c. -Eye Dropper
2d. -Transparency
2e. -Layers

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1. Overview
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1a. What is the (Gradient) Mesh Tool?

The mesh tool is essential a tool used to create multiple gradients within an object. With the mesh tool, you convert objects into a mesh.
A mesh is formed by multiple grid points, or mesh points. A gradient is formed from one mesh point to another.

The Mac Lab has a video tutorial which nicely introduces the mesh tool here. (Click)

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1b. Uses

Aside from being able to make unique gradients that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to do, the mesh tool is able to add a great sense of depth to just about anything. There are various examples on the web which shows how far you can push the envelope with this tool, such as those done by Yukio Miyamoto

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2. Tools/Functions:
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Before we even begin working, I’ll go over some key elements that are essential/helpful for our illustration.

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2a. Mesh Tool

Obviously the mesh tool is key in creating a gradient mesh. When active, you can easily turn an object into a mesh simply by clicking on an object.

Alternatively, you can create a mesh by selecting an object and going to Object > Create Gradient Mesh. For the purposes of this tutorial however, we’ll be avoiding this alternative.

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2b. Rectangle/Ellipse Tool vs. Pen Tool

For the intent of this tutorial, I can’t stress enough how important the Rectangle Tool is when making a gradient mesh. Although there are very few and rare cases where using the Ellipse Tool is the better option, in all my experiences the Rectangle Tool triumphs all.

It is advantageous to form an obscure shape using a rectangle converted to a mesh, as opposed to making an obscure shape with the pen tool and converting it to a mesh. Sounds confusing? Look below.

I created two objects fairly similar to one another. The figure above was created using the rectangle tool, and altering it’s shape using the mesh tool. The figure below it was created directly with the pen tool, and turning it into a mesh afterwards.

The difference between the two lies in how the grid is formed. If you compare the two, you’ll notice that towards the bottom of the curve on the pen tool object, you get a funky kink in the grid that’s formed. To my knowledge, there is absolutely no way you can straighten this kink out. No matter which way you turn the handlebars on the mesh points, that kink will stick there.

It may seem small and insignificant, but imagine if you had a more complex object. How many unfixable kinks do you think there would be if you outlined something such as your hand or the contour of your body? Those grid lines determine the pathing of the gradient, and having awkward and unnecessary bends will mess up the picture.

The joy of the rectangle tool is the mesh formed is simple and easy to work with, thus giving us more flexibility and control. And no kinks!

2c. Eye Dropper

When doing a photo-reproduction, we’ll most likely need to sample colors from the original picture.

Double click on the eye dropper to view it’s settings. We want to be using 3×3 or 5×5 for our sample size. Either one will do, so choose as you see fit. The picture you’re using and the mesh you have will determine whether or not a larger or smaller sample size is needed. Just avoid using point sample on the off chance you sample a bad color.

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2d. Transparency

Like any other object, we can change the blending mode and transparency of a mesh object.

In addition, we can change the opacity of individual mesh points.

Lastly, when we have an object selected, we see how it looks like in this window. This becomes helpful when we’re coloring in our objects so we don’t need to constantly zoom in and out.

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2e. Layers

While we’re working, it’s absolutely vital that  we make optimal use of our layers. Even though you should be doing this anyways, the mesh tool is unforgiving if you aren’t organized. At the least, you’ll want each section to have it’s own individual layer to make it easier in case we have to move objects forward or backwards.




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Click here to move on to part 2


~ by Christian Lim on February 23, 2011.

3 Responses to “Beginner’s Guide to the Mesh Tool for creating photo-realistic illustrations (Part 1 of 2)”

  1. […] Click here to go to part 1 […]

  2. Your writing your own tutorials now? Way to go!

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