Using Illustrator's Mesh Tool as Nature Intended

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You’re probably thinking this is some new ecological way of using Adobe Illustrator. Sorry! The only way to do that is to use energy-saving bulbs to light your work area. What we’ll show you, however, is how to use the Mesh tool to simulate nature’s way of colorizing things—in this case, a fallen leaf.

Here’s a fairly flat-looking maple leaf made from two layers: The bottom layer contains the leaf and the layer at top contains the veins.

Create the mesh

What the leaf needs is some color to make it look more dimensional and natural and this is where the Gradient Mesh comes in.

STEP ONE:
First, we’ll create a new blank layer between the two existing layers. In this new layer, we’ll generate a box that has the same fill color as the leaf and covers the complete shape of the leaf. This layer is where we’ll create the gradient mesh and add the colors.

Click on the Toggles Lock box (to the left of the layer name) of the other two layers that contain the basic elements of the leaf. This is important because we’ll be doing a lot of clicking to create the mesh, and locking the layers will prevent them from accidentally being selected and altered.

STEP TWO:
Now if you study the veins on the leaf, you’ll notice that they break up the box into two columns, each with four rows. Armed with that information, choose Create Gradient Mesh from the Object menu. In the dialog that pops up, enter the parameters established by our observation of the leaf, and click OK.

STEP THREE:
Using the Direct Selection tool (A), move the center anchor points of the mesh to intersect the joints where the six horizontal veins branch off from the main central vein. Also, move the anchor points on the outer edges and adjust their handles so the mesh matches the shape of the veins.

STEP FOUR:
Add new grid lines above and below the horizontal veins and to the left and right of the central vein. To add new grid lines, click with the Mesh tool (U) anywhere within the grid. This will create both a vertical and horizontal grid line that intersect at the point where you click. These new grid lines will automatically follow the flow and direction of the existing grid lines that border on either side of them. (Note: Once you create one of the new vertical grid lines for the central vein, click directly on that line when adding horizontal grid lines. Otherwise, you’ll add additional vertical lines that you don’t need.) We need to alter these new grid lines also: Using the Direct Selection tool, move them and adjust their handles to start forming a shape within the leaf where the colors will flow.

Add colors

The beauty of the Gradient Mesh is that colors can be added that will fade into any other colors that exist within the mesh. To add colors to the mesh, simply select anchor points in the mesh and then choose a color. The color will automatically fill the area around the anchor point and fade into whatever color is assigned to the next anchor point in the mesh. Note: Any alteration to the shape of the mesh will alter the shape of the color and how it fades into neighboring colors. Let’s try it with our leaf:

STEP FIVE:
In the middle layer with our leaf color, use the Direct Selection tool to select all the points that travel through the original grid lines that are directly on top of the veins (add the Shift key for multiple selections). Once all the points are selected, choose a dark brown color to fill those points. Notice that the color falls behind the veins because the veins are in a layer above the layer where the mesh is contained.

STEP SIX:
Click on the vertical lines to either side of the central vein to add two new horizontal grid lines that fall in the center between the horizontal veins. Add two new vertical grid lines to the left and right of the existing vertical grid lines. These new vertical lines will serve as the stopping point for the colors that are about to be added to the newly created horizontal lines. Select the four points on the two new horizontal lines where they intersect the vertical grid lines on either side of the center vein in the leaf. For our example, we added a pink tone to those points.

STEP SEVEN:

Select the points at each juncture where the veins branch out and add a green color to these points. Finally, adjust the various outside points that border the dark brown tones, which allows you to spread the browns and vary their effect over the leaf.

Now that the color is complete, place the middle layer with the colored box behind the layer with the leaf. Unlock the leaf layer, and then clip the two layers to form a mask (Object>Clipping Mask>Make). And here’s our more natural-looking leaf.

The Gradient Mesh Tool is a wonderful way of playing with color! Couple it with a little solar power and it’s a very environmentally friendly tool.

Quick Tips on the Mesh Tool by Corey Barker

• As Bert mentioned in Step Four, you can add additional horizontal and vertical grid lines to the gradient mesh by clicking in an empty area with the Mesh tool. You can also click directly on a vertical grid line to create a new horizontal grid line and vice versa. Now if you add an anchor point that you didn’t mean to, hold down the Option (PC: Alt) key and hover over a grid line. When the cursor changes to a minus sign (–), simply click on the undesired grid line to remove it.

• Now let’s say you’ve edited all the individual points with varying colors and when you look at the finished graphic, you decide you’d like to see other color variations. Well, you could go and select each individual point and change the color if you had all the time in the world. However, seeing as how most of us don’t have that luxury, we can simply select the object with the Selection tool and click on the Recolor Artwork icon in the Control panel. In the Live Color dialog, make sure the Recolor Art box is checked on at the bottom. Then click the pop-up menu at the top left to access the various Harmony Rules and experiment with different combinations.

36 Comments

  • don says:

    sure wish I could have the source files to follow along

  • sj says:

    sure wish I could have the source files to follow along
    This is true ! and I agree with Don !!!

    The tutorial is very interesting, but without the file… I fell realy wasting my time.
    Sorry, really sorry.

    Look like…someting is missing.

    Congratulatios for the layer magazine, everytime a amazing place to learn techiniques.

  • Joseph says:

    This tutorial, while well explained, is not helpful without the source images.

  • carlys says:

    muy bueno, tienes buenos trabajos

  • Edgardo Colazo says:

    Excelente trabajo.
    Saludos de otro diseñador, desde Argentina.

  • Cindi says:

    I agree that it would be nice to have the leaf file.

  • illy neophyte says:

    You folks must be kidding… if you are to get anything out of this tutorial, you should probably be able to draw a leaf on your own. Isn’t that really the point of any given tutorial – to build your own skill, not to learn to duplicate??

    This tutorial is not meant so you can go out and make maple leaves; it’s meant for you to grasp the idea behind using the Mesh Tool.

  • Michael Willis says:

    This tutorial is awesome! I have been playing with the mesh tool a lot, and can’t nail it down. This is defiantly a step towards becoming efficient with this powerful tool!

    P.S. if you can’t make a leaf in illustrator, you should probably watch the other tutorials and play around in illustrator a little, and then come back to something like this. Lets not complain about free awesome tutorials…seriously!

  • docotor says:

    iwanna give one sugg that plz explain every step one by one
    othervice how to get step of any
    thing

  • Illuminati2000 says:

    Gracias, estaba buscando esta informacion pues no soy un profesional

  • non amature designer says:

    SAVE THE JPG OFF THIS TUTUORIAL.

    USE LIVETRACE TOOL.

    VOILA YOU HAVE THE LEAF!

    lol

  • ladymodem says:

    Please folks it seems that some people think that this is a Adobe Photoshop tutorial IT IS NOT! The idea is how to use the mesh tool in Adobe Illustrator. I liked the clear way that this was presented. I always used to feel that mesh was controlling me now I can RULE THE MESH!! Thank you Bert Monroy.

  • rajender says:

    adobe

  • Jason Green says:

    Great tutorial, thanks!
    http://www.dynamic50.com

  • Amit Topiwala says:

    Amit

  • Khama Gangire says:

    Some people do not know that tutorials are meant to equip you with the basics and then use you brains to make anything work. This is not a classroom. Wake up guys and do something on your own. I know 5 programs just by browsing the help menu. Why don’t you?

  • mel says:

    this looks nothing like a leaf 🙁
    google what leaves really look like

  • HarryLou says:

    I am a really new user of this software and appreciate that you shared this good explanation/example.

  • Gravy Dunn says:

    Thank you for sharing, a great well explained tutorial.

    I too have been playing around with the mesh tool and while I am getting results they are not as exact as this method.

    Now I have a better understanding of how the things I am seeing are happening and I will have much better control over the process.

    Again thank you for a great tut and I will continue checking for new ones while perfecting my techniques on the older ones.

  • santosh says:

    exclet

  • Sean says:

    “This tutorial, while well explained, is not helpful without the source images”

    Draw your own leaf n00b! lol

    Extremely useful tutorial, especialy since I’ve been trying to learn how to make more realistic shading on characters.

    Thanks a lot!

  • Anton says:

    Is it possible to add fine details with gradient mesh?

  • sundar says:

    please tell me about basics,howto create, and tricks in gradient mesh

  • Nonymouse says:

    This tutorial is well explained, and is very useful, eve without the source images.

    The gradient mesh tool of Illustrator is one of the most powerful, yet one of the most tricky to master. It takes patience and a lot of trial and error.

    Thank you for your brilliant tutorial.

  • Gonzales says:

    Hi,

    I am a noob. Actually I am a programmer interested in graphics. Are illustrations (lie the one in this page: http://www.layersmagazine.com/vector-art-goes-hollywood.html) usually created using a digitizaer such as Wacom’s? Or are they created with mouse?

    Cheers,
    Gonzales

  • lucky laxadhish says:

    It’s very good tutorial,first i dono anything about mesh but now i am perfect in mesh.thanks for who done this.

  • Cutefuzzypanda says:

    Kawaii

  • myanimelist.net says:

    Wow that noob spammer needs to get a life..
    Anyways, great tutorial! Helped alot, even tho I had to waste some time creating my own leaf with the pen tool… ><

  • n00b says:

    omg…. you can’t make us DRAW a leaf….. what are we? graphic artists?

  • sklepy internetowe tworzenie says:

    Really good tutorial include so many helpful informations!
    Excellent SITE. I will refer people to your ITEMS. Effective use of WordPress had some exceptional.
    Cheers

  • strony internetowe łódź says:

    This looks good! Really good tutorial include so many helpful informations!

  • Disconnected says:

    though familiar with the tool, this tutorial did something else entirely for me – and that’s turn a drawing method in-side out, building -in- instead of building -out- with the tool, to get a more natural contour from the mesh. Thank you!

    In the writer’s defense: yes. it looks like a leaf. This isn’t photoshop image-manipulation, this is illustration. Tutorials will not grant you core creativity. The negative responses here make me nauseous.

  • Frederik says:

    Nice short, but detailed tutorial, helped me a lot. Thanks for sharing..! Never mind the negative comments of some rude and lazy people, ok..?

  • NM says:

    Just take a screen shot, crop and get meshing!

  • ASquareBear says:

    I would assume most of the people on here are not really graphic designers yet. Thus the search for ways to teach ourselves how to design. I’m an IT guy who got thrown into graphic arts…..

  • San Yuh says:

    Thank for mesh tool tutorial
    I have difficulties with that tool