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The Mesh Tool in Adobe CS5 Illustrator

If you’re creating art in Adobe Creative Suite 5 (Adobe CS5) Illustrator you can turn to the handy Mesh tool to create smooth tonal variations in your illustration. Choose to blend one color into another and then use the Mesh tool to adjust your blend. Now in Illustrator CS5, you can apply varying levels of transparency to these mesh points.

The Mesh tool can be as complex or simple as you want. Create intense illustrations that look like they were created by an airbrush or just use the tool to give dimension to an object.

Mesh tool illustrations can be complex or simple.
Mesh tool illustrations can be complex or simple.

You can change the color in mesh points by choosing the Direct Selection tool and either clicking a mesh point and picking a fill color or clicking in the center of a mesh area and choosing a fill.

Whether you select the mesh point (see the left side of the Figure below) or the area between the mesh points (see the right side of the below Figure), it changes the painting result.

To add a mesh point without changing to the current fill color, Shift-click anywhere in a filled vector object.

The mesh point changes the painting result.
The mesh point changes the painting result.

To create a gradient mesh by clicking, follow these steps:

  1. Create any shape by using the shape tools. Make sure the shape has a solid color; any color will do.

  2. Deselect all objects by choosing Select→Deselect.

  3. Select a fill color that you want to apply as a mesh point to an object.

    For example, if you want to add a shaded white spot to a red circle, choose white for the fill color.

  4. Select the Mesh tool (the keyboard shortcut is U) and click anywhere in a filled vector object.

    The object is converted to a mesh object.

  5. Click the object as many times as you want to add additional mesh points.

To create a gradient mesh by setting the number of rows and columns, follow these steps:

  1. Select an object.

  2. Choose Object→Create Gradient Mesh.

    The Create Gradient Mesh dialog box appears.

  3. Set the number of rows and columns of mesh lines to create on the object by entering numbers in the Rows and Columns text fields.

  4. Choose the direction of the highlight from the Appearance drop-down list.

    The direction of the highlight determines which way the gradient flows; you have these choices:

    • Flat: Applies the object’s original color evenly across the surface, resulting in no highlight

    • To Center: Creates a highlight in the center of the object

    • To Edge: Creates a highlight on the edges of the object

  5. Enter a percentage of white highlight to apply to the mesh object in the Highlight text field.

  6. Click OK to apply the gradient mesh to the object.

    Choose a highlight direction.
    Choose a highlight direction.

Using a new feature in CS5, you can select individual or multiple mesh points and apply varying levels of transparency to them. Follow these steps to apply transparency to a gradient mesh:

  1. Select a shape tool and click and drag to the artboard to add the shape to your document.

  2. Give the shape a solid fill (any color) and no stroke.

  3. Choose the Mesh tool and click anywhere in the object.

    This step adds a mesh point to your object.

  4. Choose Window→Transparency and drag the slider from 100 percent to 0 or any other value you want.

    Mesh points in CS5 — the transparency varies.
    Mesh points in CS5 — the transparency varies.
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