How to Use the Adobe Illustrator Blend Tool in Creating Infographics

By Justin Beegel, MBA, The Infographic World Team

The Blend tool is a robust function within Adobe Illustrator that can be used in a wide variety of ways for making cool infographics. It’s definitely worth experimenting with. It can blend lines, colors, shapes, and type, and it does each of these blends along a dynamic path that you can edit.

How to locate the Blend tool

Blend is available on the Tools palette bar or from choosing Object→Blend.

If you access Blend from the Tools palette, the dialog box that opens gives you the ability to choose the following blending options: Smooth Color, Specified Steps, Specified Distance, and Orientation. (You need to double-click the option to open it.)

The Smooth Color option makes a seamless blend from one shape to the other. If that isn’t what you want, choose the next option from the drop-down menu and set the number of steps manually. Fewer steps make a more abrupt transition; more steps make a smoother transition. Specified Distance is how far apart each of the objects in the transition are set from one another.

If you choose Object→Blend, you get a few additional options:

  • Release: Undo the blend.

  • Expand: Flatten your dynamic blend into a set of editable vectors.

  • Blend Options: These are the same elements available from the Tools palette.

  • Spline commands: Affect the path that the blend is following.

One more difference between accessing the tool from the Object menu versus the Tools palette is that from Object, you can choose Make Blend with both objects selected to make the blend. If you’re using the Tools palette Blend tool, you select the tool, click the first object, and then click the second object.

Be careful: Where you click the objects can determine object rotation in the blend. If you click in the center of the objects, you get a standard blend. Clicking the corners and edges of the objects creates a rotation in the blend, which can be fun and useful — but a shock if you aren’t expecting it.

Determine what you can blend

The good news is that you can blend anything that is a vector. All you have to do is select both items and then choose Object→Blend→Make. You’ll automatically get a blend from one object to the other that will show a transition of size, color, and shape.

Blending shapes can mean creating a transition from a small circle to a large star, or a small square to a large piece of type. Illustrator now treats type as a vector object even without creating “outlines” of it, which can be really handy. See this figure.

Creating a simple blend.

Creating a simple blend.

The Blend tool can also be a quick way to create a set number of items, which can be handy in graphics with representations of large numbers. If you know you need exactly 50 of something, you can use the blend steps to create that number within a defined distance.

Try blending one star to another of the same size. If you set the number of steps to 48, you know you have 48 plus the 2 stars you used to make the blend.

Using the blend’s spline

The objects that you blend are treated as one grouped object if you’re using the Selection tool. However, if you’re using the Direct Selection tool, you can get into that blend the same way as you can any grouped object. You can select one of your blend objects and change the color, and the blend is updated instantly.

You can also see, especially when you’re in preview mode, a line that shows up between the two objects. That line is the blend’s spline. You can interact with it by clicking it with the Direct Selection tool. Select one end point, and you can move that end of the line.

Turn that anchor point into a curve by using the anchor point information box along the top of your workspace. Using Convert (under the Pen tool) changes curve points to corners and vice versa. Then, when your endpoint is a curve, you can use the handles to control the arc of your spline.

You can also swap out that “spline” line for any other line. If you suddenly want your blend to be in a zigzag line, the solution is quite simple. Draw your zigzag line, select it and your blended object, and then choose Object→Blend→Replace Spline. The blend is now attached to your new zigzag line. Cool!