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May 12

Illustrator swatches gradient background effect

2009 at 12.34 pm posted by Veerle Pieters

The Adobe’s Creative Suite 4 packages have this interesting gradient style effect. It looks like a grid of swatches going from one color to another in subtle gradient effect. If you have ever wondered how you create this effect, then I invite you to take the jump and read on.

Adobe CS4 Suite boxes

Swatches gradient background effect

Create new document

Create a new document (File > New or hit Cmd/Ctrl + N) of 640 px by 140 px using pixels as Units and RGB as color mode (which can be found under the Advanced options).

Create first swatch

Select the Rectangle tool and click once on the canvas. In the Rectangle dialogue box enter a width and height of 20 px. Click OK. Give the square a color. I've used a dark purple.

Move first swatch into place

Make sure Smart Guides are enabled: View > Smart Guides or Cmd/Ctrl + U. Select the square (which will we will refer to as 'swatch' from now on) and move it into the top left corner of your document.

Move first swatch into place

Duplicate swatch

Go to Object > Transform > Transform Each or hit Cmd/Ctrl + Option/Alt + Shift + D. We need to copy the swatch and move it 620 px towards the right, so it sits in the top right corner of our document. Enter the value of 620 px in the Horizontal option under Move. Click the Copy button to copy the original swatch.

Create gradient effect using the blend tool

Give the swatch a different color (no stroke). I've used a very bright red. Select the Blend tool from the toolbox. Click the bottom right point of the first swatch. Hold down the Option/Alt key and click in the bottom right point of the other swatch.

Create gradient effect using the blend tool

In the Blend Options box choose Specified Steps and enter 30 steps. Click OK.

Blend Option box, enter 30 steps

To know this specific value is a matter of simple calculation. Our document is 640 pixels wide and we're using a square of 20 pixels. 640 divided into 20 gives us 32, minus the 2 squares that area already in place (first one and last one), gives us exactly 30. You should get a similar result like the image below.

Swatch blend row

Duplicate the blend

Select the blend by grabbing the top border of the first swatch using the Selection tool (black arrow). Click to start dragging the blend vertically down. Hold down the Option/Alt key (to duplicate the blend while dragging) as well the Shift key (making sure it's 100% vertical) while dragging. Release the mouse once you've reached the bottom border of the original blend as shown in the image above.

Duplicate swatch blend row

If all went well you should end up with 2 nicely adjoined rows of blends as shown in the image below.

2 swatch blend rows

Now hit Cmd/Ctrl + D 5 times in a row to duplicate this action 5 times. You should end up with a similar result as shown in the image below.

Adjust color swatches to your liking

Adjust color swatches to your liking

Select the Direct Selection tool (white arrow) and select the first or last swatches of each row one by one and change the color slightly to create a subtle vertical gradient effect. In my example at the beginning of my article, I've gone from very dark purple towards brown for the first swatch and from red towards yellow-orange for the last swatch.

Try to only make very subtle change to each swatch, this way you'll end up with a nicely gradual change of colors instead of abrupt changes of colors.

Adjust color swatches to your liking

Hope you've enjoyed this one ;)

Want to learn more?

VECTORTUTS+ Vector Tutorials and More A good and not expensive source to learn more about Illustrator, Photoshop, or web design is by joining the Tuts+ sites. You get access to the source files for just $9 a month. So your ONE membership gives you access to members-only content for ALL the Plus sites. I've written a tutorial for the Vector Tuts section.


25served

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permalink this comment Luke Williams Tue May 12, 2009 at 01.07 pm

Now I wasn’t aware of that, I’ll be working on some Illustrator projects in my course next year so I’ll keep hold of this, thanks :)


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permalink this comment f055 Tue May 12, 2009 at 01.13 pm

Now that’s an awesome tutorial ! I’m thinking of using that in some of my projects. Thanks !


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permalink this comment mark Tue May 12, 2009 at 02.18 pm

looks good, but wouldn’t it be a lot quicker to apply a mosaic effect to some gradient in photoshop? this would also give you a lot more control over the “big picture”. then again, it’s not vectors, but being just solid colored boxes they’re scalable nonetheless.

cheers,
—mark


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permalink this comment Eddie Wilson Tue May 12, 2009 at 02.55 pm

Thx for this tip. I just did some fooling around and found that if you wanted to control the color blend, corner to corner, you can do something like so:

Say I have 4 rows and I want a blend from #ffffff in the top left to #111111 in the bottom right.  I put those colors in their positions. Now I have 6 spots in between so I just need to divide the colors equally and apply them going down the first column, then the second. For this example each step is 2 positions in hex.

#ffffff > #7777777
#dddddd > #555555
#bbbbbb > #333333
#999999 > #111111


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permalink this comment Lieven Tue May 12, 2009 at 03.13 pm

Well, I tried that last week, came up with the same method,... but I kept wondering…
There schould be a better way.
I tried blending blends, but that’s something adobe still got to invent.


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permalink this comment Jason Beaird Tue May 12, 2009 at 03.30 pm

Thanks for another great tutorial, Veerle. I don’t mean to be rude, but I think I have a an easier route for getting a similar effect. If you make a gradient image (using any direction or combination of colors) in Photoshop then run a Mosaic Pixelate Filter on it with a large cell size you get the same look. Since this filter creates a grid of solid colors, you can then save the image, open it up in Illustrator and run a Live Trace (with mode set to color, increased max colors & 0 blur) to create a scalable vector version.


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permalink this comment manuel Tue May 12, 2009 at 03.36 pm

Great ... like always =)!


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permalink this comment Veerle Pieters Tue May 12, 2009 at 04.28 pm

mark said:

looks good, but wouldn’t it be a lot quicker to apply a mosaic effect to some gradient in photoshop? this would also give you a lot more control over the “big picture”. then again, it’s not vectors, but being just solid colored boxes they’re scalable nonetheless.

I tried out this technique and it seems it gives you a slightly different result as it applies a gradient within each square instead of a solid color for each square, which is not what I was after. I’m not sure I agree on the total control either because I still have my blends I can edit for each row. If you look at the Adobe Creative Suite 4 Design Premium for example, it’s not a straight gradient, they’ve played with it row by row. This is something you can do with my method. The difference is in the details ;)

Jason Beaird said:

Thanks for another great tutorial, Veerle. I don’t mean to be rude, but I think I have a an easier route for getting a similar effect. If you make a gradient image (using any direction or combination of colors) in Photoshop then run a Mosaic Pixelate Filter on it with a large cell size you get the same look. Since this filter creates a grid of solid colors, you can then save the image, open it up in Illustrator and run a Live Trace (with mode set to color, increased max colors & 0 blur) to create a scalable vector version.

I appreciate you sharing your method, but again I prefer my method still because of the reasons mentioned above. The result is different: gradient within each square/cell which is less nice in my opinion. The blend keeps this flexible as well to change colors, more controllable in my opinion. The Mosaic Filter is maybe the ‘fast’ way, but if details count then I think you’re better off with this Illustrator technique. That’s just my opinion of course :) I’m just a bit disappointed in the result once you add the filter on it. It’s just not the same. Could be nice for something else though.


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permalink this comment Tollboy Tue May 12, 2009 at 04.56 pm

I was playing off of your tutorial as well. I have always used the mosaic filter in PhotoShop as well for a similar effect, but I did like the different look you could get using this method. I also liked using this same method with different shapes other than squares. Hexagons made for a very cool look.


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permalink this comment Tudor Tue May 12, 2009 at 05.04 pm

Veerle Pieters said:

I tried out this technique and it seems it gives you a slightly different result as it applies a gradient within each square instead of a solid color for each square.

I agree with Jason Beaird. I’ve used the tracing method for creating this effect in Illustrator and I got nice solid squares, no gradients. The Mosaic fiilter in Photoshop creates solid blocks of colour.


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permalink this comment Gary Tue May 12, 2009 at 06.13 pm

Rather than adjusting the color in each of the duplicated blends, try this:
1. Copy and move the first blend to the bottom of your artwork.
2. Set new beginning and ending colors of the copied blend, using the direct selection tool.
3. Select both blends and expand them (Object > Blend > Expand).
4. With the object still selected, create make new blends (Object > Blend > Make).
5. Set the number of steps appropriately.


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permalink this comment Veerle Pieters Tue May 12, 2009 at 06.33 pm

Tudor said:

I agree with Jason Beaird. I’ve used the tracing method for creating this effect in Illustrator and I got nice solid squares, no gradients. The Mosaic fiilter in Photoshop creates solid blocks of colour.

Because you mention you end up with solid colors I did another test. This is pretty weird, I believe my eyes are tricked. I really see them as squares filled with gradients, but once I measure the color with the Color picker I see they are not. Feels a bit like optical illusion. So you are right they aren’t gradients. The effect still feels different. Maybe it’s because I tried it out with a diagonal gradient.

@Jason Beaird and @Mark: My apologies for the mis information regarding the gradient in the squares. My eyes are just tricked:

mosaic

I still prefer to have manual control over each row though via the blend so you can change the gradient gradually the way you want. This shows again that everybody have their way of doing things :) It’s nice to share this kind of info.

Gary said:

Rather than adjusting the color in each of the duplicated blends, try this…

Haven’t tried this out, but it sure sounds like a cool technique. Takes it one step further than mine. Pretty interesting. Thanks for sharing this :)


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permalink this comment Aaron Tue May 12, 2009 at 10.47 pm

This effect should useful for creating boxy gradients on business cards - avoiding the potential banding issue with low quality printers. And thats exactly what I’m going to do…

Thanks again!


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permalink this comment Edgar Leijs Wed May 13, 2009 at 09.42 pm

The Vector tutorial is great if you need total control. I prefer Marks (3rd comment) Photoshop way and experimenting with some textures or photographs like i did on my own site.

By the way, i think this is becoming a trend in design…

Greetings Edgar

Thanks Veerle!


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permalink this comment Renzo Thu May 14, 2009 at 05.30 am

Nice tutorial. I’ll be checking vector tuts for your tutorials there!


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permalink this comment Mario Thu May 14, 2009 at 05.08 pm

Simple and stylish, that´s the way to go. Thanks for sharing!


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permalink this comment Shane Thu May 14, 2009 at 09.10 pm

Many thanks for the tutorial.  It’s a nice effect and something I might call upon in a project that’s coming up.


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permalink this comment Jan Fri May 15, 2009 at 03.33 am

Wow, this is an amazing tut! You never cease to blow me away with your tutorials, Veerle! :)


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permalink this comment irinei Fri May 15, 2009 at 08.52 am

Hi, Veerle!

I definitely enjoyed this tut and came up with a great result:)

I think i found a way to improve this technique. Instead of manually adjusting colors you can do it like I’ve shown in the picture:

image


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permalink this comment David Tue May 19, 2009 at 06.59 am

This is the easiest and most simple tutorial yet!  Thanks so much.


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permalink this comment Samuele Tue May 19, 2009 at 11.18 am

Great tut!
Nice in order to reproduce the CS4-like graphics, but also to create custom designs!


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permalink this comment Ryan Malm Wed May 20, 2009 at 05.08 am

I was just going to suggest something simlar to what irinei said; I use a similar method at work to generate fields of swatches for matching a given color on our printers. For an interesting square-halftone effect, try scaling down one or two of the squares before expanding and re-blending.

image

This was done as described plus a distortion envelope.

That being said, I love your blog and tutorials Veerle. I’ve been following a long time, this just happens to be the post that brought me out of lurking status.


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permalink this comment Niels Wed May 27, 2009 at 08.32 am

Wow that is really useful, I never really managed to make a perfect gradient like that, I always was stuck in Illustrator. Thanks Veerle.


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permalink this comment Kyle Jordan Tue Jun 9, 2009 at 05.44 pm

Ryan Malm said:
“This was done as described plus a distortion envelope.”

Exactly what envelope distortion did you use? Can you give specifics?


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permalink this comment Ryan Malm Wed Jun 10, 2009 at 01.02 pm

Kyle: I used warp>flag, horizontal, 7% bend, 11% and 8% for H&V distortion, respectively.



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