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Transparent Gradients in Adobe Illustrator

Creating gradients with opacity masks By Dave Nagel
We've discussed Opacity Masks in Adobe Illustrator CS before. But what we haven't discussed is Illustrator's ability to use opacity masks to create gradients with transparency. This technique allows you not only to create gradients that transition from a solid to transparent color, but to generate complex gradients as well in which the transparency gradient can cut across the color gradient.

In most graphics and motion graphics programs, gradients have two different kinds of stops--color and opacity. That is, you're able to use the stops to indicate which color should appear in which position, and separate stops to indicate which opacity level should appear in which position. This is seen in the image below, which is a screen shot of the gradient editor in Adobe Photoshop, where the opacity stops appear on the top and the color stops appear on the bottom.

In Illustrator, gradients have one kind of stop: color, seen at the bottom of the Gradient palette from Illustrator CS below.

So how do you incorporate transparency into your gradients? It works like this.

Single-color gradient with transparency
We'll start with a simple, single-color gradient that transitions from solid to transparent. Begin by creating a new object with a solid fill, and make the solid the color that you want to use in your gradient. I'll use a dark red.

No go to the Transparency palette (Window > Transparency). In the flyaway menu on the top right, choose the "Make Opacity Mask" option.

This will cause your object to turn invisible.

Now we're going to create the actual mask for this object. You can do this a few ways, but I think this way is the easiest because it's just two steps. First, click on the mask in the Transparency palette.

Second, draw a new object over the old. Note that in the example below, my object has become partially transparent. This is owing to the fact that Opacity Masks use the lightness of the colors of the mask object to determine the opacity of the primary object. My current color is a dark red, so the object is mostly transparent. We'll change this in the next step.

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Related Keywords:adobe illustrator, gradient, transparency, transparent gradients, opacity masks


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