Time Saving Tips Using the Blend Tool: Part 1

By Melissa Scroggins, Shutterstock Contributor

Have you ever tried to manually create a series of polka dots, for example, only to discover just how tedious the process can be? One time-saving method for such tasks is to use the Illustrator Blend tool. The Blend tool allows you to create a series of objects that change smoothly from one distinct object into another distinct object via a series of gradual steps.

Essentially, the Blend tool allows you to see an object transform into another object, while simultaneously exposing the process of the transformation.

Let‘s examine how.

There are many possible ways to use blends in Illustrator. We‘ll begin with a simple blend between two distinct objects.

Create a small circle and a larger circle to demonstrate a simple blend. Select both shapes in the Layers panel and double-click the Blend tool symbol found in the Tools panel (near the other reshaping tools).

When the Blend Options window appears, choose “Specified Steps” under “Spacing” and enter the number three in the blank field. Click OK. Then double-click each circle. You can also create the blend by choosing Object > Blend > Make.

The small circle (object A) becomes the larger circle (object B) through a series of three steps along the spine (the central path or line). The shapes can be the same size or different sizes (like the example). Notice how the color also gradually changes from pink to red in those three steps. This basic blend can be used to create multiple shapes, such as polka dot circles, aligned along a specific path. This can be a great time-saver!

The Blend tool has numerous other options that allow you to modify the outcome in some fun ways. Choose Object > Blend > Blend Options or double-click the Blend tool symbol. In the “Blend Options” window you‘ll see a drop down menu with the choice of “Smooth Color,” “Specified Steps,” and “Specified Distance.”

“Smooth color” is similar to the auto setting on a camera and automatically determines the number and distance of steps in your blend. I favor the “Specified Steps” option that we used earlier, since it‘s just a matter of eyeballing the number of steps between object A and object B. “Specified Distance” allows you to choose the distance between the steps in your blend.

The first blend with the smooth color morphs the pink heart with the red heart until they are indistinguishable. The specified steps (seven steps in the example) are straight forward and allow you to control the number of objects in the blend. The specified distance (I chose 53 pixels) alters the distance between the gradual steps, creating a tighter row of hearts.

Below the dropdown menu you‘ll see the word “Orientation” and two symbols that look like railroad tracks.

These options allow you to alter the orientation of the blend objects.

In the first blend, I‘ve chosen the orientation that is perpendicular to the page, which aligns the hearts to the page. This makes the hearts all stand up straight with respect to the page. With the second blend, I‘ve chosen the second orientation which I like to think of as the “go with the flow” alignment. The hearts are aligned to the curvature of the spine.

If you modify the spine, which aligns the two distinct objects, you can create some interesting results.

The first blend is a simple “straight” spine. On the second blend, I‘ve dragged the anchor points and path segments on the spine using the Direct Selection tool to create a “curved” spine. With the third blend, I‘ve replaced the spine altogether.

To create the third effect, after making a blend, replace the spine by drawing a path on another layer. In this example, I‘ve used a circle. Select the new spine (circle) and the blend and choose Object > Blend > Replace Spine.

Two other results you can achieve are reversing the order of the objects or creating a blend rotation of the objects.

In the first blend I‘ve reversed the order of the blend by choosing Object > Blend > Reverse Spine which reverses the direction of the blend.

For the second version: before creating a blend, click on the Blend tool symbol from the Tools panel. Next, click on an anchor point on object A, then on a different anchor point on object B. Please note, the Blend tool cursor will change from an empty white square to a black square when you‘re hovering over an anchor point.

Essentially, you‘re creating a blend which rotates object A until object A is the same as object B.

In part 2, I‘ll show you some other nifty tricks using the Blend tool.

You can view Melissa Scroggins’s (PeachPoPs) gallery here.