Create one-of-a-kind gradients with the handy Mesh Tool in Adobe Illustrator. Learn how to mimic that trendy fluorescent gradient look with this step-by-step tutorial.
Cover image via Lucky_Find.
Adobe Illustrator’s Mesh Tool is an underrated treasure; with it, you can add three-dimensional features to vector shapes and incorporate vibrant or subtle gradients in your design or type.
In this tutorial, I will take you through how to navigate the Mesh Tool in Adobe Illustrator to design neon gradients, inspired by our Holographic Foil creative trend. You can apply this gradient as a clipping mask to strings of text or as a trendy social media background for your business.
Step 1: Find Inspiration and Color Combinations
Before diving head first into your fluorescent gradient, figure out the color palette you want to use. Finding colors that you like – and that match – can be tough, so I made these 101 color combinations full of vivid hues to use for your gradient. I was inspired by the Punchy Pastels creative trend when selecting this Fresh Spring image.
Search for photos with vibrant and concentrated color to give your design a neon edge; these images incorporate that modern, punchy kick for a truly on-trend gradient.
Step 2: Open Adobe Illustrator
To begin, go ahead and open up the Illustrator program. Hit Command+N to bring up the New Document window.
For gradients, I prefer to create a square composition; a document sized at 1000 x 1000 pixels is a great place to start. Scroll down to Advanced Options and change your Color Mode to RGB.
Step 3: Create Gradient Mesh
To create a vector square, go to the Rectangle Tool (M) and draw out the shape on the artboard while holding down the Shift key to constrain proportions.
Navigate over to the Object dropdown at the top of the program, then select Create Gradient Mesh. This will bring up a pop-up box asking how many anchor points to place in the rows and columns; start off small with 4 rows and 4 columns. You can always add more points by selecting the Mesh Tool (U) and clicking inside the shape.
Step 4: Create New Swatches
Draw out another square outside of the artboard and click over to the Fill color on the left side of the program. This will bring up the Color Picker histogram, where you can input specific hex codes into the white box, such as the orange (#FAA98B) from the Fresh Spring image.
Select OK to return to the main screen; go over to the Swatches panel on the right side of the program and click on the hamburger icon to create a New Swatch. If you don’t have the panel activated, head over to the Window tab and select Swatches.
Your new color will pop up into the Swatches panel, ready to be accessed for your gradient. Rinse and repeat the steps above for the remaining hues.
Step 5: Apply Color Palette
With the Direct Selection Tool (A), click on the anchor points in the gradient mesh. I prefer to begin in the corner and work my way through. Select a color from the Swatches panel and adjust the tint of the custom swatch in the Color panel. This adds white to your color to create a more fluid and continuous gradient while highlighting points of interest.
A successful gradient mesh consists of various vibrant hues that tend to flow into each other; by grouping your custom swatch with its tints, you can create that continuous look.
After you’ve gone through and assigned colors to each anchor point, your gradient mesh should look something like this. When the points are equidistant to each other, the mesh appears to be stagnant and stiff. We will adjust that by manipulating each point to create a more fluid composition.
Step 6: Adjust Anchor Points
Using the mighty Direct Selection Tool (A) again, individually click each inner point and move it around the gradient mesh. This creates a more dynamic composition and allows you to adjust the concentration of each hue.
You will also notice that handles stick out from each anchor point; with the Direct Selection Tool (A), click and drag the handles around to adjust the radius of each color and guide the color in a specific direction, much like an arrow.
Take your time and play around with the points and handles until you’ve constructed the perfect gradient mesh.
Step 7: Save and Export
Save your project with Command+S and export your image by going to File > Export > Export As. Select All or Range to export a single artboard. Change the Format to a JPEG or PNG for best results when uploading online.
The options are endless with colorful gradients; you can apply the gradient as a clipping mask to a string of type for a vibrant neon effect, or use as a trendy background for social media.
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