Gradients add a hint of luxe and dimension to any flat graphic. Learn how to master Illustrator’s new Freeform Gradient tool and create your own stunning metallic gradients to apply to your designs.

Gradients consist of two or more hues flowing into one another, creating a gradual blend of color across shapes, typography, images, and more. Designers incorporate various gradients in their designs, from eye-catching fluorescent gradients to high-end, luxurious metallic gradients. These color transitions are here to stay, and continue to evolve to fit current design trends.

Create Stunning Metallic Gradients with Illustrator's Freeform Gradient Tool — Metallic Gradients

With the arrival of Adobe Illustrator’s new Freeform Gradient tool, creating gradients has never been easier. Read on for a breakdown of the new gradient tool and learn how you can use it to build metallic gradients in your next design.


Step 1: Create a Gradient Shape

Before we get down to business, think about how you want your gradient to look and how you’re applying it. Metallic gradients can be made in a variety of colors, or they can take on a silver or gold appearance. Are you adding the gradient to a simple shape, a complex vector pattern, or to typography?

Create Stunning Metallic Gradients with Illustrator's Freeform Gradient Tool — Create a Gradient Shape

If you’re applying the gradient to complex vector shapes or text, draw out a rectangle shape with the Rectangle Tool (M). This will prepare you for the clipping mask later on. If instead you’re applying the gradient to a simple organic or geometric shape, utilize the Shapes Tool or the Pen Tool to build out your shape.


Step 2: Set Up Freeform Gradient

Illustrator’s new Freeform Gradient Tool can be found within the Gradient panel. You’ll see the new gradient type displayed near the radial gradient button. With a vector shape selected, click the Freeform Gradient button to bring up gradient points. There are two types of ways you can pinpoint your hues: points and lines.

Points

Just as the name depicts, the Points command enables you to draw points within your selected shape and assign a hue to each point. You can turn to the Swatches panel to add a color palette to the point, or you can double-click the point to bring up the ColorSwatches, and Color Picker panels.

To mimic a metallic look, you can source hues from the Metal palette. Click on the hamburger dropdown in the Swatches panel and select Open Swatch Library > Metal. This default palette compiles swatches that are ideal for creating silver- and gold-toned gradients.

Create Stunning Metallic Gradients with Illustrator's Freeform Gradient Tool — Set up a Freeform Gradient

The key to mastering metallic gradients is to create a light source for your shape. Bring in light tints to areas that are exposed to the light source, then sprinkle in tones and shades in the areas furthest from the light source. This gives your shape that “shiny” effect often seen in metallic elements. Experiment with different placements to see what works best for your design.

You can move each point within the shape by clicking and dragging across the gradient area. Gradient stops located near each other will create a drastic transition in color, while stops located further away will appear more subtle. To change the color area of a specific point, hover over the circle icon located within the dotted lines. Then, click and drag outwards or inwards. To remove the gradient point, select the point and hit the Delete key. Or, click and drag it outside of the gradient shape.

Lines

Instead of placing random points across the shape, the Lines command creates smooth line segments for each gradient stop. Click anywhere within the shape to create a gradient stop, then add to the line segment by clicking on another area. Once you’ve started the line segment, each stop will be a continuation of the last one. To create a separate line segment, click outside the shape and select Edit Gradient in the Gradient panel.

Create Stunning Metallic Gradients with Illustrator's Freeform Gradient Tool — Using the Lines Command

Similar to the bezier curves in Illustrator, the line segments can be manipulated by clicking and dragging individual gradient stops. To delete the gradient point, click and drag the stop outside of the shape or hit the Delete key.


Step 3: Apply to Clipping Mask

If applying to typography or a complex set of vector shapes, like the marble texture below, it’s time to prepare the gradient for a clipping mask. Clipping masks act as a frame, which will allow you to apply patterns or gradients to the select vector shape.

Create Stunning Metallic Gradients with Illustrator's Freeform Gradient Tool — Apply to Clipping Mask

Before you clip away, bring a vector shape in front of the gradient layer with Shift + Command + ]. If using more than one cohesive vector shape, select the shapes with the Selection Tool (V) and create a compound path with Command + 8 or navigate to Object > Compound Path > Make. If you forget this step, the clipping mask will appear blank.

Create Stunning Metallic Gradients with Illustrator's Freeform Gradient Tool — Initiate the Clipping Mask

Gold freeform gradient applied to Marble Vector Texture 03

To initiate the clipping mask, select both the gradient layer and the vector layer with the Selection Tool (V), then hit Command + 7. If the top layer is complex, like the marble texture, you may see a popup box warning you of the shape’s complexity. Hit OK and create a contrasting dark background to see the metallic gradient shine through your vector shapes.


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