Transparency and Blending
Using transparency and blends you can create some amazing effects in your artwork. In this chapter I am just going to be teaching you the basics, but I will also be explaining how each different type of blend affects your artwork. This could be a helpful reminder in the future too as it is so easy to forget what each one does!
The Transparency Palette
In the Floating Palette, beneath the gradient palette is the
“Transparency Palette”. The settings in here allow you to
change the opacity and blending of your objects.
This section of the tutorial is going to show you how to use
transparency and blending to your advantage.
First draw a series of objects and layer them over each
other - similar to the example on the left.
Change the fill colour for each shape you have drawn, using
either the appearance palette, the swatch palette or using
the fill colour box at the bottom of the tool bar.
Ensure that your shapes do not have a border by selecting
the shape, clicking once on the border fill button and then
Once all of your shapes have colours, open your
Transparency Palette. Select each shape by pressing the
shift key and clicking on each shape.
Once you have selected all of your shapes go to the
Opacity rollout on the Transparency Palette and click in the
box. Type 50%, and you will see all of your shapes become
Blending alters the way the colours of your shapes interact
with one another. There are many different blending options
that all do different things. If you are interested in how this
works the Illustrator help file goes into more detail, but for
now we are just going to look at what the modes look like.
Select all your shapes and change the opacity back to
While you have all your shapes selected go into the
Transparency Palette and select the rollout with the word
“Normal” in it. This is the “Blending Modes” rollout.
Firstly, select “Multiply” This is one of the most common
blending modes. as you can see it creates an effect similar
to what happens when you use multiple coloured marker
pens on top of each other. I have found this most useful
when I want to put a line drawing on top of a rendered
image, or put Ambient Occlusion onto a render to increase
the realism. This is because Multiply does not change areas
that overlap with white, but darkens aread that overlap with
grey and black.
As shown on the right, with certain colour overlaps
“Multiply” simply creates a brown mess, but if you pick your
colours well, or are using it to create shadow, it can be very
Multiply - Colours
Multiply - Shadow
Here I have used Multiply to create a simple shadow effect by layering a radial gradient on top of a plain colour.
If you have deselected all your shapes to see the effect Multiply had on them, reselect them and click again on the blending modes rollout. This time select “Screen” from the options.
The screen blending mode is basically the opposite of multiplying, so instead of darkening the layers it lightens them. This is good for adding highlights to images. So, if we go back to our image with the multiplied layer on it, we can now add a layer that has been screened instead of the
Screen - Colours
Screen - Highlights
Reselect all your shapes if you have deselected them and apply the “Soft Light” blending mode to them.
This blending mode both darkens and lightens the colours, but far less dramatically than either of the previous two modes when using black and white. If the blend colour is lighter than 50% gray, the image is lightened. If the blend colour is darker than 50% gray, the image is darkened.
These are the most used (I have found) blending modes. Feel free to experiment with the others available and see what you can do with them.
Soft Light - Colours
Soft Light - Shadow
The Toolbar Revisited
Before we go further we will need to explore the Tool Bar further. We have already been introduced to a few tools in this section of the toolbar, such as the Gradient Tool, the Width Tool and the Rotate Tool.
This selection of tools are mostly for more advanced processes, and can be extremely useful.
Rotate and Reflect Tools
Scale Shear and Reshape Tool
Width, Warp, Twirl, Pucker, Bloat, Scallop, Crystalize and Wrinkle Tools
Free Transform Tool
Shape Builder, Live Paint and Live Paint
Perspective Grid and Perspective Selection Tools
Eyedropper and Measure Tools
The Blending Tool
In addition to the above types of blending there is another type of blending available in Illustrator, using the blending tool.
To use the blending tool you need two different objects. They can be different in shape, colour, or both, and the blending tool takes elements of both and blends them together.
This can be used to make realistic shading, line art or show a transformation.
To create a smooth transformation you simply increase the number of steps there are between the two shapes. On the left is a demonstration of different step quantities used in the blend number.
To do this, go to the Menu Bar at the top of the screen, select Object>Blend>Blend Options. Or you can double click on the Blend Tool on the Toolbar on the Left of your Screen. In the dialogue box that pops up you can change the blending mode from Steps to Smooth Colour or Distance. For this example we have selected Specified Steps and chosen to have the orientation of the shape follow the path, but you can experiment and see what effects you get from the different options.
In the example to the left I have shown a 3D shading effect using the Illustrator blend tool. In the example we do together I am going to use the same tool to get a different effect - of one shape turning into another.
To begin, you need to draw two different shapes and give them each a different colour. Deselect them both before selecting the Blending Tool from the Toolbar.
Using the blending tool, select the first of your shapes and then select the second.
The tool will automatically show the number of steps or distance you have chosen in the blending options panel.
If you want to change this, ensure your blend object is selected and open the blend options dialogue box. Any settings you change will affect your blend.
Blend can be used to change the scale and rotation of an object too. Simply draw and object, copy and paste it and adjust the scale and rotation to what you want and blend the two objects
with the Blend Tool as before.
With a blend that is a straight line you can edit the path to become a curve or wiggle. Simply treat the path as you would any other line or path and edit it using the pen tool. Or you can
draw your own path, select both the new path and your blend, then go to Object>Blend>Replace Spline.