Illustrator - Color Part 2

Ok – how does Illustrator deal with color? One thing you need to know is that if you come from Photoshop and you hardly ever used swatches before… now’s the time to start using them. The less colors you use in Illustrator – the better. Swatches sure come in handy for this. Illustrator deals with colors differently.

Swatches are your friends

Process colors – these are combinations of CMYK inks in various amounts. They’re the cheapest to use and are best suited when you have a job that needs lots and lots of colors. Like photos imported into Ill.

Spot colors – are special inks. As you know from the first part of the tutorial – there are more spot colors than simple process ones. Use spot colors when your job has few colors or the actual shade is critical (like a company logo).

Global / non-global colors – Illustrator lets you say whether a process color is global or non global. What does it mean? Colors which are assigned the “global” attribute get updated. Say you have a job where you use a lot of red shapes… and you need to change all of them. You open up your file, change the “global” red to a different value and voila – all throughout your file – all the red shapes are now updated. You don’t need to hunt down every little shape – just modify one handy swatch. Non global colors don’t update – they stay the same.

Remember that swatches really are your friends. When you start a new job you can use any of a bunch or swatch libraries that the people over at Adobe made readily available. Just click the tiny triangle on the swatch panel to conjure up some more. There’s even lots you can download at the Adobe exchange site. And not just simple color themes. There’s gradients and patterns too. If you want to use your own colors, you’ll notice that any new color you add to your job becomes a swatch. You can use a previous color easily without having to pick it up from the canvas – just look for it under swatches. It should be among the last ones down. Every new document will come with a “clean” (just the defaults) swatch palette. If you need a color you know you used in a document – open that one up – and either import the color – or simply saw the swatches.

Ok. Now about gradients. Gradients are like Chihuahuas. Some are cute and make you say “aaw” and some are horrible and shaky and make you wish you had an extra large Saint Bernard to feed it to. Bevels are in the same category …but that’s another story. In principle Illustrator deals with gradients about the same way as Photoshop. But there’s a few differences that make them a bit awkward at first.

If we take a look at the gradient panel. You’ll notice the field next to “Type” is empty. Before you can apply a gradient to an object – you need to tell Illustrator what type it is – Linear or Radial. And even so – the object in cause needs to be selected first (not the object’s layer – we’re not inside Photoshop here) You need to have your object “active” – selected and then choose a type of gradient. You’ll see that your object is now a nice black/white gradient.. white on the left…black on the right…and no way to move further. If you try and click on either white or black to change it…all you get is the color panel with a gradient for that. Don’t despair. It’s both easier than you thought and more complex that you hoped for. You can get the gradient tool and change the direction of the gradient by clicking and dragging over your object just like in Photoshop. But what about changing the colors? As I said earlier – easier than you thought. Just click on a swatch from your friendly palette and ..drag it into your gradient. If you drag it exactly over either white or black – you replace those. If you drag it somewhere over your gradient – you add that color to it. To remove a swatch from the gradient – just click on it and drag it away.


Also depending on which is topmost at the moment (fill or stroke) you add your gradient to either the object’s fill or to its stroke. You’ll also notice one more thing. If you made an object, filled it with a gradient and then you make another – the gradient “sticks” to it too. This is valid for most attributes you add to an object – everything you do next – has the same attributes as the previous. Yo can adjust this default feature but it really helps most of the times. If you don’t need the gradient to the second object.. just fill it with whatever you want.

There’s one more thing about gradients. They work as a transparency mask too. You know how you can make a layer mask in Photoshop to blend stuff smoothly? You can do the same in Illustrator with gradients. I made this rather corny painting (all with default gradients and a default pattern stroke) and a simple linear white to black gradient on top. The gradient must be the topmost object.

Gradient over art

What we are about to do is use the gradient to mask the “painting,” If you select the gradient and place it on top of the painting you’ll see that my gradient is about half the height of my “painting.” It will not cover all of it and you’ll see why.

Gradient over art

And this is the result. About half my painting – and masked. Where I used to have white on my gradient – the “painting” is visible – and where it was black – it’s now transparent. Kinda like Photoshop.

Gradient over art

But where’s the other half? Aah – you see – any mask also functions as a clipping path. How cool is that? You kill two birds with one stone. In illustrator you can make a clipping path from any object – as long as it’s on top of other objects and all are selected. If you want to place the gradient as a transparency mask for all the objects – just make the gradient object big enough. But you can have that same object as a mask too. It can be any shape and it also functions with raster images.

You can import a photo of ..say a cloudy sky – and use any object with a gradient as a clipping mask and as a transparency mask. You can blend stuff you never imagined. If I had a photo under my painting they would now be blended. Use your own imagination and there’s no limit to what you can do.

This about completes the beginner tutorials. There’s many things to say and Illustrator is huge. But this is what books are for. You may want to invest in a book or an actual class - always a great place to start…if these picked your interest.