Another Fine Mesh…

Most weekends I spend a quiet hour or so watching a few tutorials from a range of sources, to see how other people are teaching certain aspects of Adobe software—what techniques they are using and so on—which sometimes leads to an idea for a blog post like this one. One of the things I looked at this weekend was a tutorial on getting started with the Gradient Mesh feature in Illustrator—Gradient Mesh is very powerful but there is a learning-curve associated with it, and to be honest it’s not the easiest thing to teach—you just have to learn the basics and persevere with it. Before we look at the thing that prompted this post, let’s cover some gradient mesh basics.

Gradient Mesh Basics

Mesh lines form a kind of 2D wireframe, that can be manipulated in various ways; where the mesh lines intersect mesh points exist, and these points can be assigned colour and opacity values.

There are a couple of ways to create gradient mesh objects, so we’ll look at these first.

Mesh Tool

Here’s a simple example, using the Mesh Tool.

Draw an ellipse, with no stroke and a solid fill:

step1

Tap U on your keyboard to access the Mesh Tool, then click somewhere near the middle of your ellipse:

step2

The ellipse will be converted to a gradient mesh object, made now from a composite of Anchor Points and mesh points. The mesh point you created when you clicked will still be active; make sure that the fill attribute is in front on the tool box (solid square in front—tap X to toggle this) then choose a different fill colour:

step3

 

You’ll see how the colour radiates out from that mesh point to the other mesh points on the shape (mesh points can be distinguished from anchor points as they are diamond-shaped, where anchor points are squared). While the point is still selected, change the Opacity—drop it down to 0%—and hopefully you’ll start to see the potential that Gradient mesh has, even if it’s only used as a shading overlay.

step4

 

Create Mesh

Gradient mesh can also be created with the Object menu—sometimes this is the best method to get started—as you get an equally distributed mesh that you can preview visually. This time I’m starting with a kind of pear-shape:

step5

Next step is to choose Object > Make Gradient Mesh… and in the resulting dialog choose the following options:

  • Rows: 5
  • Columns: 5
  • Appearance: Flat

step6

 

Tap A on your keyboard to access the Direct Selection Tool and click on the mesh patch (that’s the name for the area between any four mesh points) as indicated in the image below with the red X; this will select the surrounding four points—again, choose a different colour swatch:

step7

Now tap U to select the Mesh Tool as before; click on any one of the horizontal grid lines over on the right-hand-side, and a new vertical grid line will appear; repeat this step as shown below:

step8

Next, click on one of the vertical lines, between the bottom of the shape and the first set of mesh points:

step9

Tap Q to pick up the Lasso Tool and drag around the points towards the bottom-right of the mesh, roughly as shown below:

step10

Then choose a darker colour:

step11

You’ll see how that works quite nicely, but it’s a bit angular in the middle of the curve at the bottom-right. Switch to the Mesh Tool again and now we can manipulate the mesh points, which will affect the gradient between them. Tip: hold down SHIFT to “slide” mesh lines along the mesh lines. I’ve started to do this in the image below:

step12

This is just a crude example, but you’re probably seeing how this works, and that with a little more effort this could be cooking up great results.

So About That Tutorial…

One of the tutorials that I watched looked at creating a mesh within a more awkward shape, like this:

step13

The tutorial recommended that you create a rectangle, then bend the mesh using the transformation tools—and a large chunk of your patience—to achieve the desired result. This is necessary on some objects, to be honest, but on a shape like this one, and many others like it, there is another way.

Start with a stroke

step14

Making sure the stroke attribute is frontmost in the Tools panel (tap X to swap if necessary):

step15

Tap the Period key (ok, full-stop—if you must) on your keyboard to apply a gradient to the stroke; go to the Gradient Panel and apply the gradient in the direction you want (see below):

step16

Gradient options:

  1. Applies the gradient within the stroke—this is almost like the effect you’d previously have achieved using the stroke as an opacity mask on an object with a gradient. This method doesn’t work with our technique.
  2. Applies the gradient along the stroke
  3. Applies the gradient across the stroke

The gradient can be modelled any way you want it to be, just be aware that the more colours you use, the more complex the results will be in the next step.

Create The Gradient Mesh From The Stroke

This is the really easy bit: Object > Expand Appearance and the gradient stroke is transformed into a perfectly formed gradient mesh object.

step17

In the examples above:

  1. Uses the gradient along the stroke
  2. Uses a simple white to black gradient across the stroke
  3. Uses a more complex spectrum gradient across the stroke—note the increased number of mesh lines

More Potential

There are other attributes that can be applied to the stroke, before converting it to a mesh object, such as using round end-caps and width profiles (I always keep a copy of my original stroke, just in case I change my mind about any of these things). Don’t forget that you have the Width Tool (SHIFT-W on the keyboard) to mould your own profiles as well as the built-in examples.

step18

Links

Here’s a link to the Learn the Gradient Mesh Tool movie on Adobe Learn & support and to help with that perseverance and practice here’s some inspiration from—to my mind the undisputed master of Gradient Mesh—Yukio Miyamoto.

Discover: Make More Interesting QR Codes

In 2015, QR—or Quick Response—codes will have been around for 21 years. Although they were created initially by a subsidiary of the Toyota motor corporation to track vehicles during manufacture, their use is now much more widespread of course and they are one of the most popular forms of two-dimensional barcode on the planet, and a key part of many advertising campaigns. One of the main reasons this has come about is the advent of the smartphone which can be used—via a reader app—as a QR scanner to read stored text, virtual business cards, URL’s, text messages and links to email, that makes them very attractive way to quickly engage with your brand or message.

InDesign CC introduced a QR Code Generator that allows you to create high-quality QR graphics easily, and they can even be part of a data-merge process (which we’ll cover in a later post). The codes don’t have to be dull blocks of solid colour though, and in this post we’re going to take a look first of all at generating QR codes, and then a couple of ways in which we can spice them up a bit.

Generating QR Codes in InDesign

Generate-QR-Code

There are just a couple of steps to create your QR codes; choose Object > Generate QR Code… and then choose the type of information you want the code to contain. InDesign allows you to generate these five QR codes:

  • Web Hyperlink—usually points the device browser to the URL contained in the code; some apps have their own built-in browser so you can view the page without leaving the app although you can usually switch view the page in the device browser if preferred or it’s something you’d like to bookmark. Keep in mind that as with all QR codes, the amount of information has an effect on the complexity of the appearance in the resulting code, so if your URL string is very long, then consider using a shortening service like bit.ly or goo.gl to optimise your link first.
    • 1, in the example below, links to my Facebook page “http://facebook.com/TonyHarmerTraining”
    • 2, in the example below links to the same page with an optimised (shortened) URL “http://bit.ly/THTonFB”
  • Plain Text—any text you’d like to include, which normally would be up to 3kb—roughly equating to 4,296 alphanumeric characters—but InDesign seems to limit this to about half of that number for some reason.
    • 3, in the example below, contains some excerpted text from the first chapter of Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” (before you try and unravel any hidden meaning there, none exists—it’s just the most common favourite classic amongst our team here this morning). You can see how complex this starts to get, and you’re then a little limited to how large you can actually use the QR code—in fact it’s quite possible that (depending on how you’re viewing this post) that you may not even be able to scan the example here successfully.
  • Text Message—this will format a text message in the device’s messaging app, ready for the user to send. You could for example have a text that says something like “I’m really interested in your new product, please call me and give me more information”. When the user send the text and it arrives with you, you can call the user back and start a conversation (that hopefully leads to a sale).
  • Email—works in a very similar way to the text message, in that a mail is created in the device’s mail client, addressed and ready to be sent.
  • Business Card—this information gets formatted as contact information either directly in the device’s address app or in the reader app ready to be handed off to the device app.

qrCodesTip: If you find that you need to edit a code that you’ve created, simply select it and choose Object > Edit QR Code… and make any changes as needed.

Colour

The QR code doesn’t have to be the default black, and you’ll see that the Generate QR Code dialog has a colour tab at the top of the dialog where you’ll see all of your document swatches and that’s about the limit of it in InDesign, but only colours, no gradients. So how do we make these things more interesting?

Make a More Visually Interesting QR

Interestingly, the generated QR is treated just like an EPS file that is deeply embedded into the document. This means that the preview we get of the file is an image, but the information behind that is vector. Sounds confusing? Don’t worry about it, as all we need to know is that there’s vector information in there, and if we select the content and move it across to Illustrator—by copy/paste—then we can get into those vectors. When you paste into Illustrator you’ll get something like this:

step1

Anything you can do here to optimise this—without modifying the actual shapes—will help you later on; so you could perhaps use the Shape Builder Tool to carefully link the individual coloured blocks together, for example. At the very least, turn the blocks into a compound path (CMD-8 on mac, CTRL-8 on Windows).

All that needs to be done now is to copy this optimised path and then paste it back into InDesign, where you can recolour it using any of your swatches—including gradients—and even use it as a frame. There is about a 30% error correction redundancy built into QR codes but adding an image inside the QR does impact on that safety buffer, and to avoid the risk of any part of the image data being read by the scanner, make sure that your image or gradient doesn’t contain white; it is best practice to put a white box under/around your QR code in any event.

Some Examples

wontWill

In the example above, you can perhaps see how (a) isn’t likely to work as there’s so much white in the underlying image that it confuses the negative space in the QR code; (b) is much more successful.

examples

In the above set of four the image is contained in the boundary of the QR matrix in the first two images on the left; the leftmost of the two against a black background is unlikely to work, where the version contained in a white box will. In the two examples on the right, the image is in the background, with the matrix in white on top on the left, and black on top on the right. If you’re guessing that the one with white works, you’d be correct.

It is possible to create some really great effects within your QR codes—but always test your results on more than one device and scanning app.

 

Tut: Infographics: Create a Wind-farm Graph in Illustrator

featured

At the very least, at some point in your design career, you’re very likely to be asked to present some data in a graphical way. Infographics (information graphics) have taken on a life of their own in recent years, where a collection of related data is presented in a clear and engaging manner, using a wide array of presentation methods. Each component part of the infographic as a whole, could be considered to be an infographic in itself and many of these are presented as graphs, even though that may not immediately be obvious.

In this tutorial, we’ll build a simple—yet flexible—graph based on [imaginary] output data from a wind farm. As usual we’ll be using accelerated techniques to build our illustration—so even if you think you could draw this with your eyes closed it may well be worth you just reading the steps.

To begin with create a new document in Illustrator; in my example I’ve chosen to make an A4 document, in landscape orientation but you could use whatever you want, of course and make sure you can see the document rulers: View > Rulers.

Create the Turbine Graphic

What we’ll need to do first is to create our turbine, and we’ll start by drawing the blades. Drag a horizontal guide down to the middle of the page from the top ruler, then hold down ALT and drag down another guide from the top ruler—you’ll see that it is in the alternate orientation—so drag this to the centre of the page.

Zoom in to the intersection and draw your first blade shape. My example is roughly 12mm high and a couple of mm wide; the image below shows the shape of my blade and the inset—bordered red—shows the size in relation to the whole document.

step1

Engage the Rotate Tool (tap R on your keyboard to access the tool quickly) then hold down ALT and click at the intersection of the guides; this will simultaneously place a transformation point at the guide intersection and open the Rotate dialog. Type 120 into the Angle field and then either click Copy or hold down ALT and hit RETURN; then immediately use the shortcut CMD-D to repeat that copy/transformation—you should now have three blades.

step2

Tap L on your keyboard to select the Ellipse Tool and then holding down ALT and SHIFT together, draw a circle from the guide intersection that covers the bases of the blades like shown. The circle will represent the nose-cone of the turbine blades. It’s probably a good idea to select these elements and group them, but again this is entirely optional.

step3

Use the shortcut SHIFT-D to switch to Draw Behind mode, then tap M to select the Rectangle Tool and draw a rectangle behind the blades as shown; start a little below the centre of the nose-cone and use the corner-widgets to round the shape.

step4

Position the tools cursor a distance below the blade group and holding down ALT to draw from the centre, draw a long, thin rectangle for the tower part of the main turbine. If you want to make this a little more like a long thin isosceles trapezoid once drawn, then:

  1. Tap A to switch to the Direct Selection Tool
  2. Drag across the bottom two anchor points of your shape
  3. Tap S on your keyboard for the Scale Tool and drag out slightly to widen the bottom 0f the shape.

step5

Tap V to return to the Selection Tool temporarily—make any position adjustments that may be necessary or desired—then deselect everything and switch back to Draw Normal mode using SHIFT-D; you can check that you’re in this mode by looking at the draw-mode icons at the bottom of the toolbox, and you can also click these to switch modes. This step—deselecting—is important as if you still had an active selection and used the SHIFT-D shortcut, you may go into Draw Inside mode inadvertently.

step6

Just a little below the bottom of the tower, draw a slightly wider, stout rectangle, then using the Direct Selection Tool and Scale Tool as we did with the bottom of the tower previously. Scale in the top two points of this rectangle, then switch back to the Direct Selection Tool—while you still have the points selected—and drag in the corner widgets slightly to round the top of a little. Switch back to the Selection Tool and position this as shown.

step7

With that step in place, we now need to clear our construction guides View > Guides > Clear Guides. If you haven’t already saved your work, perhaps now would be a good time to do that, just in case.

Making the Tower into a Graph Design

Before we can use the graphic we have just made in a graph, we have to turn it into a graph design. There are three different types:

  • Scaled designs—these scale either uniformly or vertically
    gr_16
  • Repeating designs—the design repeats and it’s possible to scale or trim part-values
    gr_17
  • Sliding designs—which work similarly to vertically-scaled designs but you can specify where the design stretches from (as we are doing in this tutorial)
    gr_18

For more on using images in graphs, visit this help topic on adobe.com.

Tap the backslash key ( \ ) to access the Line Tool. and draw a short line across the middle of the tower as shown. You’ll need to hold down SHIFT while you draw as this needs to be perfectly straight; keep the line selected.

step8

Use the shortcut CMD-5 to turn the line into a guide, or use View > Guides > Make Guides; if your guides are locked—try and select or move the one you’ve just made to check—unlock the guides by either using the shortcut CMD-ALT-; or choosing View > Guides > Lock Guides to remove the checkmark next to this option in the menu.

step9

Select the whole Turbine assembly—along with the guide—and choose Object > Graph > Design… then in the Graph Design dialog, click New Design; your graphic will be added to the graph design library for this document—if you like you can rename it by clicking the Rename button in the dialog. Click OK to exit the dialog when you’re done.
step10

 

Create a Graph and Use the Design

Zoom out to fit the document to the window—CMD-0 (zero) or View > Fit Artboard in Window—and you can delete the artwork you made; it’s still available via the library if you needed it using the Paste Design button in the Graph Design dialog. Tap J to select the Column Graph Tool and draw out a large rectangle that will fit your entire graph; leave a little room to the left of the document for the value axis.

step11

 

Add Some Data

While it is possible to import data from a spreadsheet, we are just going to enter some values into the first two columns, date on the left and Kw on the right, like so:

 

Click the checkmark at the top right to validate and a simple bar graph will be drawn. Close the dialog by clicking the red “traffic light” on the Mac (top left of the dialog) or the close “X” on Windows (top right of the dialog); save the graph data if you  are prompted to do so.

Add the Design

With the graph still selected, choose Object > Graph > Column… and then select your design from the dialog. Choose Sliding from the Column Type drop-down, deselect Rotate Legend Design—unless you want a turbine laying down as the category legend—and then click OK to exit the dialog.

step13

 

Your graph should now have a range of turbines at different heights.

step14

You will find limitations of this technique, but there are ways around most of the common “problems”. There’s a lot more to graph styling and it’s easy to add/remove dividers on the axes, or change their length. The type can be styled just by selecting one instance and modifying it—all of the text should update immediately ; individual instances can be selected with the Direct Selection Tool. Ultimately, you could always ungroup the graph—you won’t be able to change the data after that, though—and use the graphics that were generated.

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