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Use The Gradient Mesh Tool to Create a Photorealistic Image

Gradient Mesh

The Gradient Mesh tool is one of the lesser used tools in Adobe Illustrator, for some reason people seem to neglect its capabilities. I cant count how many times I would stumble onto an illustration and think it was a photograph, and I’ll be the first to admit that I never knew what the tool was. Thinking back to my early days of college, I would get frustrated that I had mastered Adobe Illustrator, but I still didn’t know how to properly use the Gradient Mesh tool. Maybe I was afraid of it? The tool is a little intimidating to learn, but with some  a lot of patience, you too can master the tool.

Every time I attempted to use this tool, I kept remembering why I never use it. Its hard to master, its complicated, and its time consuming. Yet, every time I sat down and said to myself “todays the day I master this damn tool” I would make it half way and stop because the results were…lets just say…not photorealistic. Well, in this tutorial I will show you all a very easy way to master this tool!


The things we are going to need is Adobe Illustrator, preferably CS5, and any image that you wish to recreate with photorealism. You will also need a fine eye for detail and patience.You can click below to download the F-35 jet image that I am using or use your own.


The first thing you want to do is put your image on the bottom layer and lock it. After you do that, create a new layer above the locked layer. You should double click on the layer and name it L_Rear for left rear. Before you hit OK, change the color to something that will be easily viewable, I like to use gold because it shows when it is above light or dark colors.



Next we want to zoom in to the left rear wing. You want to be close enough that you can see all the details, but you can see the entire wing at the same time. Now press M to equip the rectangle tool, then make a general shape around the wing.



Now grab the mesh tool or press U for the shortcut. This is the trickiest part, all of your work will depend on this part, it is the foundation. Even so, its not that hard once you get the hang of it.

Start by command clicking the eye next to the layer you are working on. This will make that layer appear in outline mode so you can work without you view being blocked. Next, with the mesh tool selected, click once on any of the vertical lines of the rectangle. This should make one horizontal line dividing the box.


Then select the Direct Selection tool, or press the A button. This is when you can start manipulating the shape of the rectangle. Your goal is to “trace” the shape with the rectangle. You should always start with as few lines as possible so just move the two center points in and start moving the corner points. It doesn’t have to be perfect right now.


To really get a tight shape you need to manipulate the anchor points. By using the Direct Selection tool, you can grab the handles to straighten out all the shapes. This will give you straight lines and tight corners.

Anchor Points

Now start bringing in the rest of the points to meet the edges of the wing. You will notice that eventually you will get to a point where you cannot bring the line any closer without messing up the rest of the points. This is where you start putting in additional lines. Just like before, click the middle of where you need the line and then start manipulating it. Its that easy!


This is where you can be liberal as possible. You need the rectangle to conform to the shape of the wing so start adding line by line. Each time you add a line you need to correct all the handles and reshape them so they do not do a zig zag. Zig zags are bad when working with the Gradient Mesh. Every detail you see, add a point to form it.



This is what your wing should look like with all the lines added on. Remember that for more detail, you need more lines. Don’t forget to add some vertical lines in there too. I didn’t add many lines towards the top of the wing because there isn’t many details, but at the bottom there is, which is why there are more lines. Also, don’t forget that overall, this shape is rounded, so you need to adjust your handles to be rounded.


Now for another tedious step. Again, make sure that your layer is in outline mode by cmd clicking the eye. Once you have your shape finalized, you will be using the Direct Selection tool (A) and the Eye Dropper tool (I). I would highly recommend using the keyboard shortcuts because you will be using them a lot.

OK, now find a comfy position because this might take a while depending on the complexity of the shape. Zoom in extremely close to the mesh outline and simply select a point. Now press (I) and take the Eye dropper to select directly under that point. You now have made that point the color that it is on top of. command click the layer eye to see if it worked.

A really good tip to help you get the details perfect is that the closer the lines are together, the sharper the lines of the color will be. That is because each line stops at the next. So a wide open point like the one I just showed you will spread outward to the next lines. That means if you have a really sharp detail that needs to end abruptly, just create a line right NEXT to it. That way it will stop where you want it. Notice how close some of my lines are, that is because I want the color to stop.

You might also notice that once you preview your finished piece that there might be a few stray colors or blemishes. This is because you are picking up different colors from the photograph. Simply click that point and grab the Eye Dropper, then select a color in proximity so that it blends evenly.


Finish coloring in each point, get comfy and toggle between the two tools. Remember to be working in outline mode so you can get the exact colors. If you need more points and details, you can add them with the Mesh tool as you go.


This is what the final wing should look like. See? It wasn’t so hard. It might not look like much on its own, but once you start blocking in the rest, everything really pulls together. You just need to do it piece by piece. When I started doing this I made the mistake of making all my original shapes too big, trying to fit too much into it. When in doubt, make it a new shape.



Now you need to finish the rest of the Jet, or whatever you are making. I wont walk you thought each piece but I will do a quick overview of another larger section to make sure you know what you are doing. I will be making the left wing, so make a new layer and name it accordingly. This wing will be made up of three shapes.

Wing Rectangle

First, I will do the highlighted part that is not in the shadow. Simply block an outline around the shape. Then, make one single mesh point going down the center, vertically.


Start shaping the section to trace the wing. It is okay that it overlaps into the shadow part, this will come in handy later when we are trying to blend all the pieces together. Now start adding in all the detail by adding more and more lines. Remember to fix all the handles to conform to the shape of the wing.

Wing Details

This is what the finished details should look like. Notice how it extends past the shadow. If you do not do this, then there will be obvious lines inbetween each shape. By doing this the points will blend making it seamless. Now do the same exact thing for the two shadows.

Shadow Rectangle

Shadow Shape

Shadow Details


Finished Outline



If you ever have two shapes that need to be blended, as in not have an abrupt line like the wing above, just grab the two closest points of both respecting object and choose the same color. This will ensure even blending between multiple shapes.


These are just a few pieces of a greater image, but hopefully I have given you enough to follow through and finish the Jet or whatever it is that you chose to work with. These techniques will literally work for EVERY image you would ever want to Gradient Mesh, all you have to have is a fine eye for detail, patience, and create many lines. Below are a couple examples on how I used the Gradient Mesh tool, I hope you found this tutorial useful!


Gradient Mesh Cover

Christian Bale Gradient Mesh

How did your Gradient Mesh come out? Post below for us to see!



How to Properly Design a Restaurant Menu


Tacky restaurant menus beware, more and more restaurant owners are realizing the importance of a properly designed restaurant menu. How many of us have gone to a kick-ass restaurant with great decor only to be let down by a subpar menu filled with clip art and stock images? Well, it seems that most new restaurant owners are revolting against this horrific trend, and I will show you what they are finally realizing.


Ah yes, if only it were so easy right? Well guess what, it is! All it takes is the right sales person – your menu! Most restaurant owners put all of their time, effort, and money into making their decor stand out and making sure their food tastes just right. Whats the point if your number one sales person is an outdated mess with coffee stains? Customers will be confused and end up ordering what they don’t really want, probably the week old tuna that isn’t selling. I bet they wont be returning.

What the owners don’t seem to realize is that the menu is the ONLY thing in your restaurant that is guaranteed to be read by your customers, so you should be taking advantage of that! People are there for the food and drinks first, not the decor. So it helps that the entire restaurant and branding is cohesive, don’t make the menu an afterthought. Once you realize this, you can turn your menu into a marketing tool as well as a sales predictor.


So how does a well designed menu make you money? Well, that boils down to something called “menu psychology”, which was written about in The Wall Street Journal. It says that if you highlight your most successful dishes, then they will sell at a higher volume. You can learn more by reading about it in this NY Times article. Basically, you can tell your indecisive customers what to buy. This works just like a display in a store, you put your best items out for all to see. This works to your advantage in multiple ways. First, you can increase check averages and sell more items. Second, you can get rid of your least selling dishes, and put that money into buying more of the highlighted dishes. No more throwing out old produce because you don’t know how much to buy!


Dave Pavesic, who has a PH. D btw, has given this subject matter a lot of time and research. He says that customers view a menu for an average of 109 seconds. This is the average time a customer will look at your menu and decide the fate of your restaurant. In that time, you have to advertise and clinch the sale. Now ask yourself, is your menu designed for this type of sales approach? A well designed menu is crucial for making sure it gets the sale. An easy to read menu that features highlighted entrees will guarantee that your customers will make the right choice, instead of just settling on something they don’t want. It will also increase the time the person will look at the menu, which will increase the likelihood of them ordering even more food. Think of it like this, would you rather look at a Ferrari or a Fiat? I bet you will be looking at the Ferrari a lot longer, and which one are you more likely to talk about with friends?



You cant just throw together a menu with no thought behind it, even if it follows the menu psychology. It needs to be designed around your restaurant, it should all be cohesive. Does your restaurant have a sports bar niche? Well, then so should your menu. Is your restaurant gourmet? Then fancy up that menu!  It shouldn’t be random, every design decision should have reason behind it.

Want to know another way to get people to notice your menu items? The design world calls them “eye magnets”. If you put certain things on your menu that pops, then the customers eyes will be guided to them. Many restaurants use pictures of their highlighted menu items as their eye magnets. Mmmm looks good right? This only works if you are using images of your actual food, skip the stock images, get a photographer. Most people can tell when you cheap out on the images, especially when the photo is a different restaurant.

The positioning of menu items is also a science, but when the design works around the placement, you can accentuate your items. The average person looks at the middle of your menu first, then top right, bottom right, top left, then bottom left. You can use this to your advantage by placing the important highlighted items in certain locations that are appropriate.

Inside layout
This is the inside of a tri fold menu that I am currently working on. I used the menu psychology technique to highlight their important items. I also used eye magnets to attract the customers eyes to the food. Also, the aesthetics of the restaurant is reflected in the design.


Your restaurants menu is the most important piece of marketing that you could give your customers, it is your business card. Many have neglected this fact, but more and more restaurant owners are realizing this importance. It will literally pay for itself in no time at all. Hopefully after reading this post, you now understand why your competitors restaurant have been getting your customers. Now all you have to do is put in the time and effort that everyone else has, and your customer loyalty, check averages, and profits will all rise! For more in depth info on restaurant psychology click here.

4 Steps to Create a Successful Ad Campaign

Jeep Billboard
Successfully advertising in today’s market is a challenge. Everywhere you look there is some new campaign that pushes the boundaries of advertising. Wether its clever, funny, or controversial, these ads stay with you and get you talking. This is exactly what makes a successful advertising campaign. However, this isn’t easy. For every good advertisement you see, there are 10 bad ones. There is a science behind good advertising and in this article I will show you how I designed my advertising campaign for Jeep during my senior thesis.

This is just the tip of the iceberg that is advertising. I won’t cover all the techniques I used in this article but in the future I might write another list if this is popular enough.


Before you begin messing around with images and headlines you need to have a solid strategy. You cant go into a campaign blind and expect to have a solid outcome. Before I even started designing my advertisements I planned a strong strategy. Research, research, research! You need to understand what you are trying to sell before you start selling it. I created a 115 page thesis book about Jeep, so I understood exactly what I was trying to sell (this might be a little extreme, but you get the idea). You also need to know who is the target market, who would you want to sell your product to? I wouldn’t be advertising Jeeps in a magazine target to “going green” because that isn’t Jeeps image. Also, you need to know how your product can stand out and beat its competitors in the marketplace.

     If the strategy isn’t defining the client and setting them apart, the creative probably won’t do it either.
    – Mike Shine


After you have a solid strategy, you need to find out what your approach is going to be. This is the part when you decide if you are going to sell a feature, category, or benefit of the product. You can also chose to sell the image, lifestyle, and attitude of the brand. A brand like Audi never used to be known to be as high class as Mercedes or BMW, but thanks to their new approach at advertising, their position shows the lifestyle of the brand. Now they are known to be among the elite car brands.

Jeep Ad
Here I chose to advertise a new feature for Jeep – comfy ride quality (about time!)

Entire ad campaigns are based around the position that is chosen. This is why it is so important to have a solid strategy and the right approach. These are the two fundamental principles to follow when creating any ad campaign.


There is no formula on creating an effective headline. Everyone thinks differently so for some people they might not be able to come up with a headline at all, for others it might come to them with ease. A headline should emphasize ONE idea. Many people make the mistake to include too much in their headline. The headline should also compliment the imagery and visa versa, but never show the same thing. You wouldn’t have an ad about dog food and then have the headline describe that it’s dog food, we already know that. A good headline might have one sentence that undersells the product, or even have just one word. You can also overstate the product. By using a hyperbole, you are obviously overstating and getting attention, maybe even a laugh.

Jeep Ad

I overstated the imagery while understating the headline to create harmony in the ad
Some other techniques would be to use commands and punctuation. By using a command and punctuation the ad is calling you out, its talking to you and it has a sense of authority. Readers pick up on this because it stands out. By combining a few techniques you can create a really effective ad. I combined a short headline, punctuation, and saying the obvious (but not so obvious) in a Jeep ad.

Jeep Ad
The obvious is that the Jeep comes fully equipped with electricity, the not so obvious is that electricity (such as power windows and locks) is a newly found feature in Jeep Wranglers (2007).


The body copy of an ad is extremely important. If the readers actually like your visuals and read your headline then they have made it pretty far. Once they start reading the body copy you are lucky. This is why it is so important, you have their attention, so make it worth their while!

Jeep Ad
I chose to have a tongue-in-cheek ad digging at hybrids but showing the capability of a Jeep.

The tone, style, and voice of the copy is important in selling your ad. You wouldn’t want dark, sarcastic copy for something that is playful and fun. The headline and body copy need to have the same style. With my “Get real” ads I showed a clever headline, then I followed up with witty body copy. There are many options on how to pick your “voice” for the ad. You can be a representative of the company, telling you the details and facts. You could also become a customer, designing the ad the way your customers would. Maybe you might choose to write in third or first person? Maybe use the power of a testimonial.

The particular style and even choice of words and details can come straight from all the research you did in the beginning stages. By selecting certain aspects of the company, you can highlight important points in an advertisement. Maybe you found out that your company was the first to create something, use that.


There are way too many tips to include in one blog post, so this is an extremely brief overview that should get you well on your way in creating a successful advertisement. Depending on your strategy and approach, your headlines and body copy may come out completely different from ad campaign to ad campaign. One campaign might rely on being witty or fun, the other ad might be straight forward and full of details. Each situation will be different and it should all reflect the brand. I created around 15 advertisements for my Jeep campaign and each one I wanted to be unique. I used all of these strategic approaches as well as many more during their creation. Each example I showed above uses other techniques that I did not describe, but if you are truly interested in designing ads, I highly recommend picking up Advertising Concept and Copy by George Felton. I learned a lot from this book as well as some of my other classes and most of what I said can be found in it.

I didn’t really touch on the imagery in this post, so next week I will dedicate a post to the importance of imagery and what to do and not to do.

Do any of you use these techniques when creating an ad?

Create Movement In Your Illustrations

Jeep Illustration

There are an abundance of Illustrator tutorials out there for many different uses. Most of which are the same tutorials with different techniques, not that there is anything wrong with that, some techniques work better than others. This tutorial will teach you how to use Illustrator 5 tools to create stylistic lines that can be used to simulate movement. When I created this piece I was stuck on how to tackle the look and feel of movement for my waterfalls. After sifting through many tutorials, I couldn’t quite find what I was imagining. After some messing around with the new width tool in illustrator I found the perfect look for me, so I hope you all like it!


Any image that you want to create movement in. I used this technique in a few of my projects, each with varying looks. So depending on the object that needs movement, it can really stylize your image. You also need Adobe Illustrator CS 5, specifically the width tool.


I like to sketch out my scenes beforehand. This is a very rough starting sketch (my sketches always tend to evolve down the line, even after vectoring has started). So if you already have a starting point, then great. Otherwise its OK to just follow the tutorial in an arbitrary shape to see how it comes out. For the sake of this tutorial, I am going to skip over everything in my scene except for the waterfalls.



Next, I like to pick out a group of swatches that compliment each other. This will come in handy later when we are coloring each line. A great resource for getting great color swatches is Kuler, a great free resource from Adobe. The swatches I used are; #C6E9FB, #A5DEF4, #37789D, #C0E7FA, #2791C6, #4C88A9, and #68BBE9.



Now its time for the tedious part, blocking in all the lines. Don’t worry, it might not look like much, but later it will all come together. Try filling in as much of the area as you can. The closer together the more details there will be and better the end result will look. Don’t worry about the color of the lines now, we will fill those out later, just focus on getting the lines perfect.

NOTE: Before I started blocking in the lines, all I did was outline my wave shape and make it a solid blue color.

Black Lines

Now just finish blocking in the lines. Remember, don’t get discouraged on how it look now, it will look better soon! I used to get discouraged about how my work was looking, but you have to remember its not done yet! After tweaking my work I always felt better after the end result.

Lines complete


Now we can begin coloring the lines. Bring your swatches nice and close, then start selecting many lines and pick one of your colors. Remember to try to make the colors random so there are not a group of the same colors next to each other, make each line a different color from your preselected group. You can select the lines one by one and see what looks best, or you can shift + click a bunch of random lines and then select a swatch. Notice how by just changing the color of the lines, it is already starting to look much better, but we’re not done yet!

Color Lines


To really bring out the depth and diversity to the lines we are going to do two things. First, select all the lines and in the stroke menu click but cap and miter join (this should be set by default). This will give the lines a sharper point to them.

Stroke Caps

The next thing that will change up the look of the lines is changing some of their sizes. My lines range anywhere from 1pt all the way to 5pts. You want to put emphasis on certain lines by making some lines bigger and some of the surrounding lines smaller. Just go through by mass selecting the lines and change their size. Here is a close up so you can see how my line widths vary. Notice how I make some of the lines bigger to stand out. This will be crucial for getting that movement feeling to it.

Line Sizes


Now for the fun part (by fun I mean tedious…again). I love this step because you can finally see the transformation happening. First, select one line at a time and notice how many anchor points there are. Most of my lines only have 3 anchor points, although some of my longer lines have more. Next, select the Width tool (shift + w) and hover over one of those anchor points. Notice how you can increase and decrease certain parts of the lines. Select one end of the line at a time and make it as small as possible. By making each of the end caps as small as they can be, it creates movements across each line. The line should go from thin, to thick, to thin again

TIP: I like to select the middle anchor point first and make it SLIGHTLY bigger than it already is. The reason for this is because if you make each end cap as small as can be, then the line will just disappear. You need to first set a size for the middle so it doesn’t conform to the rest of the line.

Width Tool


This is how it should look complete


This step is optional, it really only matters if your are doing something similar to my piece, but if you want to try it and see how it looks then go ahead! I am going to add a couple shapes throughout the water to give it a kind of “current” running through the stream. Select the pen tool and start creating wide pointy shapes. These shapes don’t have to be perfect. They are just going to be there for subtle details. Make sure they look like a broken puzzle that has been pulled apart. You can do this by making your next shape kind of go in and out of the previous shape. It looks more natural this way.


Now that you have your shapes made, select one and go to the transparency panel. Change the transparency of each shape to a really low level. Mine are 18% and 35%. This makes the shapes really subtle but still adds details to the movement.


That just about finishes it! Now your scene has some pretty stylized movement going on through it. You can of course add some more details throughout. Maybe a little blur here or there will look good on your piece. Thanks for reading, I hope everyone finds this tutorial useful! I’ll end by showing some more examples of this style.



Related Article: Use The Gradient Mesh Tool to Create Photorealistic Images

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