Blog: Secrets from the Chef

Pure vector

Dmitri JoukovAuthor: Dmitri Joukov
6 March 2006

Many of you are likely to be using such bitmap effects as Blur and Feather to get nice highlights and shadows. It would be good, but if you were to rasterize such a picture in high resolution you would either have to pre-set the high resolution of the bitmap effects or to enlarge the picture itself in the Adobe Illustrator. Below are some simple tricks to allow you get rid of all that fuss and create modern nice scalable icons (and not only the icons) without using bitmap effects.



Our main tools will be Opacity Mask and the simplest gradients, linear and radial. For the masks to be displayed correctly, the black color has to be real black. Watch and ward.

BlankIt will be all clearer if we have an example. Today it will be an alien. It looks like a raptorial shaven cactus. I would not recommend to apply Expand to complex objects for we might need the components. First of all, we need to prepare ourselves and prepare our round-jack. We will need to make flattened radial gradient; therefore, we need to turn on the Scale Strokes & Effects option.

Scale Strokes and Effect

Our “cactus” is cute! That he is a little phallic in the shape gives him some extra charm. Our bar is set high. Being just good-looking is not enough for him. We will make him a supermodel among his kinsmen!

Let’s start with the highlights. Take the circle that makes the upper part of the body. Clone it twice and make from it an object with a mask of the same shape. Apply the radial black-to-white gradient on top of the mask so that it looked nice. Shift the center of the gradient a little downwards. In order to increase the effect I’d recommend to change the Blending Mode from Normal to Color Dodge or to Screen.

Top highlight

Now we need some dimension near the mouth. Take the part of the body with the region we need and clone it. Make a radial white-to-black mask for this object and squeeze it vertically so that the gradient turned elliptical from the radial. If that doesn’t happen, look half the page above, scold yourself for inadvertence and turn on the Scale Strokes & Effects option.

Highlight near mouth

Now let’s make him a little gamier and add a slight reflection below the body. Use the lower part with the mask the linear gradient lies on.

Bottom highlight

Now some expression to the eyes. We’ll make shades around them. And again, here the mask with the white-to-black gradient helps.

Making shades around eyes

Our alien is not an astral body. Therefore, he must cast a shadow. I am supposed to reveal all secrets, so we’ll make two versions of the shadow, the one from a standing object (cast shadow) and from the lying object (drop shadow).

The first variant will require two circles of equal size, one of which is to become the mask for another. Place the white-to-black radial gradient onto the mask and squeeze them all vertically. For the shadow not to join the bottom of the alien, add a thin dark line below or a stroke along the whole perimeter.

First variant of shadow

The second variant is a little more difficult. First, you make an object in the shape of our alien, a little bigger than the original and without mouth, with a mask of the same shape. Then you place the black-white-white-black linear gradient onto the mask and shift the new object with its mask a little downwards and to the right.

Second variant of shadow, step 1

Unfortunately, Adobe Illustrator does not allow to create masks for masks or a double mask for a single object and you wouldn’t like to use the Mesh Tool. We will therefore resort to a stratagem. We’ll group the object from the previous paragraph and… Bingo! We can create a new mask for the group. Having done so, we need to create a rectangle with the black-white-white-black linear gradient inside the mask. You can adjust the sliders as you wish.

Second variant of shadow, step 2

The attentive reader will ask “What about the mouth?”. Yes, it must be visible on the shadow as well. And it will be there. While in the mask editing mode, make a circle a little bigger than the mouth hole and place out favorite radial gradient onto it.

Second variant of shadow, step 3

Now we need a little gloss: fix the eyes, add some teeth and some acid saliva.

Evil alien

The most inquisitive readers go and download the source. Regular alien-lovers are welcome to download the zipped icon (for Windows and Mac OS)

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Dmitri, thanks for these tips!!!

Reply Adolfo, 27 September 2007

Very well presented! It is a nice insight and I just found your blog. Congrats guys for managing a well structured insights on icons on your blog.

Reply @Arilontong, 28 February 2011

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