Ace illustrator Radim Malinic says that when you look at the Blending tool among the plethora of other features within Illustrator, it is like the onion in an Irish stew. Although you wouldn’t use it as the main ingredient, it provides vital depth of flavour.
In a similar way, the Blending tool provides invaluable help with colour gradients, path blending – even shape multiplying – by taking two elements and working out every stage in-between, should you need to prepare an elaborate swatch library.
Radim puts this hidden gem in the spotlight and, once mastered, he believes the Blending tool should become a staple feature of your creative arsenal. Here he offers a foolproof way to create a striking illustration from one simple idea.
Time to complete
2 - 3 hours
Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop
In Illustrator, take a look at your font library to see which typeface would be suitable as a basis for this image. Although we will change many aspects of the original shape, observe the curves and character flow. If you are not sure which one to choose, lay your options side by side. My selected font was Eloquent, which is available from Veer at
As perfect as Eloquent’s number three is right now, we need to tweak a few of the anchor points to help us build up the blending parts.
Turn the character into an outline (
Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + O) and using the Direct Selection tool ( A), choose points and adjust bezier paths to turn parts of the number into sharp points. You can also add anchor points by hitting ( +) and clicking on the path itself.
We need to create lines that form the boundaries of the blends. You are quite likely to spend the majority of the tutorial in this step.
Change the outline colour to 50% black and lock the shape (
Cmd/Ctrl + 2) to make the workflow easier.
Use the Pen tool (
P) to draw the lines. Two-point paths give the best results.
Turn your Preview mode to Outline (
Cmd/Ctrl + Y) and make sure all new paths are neatly touching the original character shape. Help yourself with Smart Guides ( Cmd/Ctrl + U) to achieve perfect joins. Next, make a copy of the final group and use Live Paint ( K) with various colours to see the flow of your new segments.
The main reason to use Live Paint is not only to see the overall dynamics, but also to neatly separate each segment. You could have used the Pathfinder options, but Live Paint works even better. Go to
Object > Live Paint > Expand to ungroup the object.
The Blend tool creates excellent colour harmony, but it’s imperative to work with groups of colours that complement each other as well as working in the opposite. I chose four shades of purple, plus yellow and orange. To place them in a Swatch group, select all and go to
Edit > Edit Color > Recolor artwork. From the pop-up box, click the New Color Group icon.
With the colours now in the Swatches panel, the next step is to see how the colour blends will work with different Stroke weights and Profiles. Take one segment and copy it. Double-click to Isolate Selected Path, click
A to select one side of the path to delete. Lock ( Cmd/Ctrl + 2) the remaining path and paste in place the original part ( Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + V) and delete the opposite side. Change the outline colour and then blend together ( Cmd/Ctrl + B) using Specific Steps set to 15.
If you work out a quick shortcut sequence, then the task of creating each step will not be as daunting as it seems. When you’ve completed a segment, it’s also helpful to hide (
Cmd/Ctrl + 3) the finished parts so you have fewer places where you could accidentally click or select the wrong part. Play with colour options and see how the number works overall.
We could easily finish the piece there, but shiny effects will give it an extra-special touch. Save your work and create a new A3-size CMYK canvas in Photoshop. Fill it with a mid-brown (C55, M55, Y55, K10) and paste the main object as a Smart Object.
Bring in every part of the number as solid object shapes, placed on top of the Smart Object. Copy and Paste as a Shape layer and don’t worry about the colour too much right now. Make sure each segment aligns well with the original.
We want to apply a slightly 3D look to the vector shape. Double-click the name of one of the Shape layers (within the Layer panel), which will bring up the Layer Style options. Reduce the Fill Opacity to 0% and head to Bevel options. Input the settings from the image to add futuristic-looking reflections to each shape. The placement of the shading could be quite tricky at first, explore how Angle/Altitude affects the look. Once you are happy with the first effect, copy and paste onto all the Shape layers in your group.
Step away from the monitor and see how well the overall colour looks and feels. Select the main Vector Object and add Hue/Saturation via the Adjustment layer. Either hold down Alt when you select the filter from the Layer panel options at the very bottom or clip it on the layer via
Cmd/Ctrl + Alt + G. Right now we will increase the Saturation levels for shaper colour contrast.
Since the main document has still got quite a 2D feel to it, we’ll add extra vantage points for perspective. This will be done with a quick Shape layer.
Hit the Shape tool (
U) and select an ellipse. Draw a circle filled with white, then apply Outer Glow via Layer Style. Then Free Transform the object from top and bottom to resemble a shadow on the ground. See what size would work best within the canvas.
The idea for this number three came from my work Eight Random Facts, which has extra wording translated into various languages around an ‘S’ shape. Reselect the Shape tool, draw a few circles and then add the words. This is to balance the centre image within the negative space.
Radim Malinic is an award-winning art director, illustrator and graphic designer based in London. Under the name Brand Nu he works with leading household brands, playing a crucial part in the formation of brand language, product advertising, print illustrations and web solutions. Contact