The freeform gradient tool, which was added to Illustrator CC 2019, is an incredible tool. It gives you the option of making some truly beautiful looking gradients and really stepping up your designs. The freeform gradient tool in Illustrator allows it so any point within a shape can be a gradient source, making it much easier to add more depth and colour to your work. Here’s a quick tutorial on how to use the freeform gradient tool in Illustrator.

Step 1: Make a shape. Any shape.

To start, we’re going to make a shape. Make any shape you like; I’m going to draw a simple circle using the Ellipse Tool. You can make whatever shape you like as long as there’s a large area within the shape to apply the freeform gradient.

Step 2: Add A Freeform Gradient

You can find the freeform gradient tool in the gradients panel, just to the right of the linear and radial gradient options. To use it, just make sure your shape is selected, then click on the freeform gradient button. A gradient with automatically be applied to your shape with a randomly generated set of colours.

You’ll notice your shape now has some small circles within it. These are the points where each colour in your freeform gradient forms.

Step 3: Customizing Colours + Adding New Colours

Now let’s make some adjustments to our freeform gradient. I’m not happy with the colours Illustrator chose, so I’m going to modify them. By clicking on one of the small circles within the shape, you can go to the Swatches panel and select a new colour for each circle. Alternatively, you can double click on a circle to bring up a colour modifying panel.

You can also move the small circles around to adjust where the colour forms, and add new circles for new colours in your gradient. To do this, just click on anywhere within your shape to add a new circle. Illustrator will give it a random colour, but you can change it the same way as the others.

You can add as many small circles as you like, although if you add too many you’ll lose the smooth look of your freeform gradient. To delete a point, just click the shape, and hit the backspace key or the trash icon in the gradient panel.

Step 4: Opacity and Spread

We can still make some more adjustments to our freeform gradient. When you click on one of the small circles, then go back up to the gradient panel, you can actually adjust the opacity and spread of each of the colours within your gradient. For example, if I want the magenta colour in my circle to be larger, I can set the spread to 50%. I like where the opacity is, so I’m going to leave it at 100%. Additionally, I can bring down the opacity of my light blue circle to 60%, which will bring in more of the white background behind the shape.

Step 5: Optional Adjustment – Using Lines

At this point, the freeform gradient within our shape is complete, but we can keep experimenting with some other options. In the gradient panel, you have the option of selecting Points or Lines to form your freeform gradient. While you shape is selected, select Lines in the gradient panel, then you can actually use a pen type of tool to draw a line for your colour to come from instead of a point. This is a really useful too if you’re after a very specific look. The Lines tool creates small circles, like before, that you can add colour to as well; just on a path.

Step 6: Optional Adjustment – Blend Effects

One thing I really love doing with the freeform gradient is to play with the blend effects and put freeform gradiated shapes on top of another. You can get very some cool looking results. To do this, select the shape you have, then copy (CTRL C) and paste (CTRL V) a new one overtop the other. Go to the Transparency panel (Window > Transparency). With the top shape selected, you can click on the drop down menu to the left of the Opacity meter and select a blend effect.

I’m going to select Lighten, then rotate the shape around a bit, just to mix up the colours.

Tips

  • Unlike linear and radial gradients, the freeform gradient cannot be applied to a stroke, so if that’s something you want to do, then you’ll just have to expand the stroke so it’s just another shape, then apply the freeform gradient.
  • Compared to the mesh tool, but the freeform gradient tool can give your colours a much smoother blend. Plus moving the colours around your shape is a bit easier with the freeform gradient tool. But it depends what you’re actually trying to achieve. Overall, it’s just a bit more intuitive.

Using The Freeform Gradient Tool: In Conclusiton

Well that’s pretty much everything you need to know about the freeform gradient tool. It’s a super fun, powerful tool that you can use in so many ways to get beautiful colour combinations.

Overall, the best way to learn about the freeform gradient tool is to open Illustrator and just start messing around with the tool. Make a poster, make a desktop wallpaper; just learn by doing. And have fun. Seriously how could you not? This tool is fantastic.

You can check out how I use the freeform gradient tool in Illustrator in this speed design video on YouTube.

Have you used the freeform gradient tool before? If so, what do you use it for? Do you prefer it to the mesh tool? Let me know in the comments!


If you want to learn more about Illustrator, check out the official Adobe Illustrator Classroom in a Book.

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