Intuitive Tools for Digital Artists

How to Apply a Gradient Fill to Strokes in Adobe Illustrator CS5 and Earlier

Gradients on strokes in Adobe Illustrator CS5 or earlier

Adobe Illustrator CS6 has a new feature that allows users to apply gradients to strokes. Is it possible to do that in earlier versions? Today I’ll show you how to apply gradients to strokes in previous versions of Illustrator.

By using the Appearance panel

Using the DrawScribe’s InkScribe Tool or the Pen Tool (P), create an arbitrary path.

Gradients on strokes in Adobe Illustrator CS5 or earlier

Increase the width of the path to 40 pt for visual purposes using the Stroke panel (Window > Stroke).

Gradients on strokes in Adobe Illustrator CS5 or earlier

Select the object and go to Effect > Path > Outline Stroke.

Gradients on strokes in Adobe Illustrator CS5 or earlier

Keeping it selected, create a group that will include the newly created object (Object > Group).

Gradients on strokes in Adobe Illustrator CS5 or earlier

Open the Appearance panel (Window > Appearance) and create a new fill for this group by selecting Add New Fill from the menu of the panel.

Gradients on strokes in Adobe Illustrator CS5 or earlier

Swap this fill with linear gradient.

Gradients on strokes in Adobe Illustrator CS5 or earlier

In order to apply the fill to path only go to Effect > Pathfinder > Divide.

Gradients on strokes in Adobe Illustrator CS5 or earlier

Let’s take a look at a few options of editing the path with a gradient fill. Firstly, we can change the location of the anchor points and handles of the resultant object.

Gradients on strokes in Adobe Illustrator CS5 or earlier

To change the shape of the profile, we can use the Width Tool (Shift + W) in Illustrator CS5 or apply a new stoke profile in earlier versions.

Gradients on strokes in Adobe Illustrator CS5 or earlier

We can change the type of cap; apply the dashed line; use different profiles from the Stroke panel, and apply different types of brushes from the Brushes panel.

Gradients on strokes in Adobe Illustrator CS5 or earlier

Gradients on strokes in Adobe Illustrator CS5 or earlier

Gradients on strokes in Adobe Illustrator CS5 or earlier

Gradients on strokes in Adobe Illustrator CS5 or earlier

As you can see all these transformations keep the gradient fill associated with the path. However, this method allows you to fill strokes only with linear and radial gradients. If you are already familiar with the new features of Adobe Illustrator CS6, then you know that there are two more types of gradient fills of the paths. These are gradient along stroke and gradient across stroke. Can we create this type of path fill without using Adobe Illustrator CS6? Yes, we can. Next I’ll show you how to do it.

By using the free Mash Tormentor plugin

Create a rectangle, and using the Mesh Tool (U) transform it into the Gradient Mesh which consists of several rows. Color nodes in different shades of gray.

Gradients on strokes in Adobe Illustrator CS5 or earlier

Keep the object selected and create a gradient mesh for the brush using the Free Mesh Tormentor plugin.

Gradients on strokes in Adobe Illustrator CS5 or earlier

Now drag the object to the Brushes panel and save the brush as an Art Brush.

Gradients on strokes in Adobe Illustrator CS5 or earlier

Apply the created brush to a path.

Gradients on strokes in Adobe Illustrator CS5 or earlier

Keep the object selected, go to Object > Expand Appearance.

Gradients on strokes in Adobe Illustrator CS5 or earlier

Now transform the path into the Gradient Mesh, by pressing on the appropriate button in the Mesh Tormentor panel.

Gradients on strokes in Adobe Illustrator CS5 or earlier

This is how we got a gradient across stroke.

If initially you create the Gradient Mesh which consists of multiple columns, you will eventually get the gradient along stroke.

Gradients on strokes in Adobe Illustrator CS5 or earlier

Gradients on strokes in Adobe Illustrator CS5 or earlier

Conclusion

Of course, with the release of Adobe Illustrator CS6 it became much easier to apply a gradient fill to a stroke. But if you continue working in earlier versions of the program, I think this article should prove helpful.

Written by Iaroslav

Iaroslav

Iaroslav Lazunov is a graphic designer from Zhytomyr, Ukraine who has found the job that allows him to share his extensive knowledge and experiments with Adobe Illustrator and plug-ins from Astute Graphics. Iaroslav was also a key author over at Vector Tuts+ as well as his own website Vectorboom

Comments (10)

  1. Thank you Iaroslav for yet more valuable powerful tips and trix!

    Your expertise is very welcome =)

  2. Still in the linear/gradient-only section, I’ve been getting stuck at the Effect/Pathfinder/Divide step, which has worked for me twice and not worked about a dozen times. I cannot for the life of me figure out what I’m doing wrong or right. If there is a mistake a person’s most likely to make up to that point, Laroslav, I’d love to hear it. –Rob

  3. Thanks for this tutorial! I’m trying to move over from photoshop – and it can be quite frustrating! Haha. So thanks for this :)

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