Gradients might be easier to create, but not every blend is linear or radial in nature. Here is a way to create blends that conform to any shape you can imagine.
Gradients vs. Blends
A gradient is one of three types of object fill attributes (the others are solid and pattern). However, gradients are either linear (straight) or radial (circular), and it’s very difficult to make them appear as though they are following a particular curve or shape. Using the Gradient Mesh tool is one way to create a blend that conforms to a curve or a shape; however, Gradient Mesh is a very difficult, nonintuitive tool to use and is not very accurate. Since you have complete control over the objects that create a blend, they are better suited for irregular shapes and surfaces. Blends can also come in handy if you need to start or stop a gradient at an exact point.
To create a blend, select two objects and then choose Object > Blend > Make or press Cmd (Ctrl)-B. Alternatively, you can create a blend using the Blend tool by clicking anchor points on both objects. Although this can create some fun effects depending on the anchor points you select, most of the time you’ll end up using the Blend menu command or shortcut key because it’s so much faster.
Top to Bottom
By default, blends graduate objects from top to bottom in the stacking order. This is important to keep in mind because the top object will always show the most “surface area,” whereas the bottom object will be partially obscured by the objects on top.
Start and End with the Same Shape
One of the main goals of this book is to enable you to work faster, and what can slow you down more than having to draw the same object twice? When creating a blend, always try to repurpose your objects. There are two ways you can create a blend using the same object.
The first method is to select the object and hold down the Option (Alt) key while dragging the object to the ending position of your blend. Create the blend and you’re done A.
The second method takes a little more work, but in the end is better in a number of ways. Start by creating an object based on the ending shape of your blend B. Using the Selection tool, select the object, and then copy and Paste in Front (Cmd [Ctrl]-C then Cmd [Ctrl]-F). Now, using the Direct Selection tool, select the anchor point from one side of the object to create a starting point of the blend C. Create the blend.
Although both methods produce the same results, blending from a common edge is much cleaner overall than drag-copying the entire object. As your artwork gets more complex you’ll appreciate not having the visual distraction, nor the headache, of navigating through extra paths when you work in the Outline view mode.
Other Strategies for Shape Blends
Here are a couple of examples of shape blend configurations using different types of objects.