Tutorial_Adding a gradient to a stroke in Illustrator CS4

My colleagues over at the LinkedIn Adobe Illustrator Group were discussing the lack of an ability to add a gradient to the stroke of an object. There are a variety of workarounds and I thought I would add my own. As with all workarounds there are tradeoffs to using this method but I like that it is at most a 4 step process that keeps stroke width control where it belongs: in the Strokes palette. Additionally, since the gradient is actually applied to the stroke, its possible to have the gradient stroke without a “masking” fill so you can overlay objects and see through them to the underlying objects.

Here’s the path I started with, drawn freehand with the pencil tool:

Step 1: Draw a rectangle the same dimensions as the object and fill it with the gradient of your choice. It’s possible to just draw a rectangle that is the same height as your object since the “pattern” will wrap. Play around and see what you think. Drawing actual size gives you the most immediate control with how the gradient will look, although you may make adjustments to angle, size, etc. (see Step 4 below)

Step 2: Drag the gradient-filled box onto your “Swatches” Palette. This makes it into a pattern swatch. Pattern swatches are able to be applied to strokes (CS3 and beyond for sure).

Step 3: Select your linework and apply the swatch. It is likely that you will see the gradient “wrap” in the middle of the object (as in my examply below), if so, proceed to step 4…

Step 4: By holding the tild key (~) as you use certain tools (select, rotate, scale, etc.), you directly effect the pattern, not the artwork. Be sure to hold the shift key as well to constrain the proportions of the pattern.

That’s it. You can now control the stroke size with the “Stroke” palette. If you want a fatter stroke that extends past the pattern, (resulting in the hard line effect in Step 3), rescale the pattern using shift+~ . I’ve added a sample of the finished artwork over a garish red background to demonstrate that this really is applied to the stroke and that no fill is involved.




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