There are many useful in many contexts in which we can use the Blend tool in Adobe Illustrator. One example, for instance, is when we wish to create a custom border for a design; another example is when creating a more interesting backdrop to a flyer or brochure.
To use this versatile tool, we first need two drawn shapes to work with. The example shown here is that of a turquoise rectangle with rounded corners blended with a purple ellipse. These shapes may either be apart (on opposite sides of the page, for example) or overlapping. The process works best, however, if both of the shapes have a fill colour but no stroke colour.
Next we select the Blend tool from Illustrator's toolbox and click on one of the original shapes. We then click on the other. The resultant default blend is a smooth gradient, very similar to what would be produces using the Gradient tool. A great advantage over the Gradient tool, however, is that you can later select either one of the original shapes using the Direct Selection tool (the white arrow) and adjust its position or anchor points, or change its fill colour. It's worth noting at this point that if a shape has a stroke value this tends to dominate the blend colour.
Additionally, if we were now to double-click on the Blend tool, a dialog box with various options will appear where we can fine tune the appearance of the resultant blend. We could, for instance, change the blend from solid gradation to a set of Specified Steps. Tick the Preview box on the bottom left to see the result. It's worth also changing the number of steps to 4 or 5 to get a better impression of the effect. We could also change the Specified Distance to a set amount. The example shown above has three steps, and it's easy to see the incremental transition from one shape to the other.
A good example of the Blend tool is to set up something like a rectangle shape encompassing the whole page - remember to add 3mm bleed to the edges of the page if you are printing the document commercially. We then add a different coloured star shape using the Star tool - this is stacked under the Rectangle tool. Points can be added or subtracted by first double-clicking on the tool, or by hitting the up and down arrow keys on your keyboard as you draw out the star shape. Keep the star shape smaller than the initial rectangle, maybe offset to one corner of the page. We then use the Blend tool as above, but we can, in addition, use the Direct Selection tool to tease the various anchor points of the star into different positions. The blend will update as we do so. Note that we can only change the original shapes, not the incremental steps.
If we do want to pull the internal shapes apart we would have to right-click on the group and choose Expand. Now all of the shapes are editable, but the group is no longer "blended" as before.
Tom Gillan has been training illustrator to corporate clients in Sydney for seven years. If you like to know more about illustrator, visit Design Workshop Sydney for more information.