Gradient rings in Illustrator

18 Jul 2010

I'm sure you've seen them around on the web, those rather complex looking infographics, showing statistics or other data. Some of them have a circular shape and use these cool gradient rings. I've received the question more than once from users asking how these are created in Illustrator. Today I'm showing the basis of how this is done, by sharing this very simple and easy to follow Illustrator tip. As always, my method is just one of the few on how to do this. I think it's worth checking and trying out...

Circular graph

Here is a very simple example of what I talk about. The gradient in each part of the graph follows the direction of the circle. In other words the gradient isn't linear or radial, which are the only options to choose from in Illustrator.

Browser landscape, Veerle's blog, past 12 months

The graph below has 28 segments and is applied in a more illustrative kind of way. It's still not a complex graph, but without a rather smart and simple way to create these gradients it would take a lot of time. Let's have a look on how I got started...

Browser landscape, Veerle's blog, past 12 months: All browsers and their versions

Circular gradient

Draw a rectangle

Draw a rectangle and give it color

Start by selecting the Rectangle tool and draw a small rectangle. Give it a color fill. The color you are choosing will be starting color of the gradient you'll create.

Duplicate the rectangle

Duplicate the rectangle

Duplicate the rectangle by selecting the Selection tool (black arrow), and start dragging to the right as shown in the image above. While dragging, hold down the Option/Alt + Shift key. Then release the mouse first, then the keys.

Add color

Add color

Give the second rectangle the ending color of your gradient.

Blend options

Blend options

To prepare our perfect gradient using the blend feature, we first check our blend options. Go to Object > Blend > Blend Options. Select Smooth Color from the Spacing dropdown menu. This option will guarantee a smooth color gradient between the 2 colors. Illustrator will calculate the steps needed for a smooth blend.

Make Blend

Make Blend

Now that the options are all set, select both rectangles and go to Object > Blend > Make (or press Cmd/Ctrl + Option/Alt + B) to create the blend. If you select the blend object, you can still edit the Blend Options via the Object menu. You can also still adjust the starting and ending color if you select one of the rectangles using the Direct Selection tool (or white arrow).

Create new Art Brush

Create new Art Brush

Now that we've created our perfect color blend, we are going to turn it into an Art Brush. Select the object and drag it into the Brush palette.

Select Art Brush

Select Art Brush from the brush type options

Give the brush a name

Give the brush a name. The rest of the options is left as default (see image above).

Draw a circle

Draw a circle

Now draw a circle using the Ellipse tool holding down the Shift key while dragging.

Apply gradient Art Brush

Apply gradient Art Brush

Select the circle and choose the art brush you've just created from the Brush palette.

Adjust stroke weight

Adjust stroke weight

The weight of the stroke might not be to your liking. To adjust this, go to the Appearance palette and select another value from the stroke weight dropdown menu.

Start building your graph

I hope you enjoyed this little tip, and hopefully it will give you new ideas to explore the possibilities to use these kind of brushes. Some of you might still wonder "now what?". In a next tutorial I'll show you how I started building the graph. So stay tuned :)

Some infographics resources

Comments

  1. 1 Chris Wharton 19 Jul 2010

    This is a great and simple tutorial, I usually use the gradient tool which as you know can be cumbersome, this looks like a much more scalable solution.  Can’t wait for the next post!

  2. 2 David A 19 Jul 2010

    I like this approach. Although I’m a longtime Illustrator user (would you believe v.3), I haven’t done much with custom brushes. Thanks for the inspiration.

  3. 3 Vasili 20 Jul 2010

    I haven’t opened Illustrator in a while but might have to play with this technique this week because I just have this weak spot for data and graphs. Just a quick question but what is the font you used in the first picture for the percentages?

  4. 4 Veerle Pieters 21 Jul 2010

    @Vasili

    Just a quick question but what is the font you used in the first picture for the percentages?

    That is Neutraface2 Text book. Link to Neutraface is in the footer below.

  5. 5 pal 21 Jul 2010

    Thanks for this useful collection. As a designer, I have no problems with designing icons of a larger size. It’s these micro ones that I struggle with in retaining detail, so these will come in very handy :)

  6. 6 Jackie 25 Jul 2010

    I love how you have illustrated the graph - this reminds me a little bit of your spyrograph tutorials.  The colors and the art brush creation are really neat, and it is simple enough to understand this first step, too in how you did the graph! 

    Your new blog looks great - the color combinations are very pleasing to the eye. You have done a great job, as always on this new blog!

  7. 7 Tim 25 Jul 2010

    Hi, just wanted to point out another way which skips the creating a brush step. Yo can make the blend, then draw a circle and then select both items, go to the Object>Blend>Replace Spline option. The blend will then be applied to the circle shape. No need to create a brush. Although, the brush option does give you the ability to easily control the width.

  8. 8 Veerle Pieters 27 Jul 2010

    @Tim

    Hi, just wanted to point out another way which skips the creating a brush step. Yo can make the blend, then draw a circle and then select both items, go to the Object>Blend>Replace Spline option.

    Thank you for the tip. I have used the ‘Replace spine’ option before, but somehow it didn’t cross my mind when creating this. It’s a great tip, but unless I’m doing something wrong I keep on ending up with an incomplete circle. I tried to fix it by making the initial blend wider/larger, but that doesn’t have any influence on the result so it seems. I’m using CS4, so no idea how it works in CS5 though. Not sure if this has anything to do with?

  9. 9 Tim 28 Jul 2010

    @Veerle
    Hi Veerle. I forgot to mention that you need to cut the circle with the scissors tool first for the blend to wrap completely around the shape. Not sure why it won’t go the full 360 degrees? The cool thing about using this method is that you can alter the width of the blend along the spline to get some interesting effects. See linked image… http://s62.photobucket.com/albums/h90/timcricket/?action=view&current=circle-blends.jpg

  10. 10 Veerle Pieters 28 Jul 2010

    @Tim

    I forgot to mention that you need to cut the circle with the scissors tool first for the blend to wrap completely around the shape.

    Oh right! I see :) I just clicked on the path of the circle with the Scissor tool, and it works well now indeed. Though I really love this, I have the feeling you need to watch the shape of the rectangles you are using to create the blend as you might have some hick-ups in the smoothness of borders of the ring (corners of rectangles appearing). As always, it needs a bit of personal experimentation. Anyhow, this is great stuff :) So thanks a lot for getting back to me on this. And yes, sometimes there are these illogical things in Ai where you wonder ‘why?’.

  11. 11 Tim 28 Jul 2010

    Yeah, the rectanlges can leave corners sometimes, but the cool thing about blends is that you can use any shape and even blend from one shape to another. A lot of things Adobe does I wonder “Why?” :) I am a FreeHand person (RIP).

  12. 12 Mack 03 Aug 2010

    This is a perfect example of how f**ked the usability in illustrator is.

    Something you should be able to do in three clicks - needs a tutorial..

  13. 13 Nauman Akhtar 03 Aug 2010

    This is a great and simple tutorial about Gradient tool, I never thought of doing it this way :S

  14. 14 Jaz 13 Aug 2010

    Thanks for this, it has come in very useful! The slight gradient makes such a difference.

  15. 15 mathew 14 Aug 2010

    hi
    actually i am very new at this and got fasinated when i first saw your illusions ,i even treid them but never finished them correctly can u please also leave a video or something like that which help begginear like me to understand in a better way.

    by the way why cant i do this stuf on my photoshop i dont even see the options which you have given.

  16. 16 Kofi Agyare 16 Aug 2010

    Great tutorial! Just one thing I had a problem with, though - I can’t get the rectangles to blend smoothly. Everything goes well until I hit make, and then all of a sudden some black lines inhabit the space between the two rectangles where the colour gradient should be. Any idea what the issue is here? Help much appreciated..

  17. 17 Sebastian 17 Aug 2010

    Great tutorial! I am looking for the pattern you used in the graph. Where do I get one of those or could you provide yours? Thank you :)

  18. 18 Veerle Pieters 17 Aug 2010

    @mathew

    actually i am very new at this and got fasinated when i first saw your illusions ,i even treid them but never finished them correctly can u please also leave a video or something like that which help begginear like me to understand in a better way.

    All the steps are explained so I don’t think a video will help you. You should re-read everything and try again. If you are an absolute beginner and this is your first time you should learn to walk first before trying to run. I would suggest reading some books about illustrator first.

    by the way why cant i do this stuf on my photoshop i dont even see the options which you have given.

    The reason is that this tutorial is for illustrator and not photoshop. Those are two very different applications each targeting a different user.

    @Kofi Agyare

    Great tutorial! Just one thing I had a problem with, though - I can’t get the rectangles to blend smoothly. Everything goes well until I hit make, and then all of a sudden some black lines inhabit the space between the two rectangles where the colour gradient should be. Any idea what the issue is here? Help much appreciated..

    Are you sure you didn’t forget to set the Blend Options to ‘Smooth Color’? Not sure what else it could be. Otherwise I think I need to see what you’re describing to understand it better.

    @Sebastian

    Great tutorial! I am looking for the pattern you used in the graph. Where do I get one of those or could you provide yours? Thank you :)

    Mine isn’t available and I’m not a fan of giving everything to the user as it makes you lazy. I’ve learned a lot by trying, so a little creativity on your own won’t hurt :) Remember you learn by trying not by getting everything. I’ve failed many times trying to recreate something… but in the end I got there.

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