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Ivan's picture

Transparent gradient in Illustrator

In Photoshop to make one layer gradually disappear to reveal another layer is common knowledge. It is achieved by applying a gradient to the top layers' mask.

Not surprisingly you can achieve the same effect with a similar approach by applying a gradient mask to objects in Illustrator too.

Here are the three simple steps to create a gradient mask in Illustrator.

Place the two objects on top of each other. These objects do not have to be images as illustrated above, but any other type of Illustrator element. Notice that the top object is selected and the transparency panel is open. There are two boxes within the transparency panel. The left one represents the object itself. On the right another box represents its mask, which is currently empty.

Double click inside the empty square to create a mask. Once the square of the mask turns black the object will disappear as the object is now fully masked out. Note that the mask square is selected, which means you are working on the mask.

Open the gradient palette and create a gradient from black to white. Now, while the mask square is still selected draw a rectangle over the top object, which is at this moment still hidden. As soon as you release the mouse button the top object masked with the gradient will appear. Now you can adjust the size and shape of your mask to complete the effect.

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Vonster's picture
30 pencils

I find the 'Opacity Mask' clunky. Why can't Adobe just build in a color swatch that is 'Transparent' or allow us to just create a swatch that is transparent. Then we can blend from any color to transparent without having to use their inane masking methods to pull it off.

You can do this in Photoshop, you can do it in Flash which they own now so why not integrate it into Illustrator?


Illustrative Designer

Ivan's picture

Fully agree.

James Taggart's picture
16 pencils

I am also perplexed why Adobe has not created a transparency swatch in Illustrators blend options. I have been waiting since 88.
I use feathered objects and masks to generate quick graduated blends in Illustrator. More complex graduations I generate as layered PSDs.


natobasso's picture
3951 pencils

If they integrate AI and AP too much they will become one program. Gasp! Can't have that. :)

Powerpoint is not a design application

gosselin07's picture
29 pencils

Adding an other gradient from black to white with multiply allow to make multiple fade.

svdbygrce's picture
39 pencils

Nothing beat Freehand MX's gradiant mask. Thanks for the tip in Ill.

"When I grow up, I want to be a little boy." Joseph Heller

JimD's picture
2626 pencils

Given that this is easily done in Flash and Photoshop but not Illustrator and InDesign has me completely baffled. I thought it might be an "encapsulated postscript language" thing, but that wouldn't explain InDesign. Perhaps it's the "flattened transparency" thing??? There must be a simple reason.

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gcoghill's picture
22 pencils

I thought for sure this would be something updated in Illustrator CS3 (a transparent swatch) . Kinda bummed that it's not so, but the rest of the goodies should make up for it.

George Coghill • Cartoon Illustration

bejamshi's picture
3 pencils

I use Xara for things like this. You just select your object and click on transparency and drag. That is all. I can not understand why Adobe does not simplify their programs.

melange's picture
134 pencils

I've been so angry that i couldn't do this in illustrator. THANK YOU.

life is great; without it, you'd be dead.

linkaran's picture
1 pencil

Hold on this one (u might have to read it twice to get the picture...)

ever tried to made an irregular concentred radial white to transparent mask in ill. cs3 (or any other version)? thus a mask that can be scaled without loss and that can be use in cmyk fullcolor seperation processes (press) ???

I tried but I failed. (yet ;)

I have found a workarround though, importing my ill. shape into photoshop, selecting "color" white with colorrange, setting tolerance to 160,
then changed mode to grayscale and made the image a monotone with color white a its monotone.
then changed mode back to grayscale and saved the image as a tiff with transparency on.
Sad enough Illustrator cannot handle this tiff (not tecognizable format !!!) Indesign however places the tiff fine.

Working this way I am limited because I do have to work with the final sizeformat of prining (press) in mind. (300 dpi)

I cannot include the shape (wich is part of the brandmarking) in my customers corporate identity charter with guidelines. I'd rather like to have an illustrator eps wich is scaleable and thus suitable for any corporate communication production for press or screenprinting

true dilemma..

send me a pm for the artwork if you want to dig this out with me

btw great website!!!!

jailaf's picture
1 pencil

just 4 steps

1- draw a gradient rectangle ( or any shape) on the picture which you want to make transparent
2- this rectangle make " screen " from transparency panel
3- after, select picture and gradient rectangle togather.
4- then from transparency options ( if u click on the small arrow on the top right corner on the panel) make " Make opacity Mask " . NOW the picture is transparecy gradient..

if you want to controle the gradient. OK on the transparent panel there is 2 tick options. if tick on " invert mask " gradient transparent will invert.

it will work with gradient liner & radial

Try it

ToddSmith's picture
3 pencils

I just followed your instructions above and got the desired effect. However, now my layers pallet only shows Opacity Mask and not my other layers for the document. Is there a way to condense all this masking into a layer which is compatible with my regular document layers?

ToddSmith's picture
3 pencils

I just learned that I have to click back on the masked artwork’s thumbnail (left thumbnail) in the Transparency panel to exit mask-editing mode. Now I can see my normal layers! :)

Anonymous's picture

If everyone would just use Xara would see how easy this is...and they've had it for YEARS!

Anonymous's picture

I've moved from Corel draw to illustrator for web reasons but most of what corel does is a ton easier. Gradients are unbelievable. You just click where you want it to start and where you want it to finish as a straight fill on the actual object. When you select the object again, the two boxes are still there and you can just move them around where ever you want and even move a mid line between them to strengthen the gradient toward one end. As for transparancy, you just choose the end of the gradient you want transparent as though it were a colour. It takes seconds. And yet corel suit goes for less than AI on its own. Adobe have a lot to answer for. Their advances are small and there prices are high. Go figure.

Anonymous's picture

Ah but only CorelDraw comes with the 'application recovery manager'.....Not to turn this into an AI vs. Corel pissing match but even Egyptian heiroglyphics are easier to figure out than Corels cryptic icons....

504dj's picture
1 pencil

I don't understand... I have two objects and when i open the transparency window the mask box does not appear no matter what i do. the "clip" and "invert mask" check boxes aren't even click-able. The transparency is in Normal mode. Please help... this is so frustrating, i'm only learning AI b/c it's more attractive to employers... i love coreldraw.

Ivan's picture

Which version of Illustrator are you using?

adampiter's picture
2 pencils

hey this layer by layer trick looks very cool. But how to make it work with photoshop? Any help?

patriotsdaughter's picture
1 pencil

Hello...just joined...found you via "stumbleupon." I am using CS4, and I cannot get the mask box to open either. Would really appreciate your help; this is a very cool effect!

Thank you!

BasLightyear's picture
1 pencil

Hi Ivan, I used your trick many times now, wanna say thanx!

PS, nice new avatar ;)

Ivan's picture

Great, and thanks

captonjohn's picture
347 pencils

Illustrator's transparent fill don't work properly until white color is not selected and then reducing it's opacity to 0%. But Ivan's technique work better here, thanks Ivan for this useful technique.

Think, Act, Invent.

Freefalling360's picture
1 pencil

Easy method of creating a gradient to transparency in Illustrator CS4. Create an object, fill it with a gradient, click in the gradient panel, select the color you want to turn into a "transparent swatch". Set the opacity for that color to 0.

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