Trouble-Free Transparency

Creating the illusion of transparency is something Adobe Photoshop users have taken for granted since the introduction of the Transparency slider in version 3. But Adobe left Illustrator users behind, forcing them to rely on laborious and unsatisfying draw-and-fill methods to create transparency effects--until the release of Illustrator 9, that is.

Graphic designer Rob Reed is a big fan of Illustrator 9's new Transparency palette. Rob designs Web sites at New York's The Chopping Block ( ), whose clients include Miramax, Nickelodeon, and Time Warner. With the Transparency palette, Rob can apply different opacities to individual objects, entire layers, strokes, and fills, allowing him to reveal, conceal, and blend multiple parts of an image using a few simple commands.

In this illustration, Rob created complex transparency effects for the windows and body of a truck by building shapes of varying opacities and grouping them together--sometimes applying an additional opacity setting to the entire group. He also used the Transparency palette's different blending modes, such as Hard Light and Multiply, to change the way the layered shapes interact. The result is a visual symphony of blended hues that create the illusion of shiny glass, steel, and chrome.

BROOKE C. WHEELER is a freelance writer and former Macworld editor who lives in New York.

1. Rob first scanned a photo of his '55 Chevy as a drawing reference. He used the pen tool to draw the truck's initial outline, indicating areas of highlight and shadow A. Using the Outline view mode to exaggerate the truck's lines, he then tweaked details and filled in the outline with solid colors B.

2. Before constructing the truck's windshield, Rob first drew the cab's interior details, such as the rearview mirror, and filled in those areas with solid colors A. Next, he created the glass, drawing lines where he wanted reflections to appear B. Using the Pathfinder Divide command in the Effects menu, he split the window into separate pieces that fit together like a puzzle. He then gave each section of glass a different opacity (ranging from 10 to 85 percent) and used blending modes such as Hard Light to control how visible the cab's interior would be C.

3. For the complex shadows and highlights of the chrome bumper, Rob layered multiple gradients and transparencies. Using the Gradient Mesh tool, he first created an oblong gradient in the shape of the bumper A. Next, he drew a series of shapes to define the bumper's reflections and filled these with additional color gradients B. Then Rob adjusted the transparency of the individual shapes and applied a Multiply blend, which intensified and darkened overlapping colors and made the whites completely transparent. The end result C is a combination of subtle color transitions in some areas and dramatic contrast in others.

4. To put a vibrant finishing touch on his illustration, Rob nestled the truck in a background of overlapping colored shapes A. He gave each shape a different opacity and used the Multiply blending mode B to make the colors intermingle C.

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