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How to Create Realistic, Vector Bubbles


His Majesty the Bubble! In this tutorial we will learn how to create realistic colorful bubbles. We'll cover numerous techniques and build this illustrations step by step. Set aside a couple hours for this one!

Republished Tutorial

Every few weeks, we revisit some of our reader's favorite posts from throughout the history of the site. This tutorial was first published in March of 2010.

Step 1

Open up a new document. Use the Rectangle Tool (M) to create a rectangle. Set the fill to a solid dark blue color, without a stroke. Rename the layer to "BG" and lock it. It's more convenient to start the artwork by creating the background, otherwise transparent bubbles will not be visible on a white background. We will adjust background colors in the following steps.

Step 2

Create a new layer and name it "Bubbles." Take the Ellipse Tool (L) and create a black circle.

Step 3

Create a gray shape using the Pen Tool (P) as shown below. Copy and paste in front the black circle. Now select the copy of the black circle and gray shape, then click Intersect from the pathfinder palette. Now click Expand. The current colors of the elements do not play the role for now, but we'll adjust them in the following steps.

Step 4

Use the Pen Tool (P) to create the shape of light glare on the bubble. Work carefully over the beauty of the lines, the final result depends on your efforts here.

Step 5

Create a new shape and make an intersection as shown in Step 3. For better convenience fill the shapes with different colors, leave some of them only with a stroke and do not fill them.

Add new elements of the bubble. In the process of work you can also switch fill modes from the solid fill to the stroke fill; it will help us not to get lost in the number of objects lying on top of each other.

Step 6

At first create bigger elements; the sequence of sub layers can be changed during the process of working.

Try to keep your lines look perfect, while outlining the shape of a sphere. Study carefully how to create the elements in the shape of an umbrella. Take the Ellipse Tool (L) and create a circle. Take the Scissors Tool (C) and cut a circle into two pieces.

Remove the upper segment of the circle. Now join together the points of the cross-section using the Pen Tool (P). Add five anchor points to the even part of the segment. Move down some anchor points using the Direct Selection Tool (A), as shown below.

Convert the bottom anchor points from corner to smooth.

Step 7

So, we have fourteen objects, all objects with strokes of different colors are shown on the picture below.

Step 8

Get down to working on the objects. Make the sub layer with a black circle invisible by clicking the eye icon in the Layers palette, and lock it. We will need this circle to create the smaller elements of the bubble. Select the first element and fill it with the linear black to white gradient. Change the Blend Mode and Opacity from the Transparency palette as shown below.

Use the same technique working with the other elements of the bubble.

Step 9

We will use the Gradient Mesh to work with the other elements of the bubble. While working with a large number of elements that are superimposed on each other, you should always lock some of the sub layers. It would be even better if all the neighboring sub layers were locked, except for the one being edited. Note that to select the object you only have to click the Target in the appropriate sub layer from the Layers palette.

Fill the shape with a solid black color, take the Mesh Tool (U) and add one point to the bottom side of the shape. Change the color to white for this point. Change the Blend Mode and Opacity for the edited object and apply the settings shown below. The object may be edited only when they are selected entirely; use the Selection Tool (V) for it.

All the objects containing the Mesh Gradient are shown below. The Blending Mode for the objects are all set to Screen, while the opacities are different.

Step 10

Let's get down to the smaller details. The technique of creating these additional shapes is all the same. There are fifteen of them, you do not have to copy me, just defer to your own artistic taste when adding detail to the bubble. Pay attention to where the light is coming form to add more detail.

Step 11

The soap-bubble is ready. Delete the sub layer with the black circle; we do not need it any more. Group all the elements of the bubble.

Step 12

Copy, paste, scale, and place the bubbles as shown in the picture below.

Step 13

Create the star-like glares on the bubble. Create a new layer and name it "Stars." Create a triangle using the Pen Tool (P) and fill it with a black to white linear gradient. Now set the Blend Mode and Opacity from the Transparency palette as shown.

Step 14

Keep the shape selected, go to Effect > Distort & Transform > Transform, and apply the settings as shown. Now go to Object > Expand Appearance.

Step 15

Select a star and go to Object > Transform > Rotate… 45 degrees and hit Copy.

Step 16

Keep it selected, press Command + Shift and scale the object using the Selection Tool (V). Group all elements of the star.

Step 17

Copy, paste, scale and place the stars as shown below. Some of the stars have to be rotated, so that they could look more realistically. It's time to get down to the background.

Take the Mesh Tool (U) and create the Mesh Gradient as shown below. Paint the central points in different hues of blue color. The linear gradient may be used, but the Mesh gradient reproduces better background adjustability. Try to avoid light colors, because bubbles can get lost.

Step 18

Now create color spots. Create a new layer above the "BG" layer and name it "Spot." Take the Pen Tool (P) and create a new shape, then fill it with a linear gradient as shown.

Step 19

Keeping the selection, go to Effect > Blur > Radial Blur, and apply the settings shown.

Step 20

Keeping the selection, change the Blending Mode to Color Dodge with 50% Opacity.

Step 21

Create some light spots using the same technique.


The final image is down below. Have fun creating your own bubbles. If you want to master this tutorial you'll need to experiment with color, spots, and shapes. Good luck!

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