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Quick Tip: How to Create a Photographic Vignette Effect using Vector Tools

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In this tutorial you will learn 3 simple ways to create a photographic Vignette effect using vector. We will use Gradients, Blends and Gradient Meshes to create the desired effect. Which way you will use to achieve a Vignette in the end is up to you, these ways are here to inspire you and each can be edited and developed to your personal taste or need.


What is a Vignette?

A vignette is a photographic effect. It describes the effect of an image being bright and clear in the center of the photograph and dark and fading away towards the edges. Sometimes the effect is unwanted and proof of a wrong setting or a limited lens.

However this effect can be caused on purpose, either while taking the shot or in the post-process procedure.

You can learn more about the process of Vignetting on Wikipedia.
In this tutorial you will learn a few easy ways to achieve this effect by vector means.

Photograph taken from shifting pixel, photographer: Joe Lencioni via Wikimedia Commons


The Base for this Tutorial

The most important part of this tutorial is to set the Blending Mode to Multiply. If you are confident with the different Blending Modes and creating custom Vignettes, you can of course play around with settings and create unique and original Vignettes.

I will use a vector portrait I created some time ago, to demonstrate the effect.


Gradient

The easiest way to achieve this effect is applying a Radial Gradient. Create a Rectangle shape the same size as your canvas. (You can also create an Ellipse, it does not matter for the final effect.) Apply a Radial Gradient from white in the center to black on the edge. Set the shapes Blending Mode to Multiply and you are done with a simple Vignette.

Please Note: With Illustrator CS4+ you can change the proportions of the Radial Gradient to better fit your canvas. In older versions you can only change the size or center of your Radial Gradient.

In the following example I changed the position of the white Gradient Slider to 33% in order to have a bigger highlight in the center of the canvas.

By using the Gradient Tool you can change the dimension of the radial Gradient. Starting in the center of the canvas/shape you can create a gradient the exceeds the boundaries of the shape. The result will be brighter corners than before.

Changing the position of the white slider will give a bigger highlight to the center of your Radial Gradient again.

Benefit of using a Gradient: Endlessly scalable, easy to adjust, colors can be easily added or edited.


Blend

A version independent way to apply a vignette Effect is creating a blend. First you will have to create an Ellipse Shape filled with black that exceeds the canvas on all sides. It should be placed in the center of your canvas. Whether it is a perfect circle or not is up to you and you can always edit it later.
Duplicate the Ellipse, change the Fill Color to white and decrease its size as you please. It is important that the smaller shape is arranged above the bigger shape in the Layers Panel.

Go to Object > Blend > Make. Depending on your previous settings, you may need to adjust. Go to Object > Blend > Options and for example choose Specified Steps 254.

Set the Blends Blending Mode to Multiply.

Benefits of using a Blend: customizable shapes.

To learn more about the Blend Tool check out Illustrator's Blend Tool: A Comprehensive Guide.


Gradient Mesh

Create an Ellipse similar to the first one you created for the Blend. (You could also copy and paste that shape.)

Go to Object > Create Gradient Mesh and for a simple vignette select 2 Rows and 2 Columns. To have a highlight in the middle choose Appearance: To Center. Highlight refers to the intensity, 100% equals white.

Set the Mesh's Blending Mode to Multiply.

Benefits of using a Gradient Mesh:Endlessly scalable, easy to adjust, customizable shapes.

To learn more about the Mesh Tool check out Quick Tip: How to Tame the Gradient Mesh.


Refining the Vignette: Color

The easiest way to change the look of your vignette is to change black to a different color. Of course dark colors work best.

If you are using Illustrator CS3+ you can easily do so by using Edit > Edit Colors > Recolor Artwork. This works for each of the previously shown techniques.

But remember, when you change the color of the highlight from white to a different color, the whole image will be colored. In order to keep the center clear and in the original colors it is best to leave the highlight white.

In the example below, I used the Gradient Mesh Vignetter and changed black into a dark blue.


Editing the Shapes of your Vignette: Blend

If you have used a Blend to create your vignette you can change the size and shape of your two Ellipses as you please. Use the Direct Select, Pen or one of the warp tools to edit your vignette.

First I used the Direct Select Tool and moved the anchor points of my Ellipse closer to the edges of the canvas.

After that I used the Warp Tool to shape the Highlight into a form that roughly follows the portrait.

This is how the Vignette will look like, if you save it into bitmap format.


Editing the Shapes of your Vignette: Gradient Mesh

With the Mesh Tool (U) you can add points to the Gradient Mesh you created and change the position of already existent points. Each point in a Gradient Mesh is connected to a color. If you use the Direct Select Tool (A) and select a point, it will have a color attached to it. You can easily change every points color. For example could you add more white points around the center, to increase the size of your highlight.

For a different effect move the points around until you are happy with your vignette.

Start by adding Anchor points on the lines you already created.

After you added more points to the Mesh, the Vignette will appear darker than before. This is due to the fact that added points have a darker, in this case grey, color than the highlight.

Select all the Anchor Points you added using the Direct Select Tool and open the Color Panel. Choose white for each point.

Still using the Direct Select Tool you can now move Anchor Points as you please. By changing the outer shape of the Mesh as in my example, the edges will become darker.

This is how the Vignette will look like, if you save it into bitmap format.


Conclusion

The final image contains a Vignette created using a Gradient Mesh. It is the way I prefer to do Vignettes. The shapes are easy to edit and you can always reuse the vignette you created once in any of your upcoming artworks. Changing its format from portrait to landscape or a square shape is quickly done as well as changing the Vignettes colors.

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