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Create a Stylized Gradient Mesh Soccer Ball Illustration

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In this tutorial, we'll show the advanced Adobe Illustrator artist how to create a realistic looking soccer ball with mesh objects. You'll learn how to create reflections with the Opacity Mask. We'll also make our own swooshes and custom brushes.

Final Image Preview

To begin with let's have a look at the image we'll be creating.

Step 1

Open a new document. I picked a soccer ball image from Stock.xchng. Feel free to pick your own soccer ball image.

Place the image into your document. Double-click the layer with the image, set the Dim Images To to 35% and select it. Now we have set up our source image. Lock the layer with the image. Then create a new layer above and name it "Background."

Drag a horizontal and a vertical Guide onto the Artboard, and align them to the soccer ball. Select the Ellipse Tool (L) and click on the point where the two guides meet. Then hold down the Shift Key and drag outwards until it matches the size of the ball. Fill it with black, leave the Stroke set to None. Then Hide and lock the layer, so we can see the photo again.

Step 2

Create a new layer and name it "Shapes." We'll now create our mesh objects. First, trace each pentagon on the soccer ball (once filled with meshes this will be very effective). Trace each pentagon and fill it with the appropriate color (either black or white). Leave the stroke set to None. You don't have to create the pentagons perfectly. Leave some small gaps between the shapes. This slightly imperfect look helps to make it more realistic.

Step 3

Once that is done, we can apply the Mesh Paths. Make the black circle we created earlier visible and lock it again.

Let's set up our shading colors in the Swatch Palette. I picked the following colors: black (C=0 M=0 Y=0 K=95), light gray (C=1 M=2 Y=5 K=10), dark gray (C=0 M=0 Y=0 K=44), and white (C=0 M=0 Y=0 K=0).

Now we can start adding the meshes. Make sure no color fill or stroke is selected. Then select the Mesh Tool (U), and click on the center (approximately) of a pentagon. Then click on each cross mesh path near the edge of the shape. Repeat this with each side of the pentagon.

Select the White Arrow Tool (A), and click on the most outer mesh points. Then fill them with the black (C=0 M=0 Y=0 K=95) color swatch. Select the points all around the edge, and repeat this step. This will add our shades to the white pentagon shapes.

Step 4

Select the next cross point towards the middle, and fill it with the dark gray color. Sometimes, you might see that it gets too dark, and then you can fill it with the lighter grey. At the edges we might need some darker shades. Repeat this with all the white shapes.

Step 5

Now let's apply the same method to the black shapes. But no worries, this will be quicker since the black pentagons need only one highlight. Select a black pentagon, and grab the "Mesh Tool" (U). Add a mesh point in the middle of the shape. Make sure no fill color and stroke is selected.

Choose the Direct Selection Tool (A), and select the cross point in the middle of the shape. Fill it with the black color. This might not look like much, but it's enough to make a difference. Repeat this step with all the black pentagons. Voilà, the soccer ball us complete!

Step 6

Let's add some life to the image. Create a new layer beneath the "soccer ball" layer, and name it "Background." Create a Rectangle (M) and fill it with black. Select the Gradient Tool, choose Radial as the type, and start dragging from the left upper corner downwards.

Step 7

Create a new layer above the gradient "background" layer, and name it "Reflection." Then select all the "soccer ball" shapes by clicking on the right of layer. You can see a green square appearing. This means that all the sub-layers are selected.

Make sure though that none of the sub-layers are locked. Now group them (Ctrl+G). Then click on the rectangle again, hold the mouse key down, select Ctrl+Shift+Alt (you will see a "+" sign appearing), and drag towards the new layer.

This will give us a complete copy of the "soccer ball" layer. Move this underneath the "soccer ball." Keep the selection active, go to Object > Transform > Reflect, choose the horizontal reflection, and click OK.

Step 8

Create a new rectangle over the bottom soccer ball. Then fill it with a gradient vertically from white to black. Now select all shapes from the "reflection" layer, open the Transparency palette and click on the Right Palette Arrow, as shown below. Then choose Make Opacity Mask. Deselect the shapes. We've now created our reflection.

Step 9

Lets create the swooshes. Select the Ellipse Tool (L), and create shapes as shown below. I filled them with a green radial gradient. Duplicate the layer to the right and set the Transparency to Multiply. Repeat this two more times. Select all the ellipses and click on the Path Divide tool. Then start deleting the right side of the ellipses by selecting the shapes with the Direct Selection tool.

Step 10

Now rotate the group of ellipses counterclockwise. Go to Object > Envelop Distort and choose Make with Warp. Select following options: Style of Flag, Horizontal Bend of 19%, Horizontal Distortion of 13%, and Vertical Distortion of 33%. Then click OK.

Next, go to Object > Envelop Distort > Expand. Rotate the group a little bit more counterclockwise and place it under the "soccer ball." Make sure the shapes are below the "reflection." Duplicate the "swoosh" group and move it slightly upwards. Then set the Transparency layer to Overlay. You might want to duplicate more then once.

Step 11

Let's make a custom brush to add more interest. Create a circle, fill it with white. Select the Crystallize Tool and click several times on the outer edges of the circle. Then transform the circle horizontally.

Open the Brush Palette, and drag the transformed circle shape into the palette. Choose Art Brush from the pop-up menu, and click "OK". Then select Stroke From Bottom, and click OK. Now we have our custom brush.

Step 12

Draw a curved line with the Pen Tool (No fill color, only a stroke color) and select the brush we just created. You will see that it gives us instantly a beautiful stroke. Now we will ad another Opacity Mask, just like we did in Step 8. This again adds some dynamism to our soccer ball.

Step 13

Create another circle and apply the Crystallize Tool again, just like before. Then Transform it slightly (E), and place it under the "soccer ball," but above the "swooshes." Make a copy and move it slightly to the right and upwards. Then set the Transparency to Multiply. Now select our white custom brush stroke and duplicate it. Then move it slightly downwards.

Step 14

Last but not least, select one of the swooshes and also duplicate it. You can move it downwards.


As a final touch, I added extra pentagon shapes in the background with an Opacity Mask applied and made them into a symbol. That's all folks! I hope you enjoyed this challenge and that your creative ideas are flowing.

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