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How to Create an Art Gallery Frame in Vector

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Read Time: 8 mins

Good artwork looks even better in a frame. This tutorial makes use of Illustrator CS4's Gradient Annotator to simulate the look of wood grain. You'll also learn how to recolor artwork to achieve subtle lighting effects. Let's get started!

Final Image Preview

Below is the final image we will be working towards. Want access to the full Vector Source files and downloadable copies of every tutorial, including this one? Join Vector Plus for just 9$ a month.


Part I: Making The Gradients

Step 1

First, we're going to create some woody gradients. Go to the Swatches panel, and from the flyout menu, choose Open Swatch Library > Gradients > Wood.


Step 2

Using the Rectangle Tool (M), draw a square. Fill the square with one of the wood gradients. We want something with some contrast, so I've chosen the "Cyprus" swatch (hover the cursor over the swatches to reveal their names). Change the gradient from Linear to Radial, by selecting "Radial" in the Gradient panel.


Step 3

With the square still selected, go the Swatches panel and select "New Color Group" from the flyout menu, or click the New Color Group icon at the bottom of the panel. In the dialog box, tick the "From Selected Artwork" radial button and name this color group "Dark Wood." You'll end up with a color group that contains the individual colors of the gradient.


Step 4

Now we're going to modify this gradient by adding some stops to it with the Gradient Tool (G). If you're using Illustrator CS4, the Gradient Annotator will appear on top of the filled square when you hover over it.

Click on the bottom of the slider (either on the Annotator, or in the Gradient panel) to add stops to the gradient. The cursor will turn into a white arrow with a "plus" sign. Don't worry about the colors now, just add stops. About 16 or 20 will do nicely.


Step 5

Double-click on each color stop to change the color. In CS4, this can be done directly from the Gradient Annotator. Using the color group you just created, alternate light and dark colors.

Now slide each dark color stop closer to each light color stop. Observe the changes on the gradient-filled square. The end result should look something like a cross-section of a tree trunk. Try not to make the color stops equidistant; we want some variation in the distance between each light/dark pair.

Drag the newly-created gradient into the Swatches panel to save it. If you want, you can double-click the new swatch to name it.


Step 6

Draw a rectangle (or any shape) and fill it with a lighter wood gradient from the "Wood" pre-sets. Here I chose "Maple." As before, go to the Swatches panel and choose "Create New Color Group," using "From Selected Artwork" as the method. Name this group "Light Wood." Delete the "Maple" filled shape. Now we can use this new color group to create another multi-stop gradient.


Step 7

Duplicate the square containing the "tree ring" gradient you made in Step 6. Select the duplicate and go to Edit > Edit Colors > Recolor Artwork. In the dialog box that appears, click the Swatches proxy icon near the lower right, and choose "Document Swatches." The Color groups you created will appear in the column on the right. Note: If you don't see the Color Groups column, click the arrow on the side to expand the panel.


Step 8

Choose the "Light Wood" group to assign those colors to the new gradient. Click OK. Recoloring is a lot faster than starting from scratch.

As before, drag the lighter gradient swatch into the Swatches panel to save it. You should now have two squares, each filled with a different wood gradient. You can delete these squares, or set them aside.


Part II: The Frame

Step 1

Draw a rectangle, 10 inches by 8 inches. Keep it selected and double-click the Scale Tool. Enter 98% and click Copy. With the copy selected, double-click the Scale Tool and enter 92% and click Copy. Do this three more times, with these percentages: 97, 92, 98. It should look something like the results shown below.


Step 2

Select the Line Segment tool (\) and draw a line that goes from the upper left corner of the frame of the lower right. It can be approximate; we'll fine-tune it in the next step.


Step 3

Turn on Smart Guides (Command + U). Using the Direct Selection tool, move the end point of the line so it intersects the top left corner of the frame (it might help to view in Outline mode). You'll see the word Intersect when you've hit the right spot. Now do this for the bottom right point. You should end up with a diagonal line going from corner to corner.


Step 4

Double-click the Reflect Tool and reflect the line 90°. Now you have an X through the middle of the frame. Select the X and the rectangles. Go to Effect > Pathfinder > Divide, or click the Divide icon in the Pathfinder panel.


Step 5

Use the Direct Selection Tool to get rid of the four triangles in the middle of the frame. Drag to select, then hit the Delete key twice. The structure of the frame is done, now we'll add the wood grain.


Step 6

Ungroup the frame elements. Select all the pieces on the right side of the frame and fill with the lighter wood gradient you created in Part I. On the gradient panel, enter 90° for the angle, and an Aspect Ratio of 5%. This will change the fills of each shape individually, and you'll see a Gradient Annotator on each shape.

We want the gradient to span all of the objects. So with the Gradient tool, click and drag down through the objects to apply the wood grain. You'll probably have to start above the selected shapes, and drag to a point below them to get it to look right. This may take several tries.


Step 7

Since this is a beveled frame, it needs to have some dimension. Select on the right-most shape of the section you just filled. In the Swatches panel, click the darker gradient to change its fill. This has the effect of making it look like it's cut from the same piece of wood, but it is in shadow. Repeat this change with every other section on that side.


Step 8

Continue filling each side of the frame, and recoloring, as above. We'll fine-tune the lighting later.

If any of the shapes have a stroke, change the stroke to none. Group everything and you're done. The frame should look something like the image below.


Part III: The Mat

Step 1

Create a new layer below the "Frame" layer and call it "Mat." Hide the "Frame" layer. Draw a rectangle slightly larger than the frame's opening. In this case, it's about 8 x 6.5 inches.

Step 2

Double-click the Scale Tool, enter 70% and click Copy. Now with both rectangles selected, go to Object > Compound Path > Make (Command + 8). Fill the shape with a light buff color. This is the top mat.


Step 3

Select the mat shape and scale-copy it as above, this time at 97%. Fill it with a contrasting color (I've used blue), and send it behind the top mat


Step 4

Since we know that the light source is at the top of the illustration, fill the top mat with a radial gradient that goes from a warm, near-white to a tan color. Drag with the Gradient Tool from the top-center of the mat outward.


Step 5

To add more dimension to the mat, select it and go to Effect > Stylize > Drop Shadow. Since the light is coming from directly overhead, enter 0 in the X Offset field, and about .05 inches (or the equivalent if you prefer to work in pixels) in the Y Offset. Give it a slight blur. Tick the Preview box to have a look, then click OK.


Select the bottom mat and go to Effect > Apply Drop Shadow to add the same shadow to it. Your finished mat should look something like the image shown below.


Part IV: The Lamp and the Wall

Step 1

We're just going to make a simple gallery lamp above the frame. Create a new layer beneath the "mat" layer. Draw a small rectangle and fill it with the "Copper" gradient preset. Change the angle to 90°. Draw two more small rectangles for the end caps, and fill them with the same gradient. Adjust the highlight up a bit just to give it some dimension. Group the three shapes.


Step 2

For the wall, draw a large rectangle and send it behind the lamp. Fill with a radial gradient that goes from a warm, near white, to a darker neutral color. Click with the Gradient tool at the bottom of the lamp, and drag out an arc of light.


Finishing Touches!

1. Show all the layers. You should have three total: One for the frame, another for the mat, and the last one contains the lamp and wall. Select everything and center align horizontally.

2. Select the frame and go to Effect > Apply Drop Shadow. Since the frame has more depth than the mats, click Drop Shadow in the Appearance panel to modify it, adding slightly more offset and blur.


3. The very top of the frame is closest to the light, so it should be lighter. Select the top piece with the Direct Selection Tool and go back to the Recolor dialog (Edit > Edit Colors > Recolor Artwork). Slide the Brightness slider on each color all the way up. A new gradient will appear in the Swatches panel, and you can apply it to the top of the bottom rail as well. Make any other such adjustments that fit with the light source.


4. Now add your masterpiece and we're done!


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