In this tutorial, I will show you how to create a set of vector dice using Adobe Illustrator and the Gradient Mesh Tool. The Gradient Mesh Tool can be tricky to get the hang of, but hopefully this tutorial will shed some light on this great little tool. Let's get stared!
Final Image Preview
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First things first, start by opening up a new document in Illustrator (Command + N) and make a 300 px by 300 px gray square using the Rectangle Tool (M).
With the square selected, go to Effect > 3D > Extrude & Bevel. The numbers I used in my example are just a guideline. Feel free to experiment with new shapes and angles once you get the hang of it.
After applying the 3D effect to the square, go to Object > Expand Appearance. You should now have three shapes that make-up your 3D cube.
With all three shapes selected, open the pathfinder window and select Unite. This will merge the three shapes into one.
Now go to Effect > Stylize > Round Corners. Give it a radius of 30 px.
After applying the Round Corner effect, go to Object > Expand Appearance again. Now you should have a shape similar to this one.
Using the Gradient Mesh Tool (U), create a point on your new shape. Make sure that the point is centered within the object and near the top so that the newly created lines intersect as close to the corners as possible. The Gradient Mesh Tool takes some getting used to and if done incorrectly can give you some interesting, unwanted results.
Now drag the point we just created using the Direct Selection Tool (A) to where you think the front most corner of the die might be.
Adjust the bezier curve using the Direct Selection Tool (A) to straighten out the line. These curves can be finicky, so take your time and be patient. Zooming in can help when fine tuning.
Now with the Gradient Mesh Tool (U) selected, add the following points by clicking on the already existing line. You will notice new lines appear whenever a new point is added. Feel free to adjust the locations and curves of the points when making them. This might take some getting used to.
Once your shape has all the same points as above, Select All (Command + A) and color the entire shape with 10% black.
With the Direct Selection Tool (A) selected, select the following points shown below (in solid blue). In order to select multiple points be sure to hold down the Shift key while selecting. After the points are selected, give them a color of 0% black (or white).
Next, select the following points shown below in solid blue (remember to hold Shift while selecting), and give them a color of 20% black.
Repeat this process once more for the right side of the cube selecting only the points shown below (in solid blue) and give them a color of 15% black.
Now to soften up the front most corner of the cube. Select the point shown below (in solid blue) and give it a color of 15% black.
Again, select the points show below (marked in solid blue). This time give them a color of 12% black.
Now that the cube part of our die has been created. It's time to create the black dots that represent the numbers. Start by creating a black oval using the Ellipse Tool (L) with a width of 50 px and a height of 30 px. Be sure to center it visually on the top side of the die.
Duplicate the oval by Copying (Command + C) and Paste in Front (Command + F). This will ensure that the duplicate of the oval is the exact same size, shape, and in the same position as the original. It also ensures that the newly duplicated shape is in front so we can now work on it.
With the front oval selected, we are now going to make it a quarter oval. There are a few ways to do this, but my favorite is as follows. Use the Delete Anchor Point Tool (-) and delete the bottom point. Next, take the left most point and drag it to the center of the oval using the Direct Selection Tool (A). Now with the Convert Anchor Point Tool (Shift + C) select the center point. This will delete the center points bezier handles giving it a sharp vertex.
Finally, still using the Convert Anchor Point Tool (Shift + C), drag the left bezier handle of the top point and the bottom bezier handle of the right point inward until the points are not visible. The left and bottom lines should now be straight.
Using the Gradient Mesh Tool (U), create a point directly in the center of the quartered oval. Give it a color of 0% black (or white).
Now select the two shapes that make up the black dot and group them (Command + G).
Now we are ready to make the numbers on the other sides of the die. First, Copy (Command + C) and Paste (Command + V) the grouped oval. Now, reposition and Transform (E) the oval into its desired place. If this step gives you some issues, you can go back and repeat Steps 17 to 21 for each black dot.
Here you can see what it looks like when each black dot is in position. Remember that the die has some perspective on it, so the dots at the bottom right and bottom left would be farther away than the dots closer to the center. Therefore when you make the dots, be sure to decrease their size to give them the illusion that they are farther away. The further the dot from the center, the smaller.
Now that we have the die complete, we can make it look like a pair of dice. First, Select All (Command + A) and Group (Command + G). Now you can use the Transform Tool (E) and rotate the die into its desired position. Next, with the grouped die selected, Copy (Command + C) and Paste (Command + V) the die to make a duplicate. Now you can Transform (E) the second die into position.
Once the two dice are in the desired position, we can add a small shadow on the back die. Draw, with the Pen Tool (P), a triangle shape that lines up with the outside edge of the back die. Then position it between the two dice by using Object > Arrange > Send Backward. Finally, set it's opacity to 30%.
Now for the final touch, we can add a shadow underneath the pair of dice. With the Ellipse Tool (L), draw a large oval under the dice. With the oval selected, go to Object > Arrange > Send to Back. Set the oval's Opacity to 10%. And finally, go to Effect > Blur > Gaussian Blur. Set the Radius to 10 px.
There you have it. A beautiful pair of 3D vector dice created using the Gradient Mesh Tool in Adobe Illustrator.
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