In this tutorial, I’ll show you three ways to create text gradients in Adobe Illustrator. We use the same word for each method so you can easily compare the results. Gradients are a nice way to enhance the typography and add visual interest.
1. Text Gradients Using the Appearance Panel
The first method was shared by a student in my Digital Design Essentials class. For this, he gets a big shoutout: Thanks Bryant! I thought Bryant’s technique was very cool and wanted to share it with the world. His method uses the Appearance panel.
- With the Selection tool, select the text.
- Open the Appearance panel.
- Click on the hamburger menu (top right corner of panel), then click on Add New Fill. This enables us to fill the text with a color or a gradient.
NOTE: If there’s already a Fill under the word “Type“, you can simply edit it in the next step.
- Click on the square next to the word “Fill:”.
- You can select any of the options in the Swatches panel. Among those options are colors and gradients.
- Select a gradient.
2. Text Gradients Using Type > Outlines > Compound Path
- With the Selection tool, select the text.
- Go to the Type menu (at the top of the application screen) and drop down to “Create Outlines”.
Type > Create Outlines
- Go to the Object menu (at the top of the application screen) and create a Compound Path:
Object > Compound Path > Make
- The foreground color and text fill are now empty. But, with the text still selected, we can fill it with one of the color or gradient swatches.
3. Text Gradients Using a Mask
- Using the Rectangle tool, create a rectangle and fill with a gradient from the Swatches panel.
- Keep the rectangle selected and send it to the back layer.
Object > Arrange > Send to Back
- Reposition the rectangle underneath the text, then deselect the rectangle.
- Next, select both the text and the rectangle.
- Go to the Object menu and create a clipping path:
Object > Clipping Mask > Make
- Whatever color or gradient was used to fill the rectangle will become the fill for the text.
Editing the Text Gradient
- Open the Gradient panel.
- Change the length of a color area: Click on one of the color stops on the bottom of the slider and move it left or right.
- Change from a black and white gradient to a color gradient:
Double-click on a color stop, then select the Swatches button to open the Swatches panel. Select a color swatch or gradient swatch.
- Change a color: Double-click on a color stop and select a new color in the Swatches panel.
Click on the color button to open the Color panel, where you can build your own mixed color. Input different percentages of each color and/or use in combination with the slider. You can also use the color picker to choose a color from an image or object.
- Add a color: Click on the bottom of the color slider. When the cursor changes from black to white with a “+” plus sign, click and add a color.
- Rotate to change the angle: In the Angle field, click on the dropdown arrow and choose a preset number. Or, you can type in a number.
- Change the gradient type. There are 3 types of gradients: linear, radial, and freeform. You can change it by clicking one of the other options (next to the word “Type“) .
- Another way to edit the gradient: Click the “Edit Gradient” button in the Gradient panel or Control panel. This will open the Gradient tool.
The Gradient tool is in the Tool panel. It’s a visual representation of everything you can do in the Gradient panel. Play around with it and you’ll see how much fun it is! This tool lets you easily change the gradient’s angle, colors, space between colors, and more. Select the text with the Selection tool, then select the Gradient tool and try the following modifications:
- Click and drag over the text – determines the direction of the colors and the angle of the gradient. Experiment!
– See what happens when you click and drag left to right vs. right to left.
– Click and drag horizontally vs. vertically.
– Click and drag at different angles.
– Lengthen and then shorten the drag distance.
- Move the color stops. After the initial click and drag, the gradient bar will lie directly on top of the text. You’ll see the color stops on the bar itself and the transition stops on the top of the bar.
- Change a colors. The actions are the same as in the Gradient panel. Double-click on a color stop and select a new color in the Swatches panel. Click on the color button to open the Color panel, where you can build your own mixed color. Input different percentages of each color and/or use in combination with the slider. You can also use the color picker to choose a color from an image or object.
- To add a color: Click on the bottom of the color slider. When the cursor changes from black to white with a “+” plus sign, click and add a color.
- Rotate to change the angle: Go to the very end of the Gradient tool and hover above the small square. The cursor will change to a small rotation symbol. You can now move the bar to change its angle.
- To change the gradient type: You can make this change in the Gradient panel or go up to the Control panel. Next to the word “Type”, click on Radial or Freeform gradient.
Apply Gradients to Other Objects
This tutorial has focused on text, but the principles are the same for other objects. You can certainly apply gradients to different shapes using these instructions. I find that linear gradients work the best with text. Radial and Freeform gradients are more often applied with larger shapes, like rectangles, ovals, and irregularly shaped objects.
If you prefer, you can watch the video tutorial I made that shows the different ways to apply and modify text gradients in Adobe Illustrator: