Using the Mesh Tool in Illustrator CS5
“To create realistic vector images within illustrator based on a found raster image.”
Start with a New Blank Print Document. [File > New]
Next [Place] the image you wish to recreate. [File > Place]
Optional – scale the image uniformly to fit within your workspace. Shift Alt click.
Open the Layers Panel and lock the layer with your placed image. This way we won’t accidently move the image once we start working. Also tear off the layers panel since we will be using this panel a lot later. Then create another layer, this will be where build out new mesh object. To create a new layer click the [Create New Layer] icon at the bottom of the layers panel.
Next select the Rectangle Tool from the Toolbar (Hotkey M). Then draw a rectangle that is roughly the size of the image we are going to recreate.
Once this rectangle is made select the Mesh Tool from the Toolbar (Hotkey U) and click one of the points in the corner of the rectangle. This turns the simple rectangle into a mesh rectangle.
Now so we can see the image we are recreating CTRL Click the Visibility on the layer (the eye). This changes the view mode so we can see through the mesh rectangle to the image behind it.
Next select the Direct Selection Tool from the Toolbar (Hotkey A), then click and move one of the points on the mesh rectangle. Move this point so that is on the edge of the image we are creating. Then adjust the handles of this point so that the curve of the line matches the image as well.
TIP: Try to get as close as you can with the curves. Zoom in to the image CTRL Spacebar Click.
Now select the Mesh Tool again and click either one of the vertical lines on the side of the mesh rectangle. Also do this one of the horizontal line as well. This creates more lines and point to work with within the mesh.
TIP: It is a very good idea to at this point turn off Snap to Point and Smart Guides for this process. Both are located under [View].
Next using the Direct Selection Tool click on one the points on the mesh.
Then select the Eyedropper Tool from the Toolbar (Hotkey I) and click on the image as close to the point you have selected. You should do this for all of the point you have currently. Try to keep track of which you do so don’t do this the same point. Once you have done this process to all points on your mesh CTRL Click the Visibility on the layer (the eye) again. Now we can see the complex gradient that the mesh has created. It is already starting to look similar to the image.
To get more realism we need to continue the same process of inserting a line with the Mesh Tool then adjusting the points with the Direct Selection Tool and then adding color to each newly created point with the Eyedropper Tool. You should continue until you reach the result that you visually wanted. Also during this process adjust the curves of the newly created line in the mesh so that they follow the form of image you are trying to recreate.
TIP: Also depending on the resolution of your image you may want to change you Eyedropper Tool’s sample size to a larger sample. Just double click the Eyedropper Tool in the Toolbar and in the window that comes up select 3x3 average in the drop down Raster Sample Size.
Below is an example of a the found image of an apple on the left and the Mesh Tool created one on the right. As you can see if you continue this process you can very quickly get the look you are going for.