Create realistic glass surfaces

Create a wine glass from scratch in Illustrator using transparency and translucency settings, with tips from Rare Design’s James Arnott.

Illustrator allows you to create art of all varieties, from the highly stylized to the photorealistic. Here, digital design expert James Arnott shows how to make an impressively realistic and convincing wine glass using the software.

The tutorial gives you the tools to master transparency and translucency in Illustrator, including a step-by-step guide on using the transparency palette, blending modes and black-and-white gradients.

Pair this with some smart use of the Gaussian blur and you’ve got the tools to add some touches of realism to any image.

Step 1
Create a new document measuring 500-x-800 pixels. Create a box that covers 75% of the artboard from top down. Apply a circular background gradient to this box with three colours in it, ensuring the centre of the radial gradient starts at the base of the box and ends at the top of the box. The colours should be the following: at position 35%, C = 0, M = 0, Y = 0, K = 0; at position 80%, C = 15, M = 10, Y = 23, K = 0; and at position 100%, C = 25, M = 20, Y = 40, K = 0.

Step 2
We need to create a glass shape. I would recommend drawing half the glass using the Pen tool, then copy-and-pasting and flipping this to create the other half. This way it’s guaranteed to be symmetrical. Put the two sides together and join using the Pathfinder palette button ‘Add to Shape Area’, which unifies the objects.

Step 3
Next, we’ll colour the glass with a vertical four-colour gradient. Set the colours to the following: at position 35%, C = 18, M = 10, Y = 22, K = 0; at position 47%, C = 0, M = 0, Y = 0, K = 0; at position 80%, C = 13, M = 14, Y = 22, K = 0; at position 97%, C = 6, M = 3, Y = 7, K = 0. This gives us the basis of the glass colour. Add an inner glow to give the effect of a curved surface: select Effect > Stylize > Inner Glow, set the Mode to Screen, Opacity to 100%, Blur to 68 pixels and ensure that Center is ticked. I used the colour C = 5, M = 2, Y = 10, K = 0, experiment to get the best soft shape to the glass.

Step 4
Now we’ll get started on the transparency. The Transparency palette has a great dropdown that controls the blending mode of all shapes in a similar way to in Photoshop. The options we will be concentrating on are Screen Multiply and Overlay, which when used with black-and-white gradients and a little blur can create some excellent effects.

Step 5
Let’s create the glass’ top. Create an oval at the top of the glass. Fill it with a horizontal white-to-black linear gradient. Keep it selected and change the blending mode from Normal to Screen – this will get rid of the black. Set the transparency to 45% and put a Gaussian blur of three pixels on it to soften the effect.

Step 6
Create an ellipse over the top of the glass so it sits just inside the bowl. Use the Pen tool to remove the point at the top of the ellipse then use the Direct Selection tool (the white arrow) to pull the top two Beziers towards their nodes. We should now have a shape that looks like half a glass of liquid. Create a radial gradient from bottom of the shape to the top, use these three colours: at position 0%, C = 0, M = 0, Y = 0, K = 0; at position 13%, C = 55, M = 90, Y = 60, K = 70; at position 100%, C = 20, M = 100, Y = 75, K = 18.

Step 7
Next, add an inner glow to the wine to give it a translucent edge. Select Effect > Stylize > Inner Glow, setting the Mode to Screen, the Opacity to 100%, the Blur to around ten pixels and making sure that Edge is selected. Again using the Transparency palette, make sure your wine shape is selected and change the blending mode to Multiply. This will make anything white transparent, and in this instance the wine’s edges will become transparent.

Step 8
The glass needs some reflections to make it more realistic. Create a shape on the left side of the glass about five pixels in from the edge of the glass. Fill with a linear gradient that goes from a 100% black to a 40% black (light grey) then back to 100% black again. Using the blending mode dropdown again, set the mode to Screen and reduce the transparency slightly to around 80% so the reflection isn’t too overpowering. Try adding a little Gaussian blur to the reflection of around three pixels to soften it a little. Repeat this process again for another two softer reflections.

Step 9
Repeat the process from Step 08 to create two highlights around the rim of the glass. Add two small areas of light to the top rim highlight by blurring two small white circles, as shown here.

Step 10
Now we’re going to add in a light source. Create a layer below the wine layer but above the wineglass layer. Draw two white rectangles side by side with a small gap in between. Select both shapes, using the Free Transform tool, skew it to the right, then skew the right side up a little. Add Gaussian blur to both the shapes of around seven pixels and set the opacity to 30%. Position them over to the right, then duplicate them, reduce the size and place the duplicates over to the left. These shapes represent light from a window to the left falling on a wall in the background. Now we have a recognizable source of light, we can improvise how it will react on the glass and how the wine in the glass will affect the glass itself.

Step 11
Add some more reflections to the left-hand side of the glass to simulate the light source, using the same process as before: create a shape, add a gradient, change the blending mode to Screen, reduce the opacity, and add a small Gaussian blur to soften the effect.

Step 12
Now we’ve introduced light reflections, we should add shadows and wine reflections. At the base of the wine create the shape in shown here. Add a five colour gradient to it, then add an inner glow and some Gaussian blur. Finally change the blending mode to Multiply and set the opacity to 75%. Try adding some more shadows to the stem of the glass.

Step 13
Finally let’s add more depth to the translucent wine. Add a new layer below the glass highlights. Create a black round-edged shape near the top of the wine. Add some inner glow to it. Then change the opacity to 20% and change the blending mode to Multiply. Add some highlights to the wine using white shapes with the blending mode set to Overlay. Don’t forget to add some Gaussian blur to soften the effect.

Step 14
In the final image you can see how I’ve used these techniques to add further reflections, light glows and shadows to the image to add more realism. If you get stuck working out where to add more life to your illustration I find a search through the images the search engines have to offer is great for getting inspired.

James Arnott –


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