Add Depth to Vector Art in Adobe Illustrator

by Abbey Fitzgerald | February 28, 2015

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Adobe Illustrator is the perfect tool to create your own custom illustrations. The pen tool is a handy tool to have in your design toolbox. In addition to easy tracing, having scalable vector art will ensure that you are always working with high resolution files.

If you’ve created artwork in Adobe Illustrator before, you may notice that it looks kind of flat initially. There are different blocks of color, but not much variation within the similar colors. This can certainly be a very desirable style of illustration, but what if you want to add more depth and color variation? Adobe Illustrator offers tools and techniques that will help you accomplish this.


There are so many things you can do with gradients! Once you get familiar with these, you can quickly add depth and visual interst to your illustrations. Using different gradient options is the foundation to adding depth to your illustration. Let’s take a look at some of the basics.

Multi Color Option

Often we see gradients that contain two colors. What if we need more than that? You can add numerous colors to a gradient, and control the precise location of each color. See the different points in the gradient? Simply double click and choose the desired swatch. There is an option for a radial gradient as well. This can also accommodate multi colors.

Two Color Gradient

Multi Color Gradient

Directional Gradient

Directional GradientThere is also the ability to change the direction of the gradient. This is especially helpful with light sources and to make shading appear real.

Gradient Mesh

Gradient MeshGradient Mesh is very similar to the gradients we demonstrated above, but this gives you the ultimate control over your shapes and shading.

Opacity Options

Creating a variety of opacity in your illustration can be a great technique when adding depth. Typically, the more transparent something is makes it recede into the background.


Scale of Objects

Scale is an important consideration when adding depth as well. Objects in the foreground will look larger than those in the background.

Also, the foreground typically has more vivid colors and as shapes move away, they are more muted, sometimes with blue tones. This is worth noting when you are adding color to your illustration. Even without gradients, this coloring technique will help add depth to your illustration.

Muted Background

Using the direct selection tool (V) will allow you to scale things up or down. Holding the Shift key will make sure they scale proportionally.

Scale in Adobe Illustrator

Be Aware of Details

This drawing technique is perfect for Adobe Illustrator. This technique includes more detail in the foreground than in the background. Take for example, trees with leaves. The trees and would have more details in the foreground than in the background. Simple shapes would be used in the background rather than something detailed.

Forest Illustration

These tools and techniques provide ways to add depth to your art in Adobe Illustrator. Don’t be limited by flat shapes. Gradients, opacity, scale and detail will enhance your projects.

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