Working with the Mesh Fill tool
by Ariel Garaza Diaz
The Mesh Fill tool is one of the most powerful features in CorelDRAW®. It lets you design multi-colored filled objects with fluid transitions and unique effects. You can adjust node transparency to create smooth, rich color transitions for any mesh-filled object.
Unlike traditional fills, mesh fills can be molded, like clay. This allows you to create objects with a special form, similar to the way a sculptor gives shape to the material. You can adapt and shape the fill to suit the object you're creating and to achieve a realistic appearance. And best of all, mesh fills are vector objects, which means that you can enlarge or reduce them at any time without substantially increasing file size.
Let's start by creating a simple rectangle and then clicking the Mesh Fill tool. You can also press M on your keyboard to access the tool quickly. With CorelDRAW X5, your rectangle will have one central point, which creates a grid with 2 rows and 2 columns. You can add additional, equidistant rows or columns by using the Grid size box on the property bar. You can add a single row or column without affecting the other rows and columns by double-clicking the dotted line at the desired point.
Now, we can add color by selecting a node or several nodes. You can select nodes individually by using the Mesh Fill tool (M) or the Shape tool (F10). To select several nodes, press and hold Shift while clicking each node. If you want to select an irregular collection of nodes, choose Freehand from the Selection mode list box on the property bar. This lets you draw an irregular selection area.
At this point, we have a custom gradient fill, which we can achieve by using other tools or effects, such as the Blend or Contour tools. So what's so magical about a mesh fill? We can deform the mesh grid and add unlimited colors. For example, we can select a couple of nodes and move them together in the same direction.
One of the most fantastic features of the Mesh Fill tool is the ability to add new colors to any node. You simply select the node and choose a color from the color palette. With a mesh fill, the best part is that you don't need a complex drawing to produce good results. Often, the simpler the object, the better the mesh fill.
Another handy feature of the color palette is the ability to mix two colors by using the Ctrl key. For example, if the selected object is filled with blue, you can hold down Ctrl and click the white swatch on the color palette to make the blue a shade lighter. If you want to darken a tone, click Composite Black (C:100, M:100, Y:100, K:100), which is the very last swatch on the default CMYK color palette.
Using property bar controls
When you edit an object with a mesh fill, the property bar displays various controls. For example, you can choose whether you want soft or hard edges by enabling or disabling the Smooth mesh color button. Other options are similar to the ones for editing any shape. You can select a segment and convert it to a straight line or a curve. There are also options for converting nodes to cusp, smooth, or symmetrical. And you can define curve smoothness for any portion of an object.
The property bar also provides a dedicated Mesh fill color palette, which makes it fast and easy to add colors. There is also a Sample mesh fill color eyedropper, which lets you choose any color from an existing mesh fill.
Adjusting mesh fill transparency
Transparency offers a powerful and exciting way to create unique effects. So, how do you add transparency to a mesh fill? Easy, just select one or more nodes, and then adjust the Transparency slider on the property bar. You can choose a different level of transparency for each node in a mesh-filled object. You can also restore node transparency at any time by selecting the node and moving the slider to zero. The illustration below shows a mesh-filled object on a black background without transparency (left) and with transparency (right).
With transparency, you can instantly create soft edges on objects. Since vector drawings are always sharpened, sometimes you may want to create a more realistic appearance by adding transparency on the edge of the object or on selected areas of the object.
Shaping the mesh fill
You have two choices for shaping a mesh-filled object. First, you can create the object, shape it, and then apply a mesh fill. The second option is to apply a mesh fill to a basic object, such as a rectangle, and then shape the rectangle by moving the mesh nodes. For example, I can create a beer glass by creating a rectangle, applying a mesh fill, adding color, adjusting the nodes, and shaping the edges. I'll use ellipses to give the perspective of the glass opening, and another mesh fill to create a background.
As you can see, it’s best to work with simple, basic objects when applying mesh fills. Complex objects would be very difficult to handle, while simple shapes let you create drawings with a high visual impact.
Sometimes, a mesh fill isn't suitable for certain objects — for example, objects that are formed by combining two objects into a single curve with subpaths, such as text. Also, if the object is overly complex, the mesh fill will be very complex.
In this case, the best solution is to use a simple mesh fill and place it within a PowerClip, using text or an object as a frame. First, select the mesh-filled object, and click Object > PowerClip > Place Inside Frame. When the mouse pointer changes to a big arrow, click the text or object that you want to use as a frame. If you want to edit the mesh fill after it has been placed inside the PowerClip frame, hold down Ctrl, and click inside the PowerClip object.
Trying a simple exercise with mesh fill
Now, let's create a new drawing. I like to draw flowers, leaves, and animals, since the mesh fill is more realistic than other effects. Keep in mind, you don't need to be Da Vinci in order to use CorelDRAW to create something better than a bitmap logo or clipart. For this exercise, we'll start with basic shapes to help you discover the magic and power of CorelDRAW.
So, how to draw a leaf? In the toolbox, click the Freehand tool (F5), and draw straight lines for a simple diamond shape. With the Shape tool, drag over the shape to select all nodes, and click the Convert to Curve button on the property bar. The shape's appearance doesn't change. But wait, now select the top and bottom nodes, and click the Symmetrical node button on the property bar. Now the shape resembles an eye, which is a good start for our leaf.
Next, press M to select the Mesh Fill tool, select the center node in the shape, and click a green swatch on the color palette. Double-click on the vertical line to add a new node. Then, select the new node and add another color. For example, try a different shade of green. Repeat this process for the rest of the shape and it should soon start to resemble a leaf.
You can create a very realistic drawing with only a few steps. And, if you want, you can add a node close to the shape's border and add a transparency on the edge to give the drawing ‘soft' edges.
Creating a background
Now, let's create an abstract background. As always, start with a simple shape, such as an ellipse. Choose a color, and fill the shape with a uniform fill. Then, choose the Mesh Fill tool and add only transparency on the nodes. Try 100% on approximately half of the nodes, and 50% on the rest. You can change these values to create different combinations.
Next, rotate the ellipse, create a duplicate (just press the + key on the numeric keypad) and rotate at a different angle. When finished, double-click with the Rectangle tool to create a background, and fill the background with another color. If you want, place the ellipses inside the rectangle as a PowerClip. There are infinite combinations possible.
Here's a sample background, or desktop wallpaper, that I created by using the Mesh Fill tool.
And here are some sample abstract backgrounds, also created with the Mesh Fill tool.
A sample mesh fill landscape
I've included the sample image below to show that you don't need to use complex objects to create nice drawings. I started with a rectangle, added an ellipse, and then added a hand-drawn, irregular shape to create a landscape with mountains, sun, and some clouds. Then I used the Mesh Fill tool to add a few colors, producing a realistic and beautiful landscape. To create that soft, glowing border around the sun, I used a simple drop shadow.
Mesh fill with complex shapes
What about using a mesh fill for a very complex drawing, such as a human face? While that's not as easy as a leaf or a flower, the process is similar. The key is to do it step by step and not try to do everything at once. If you look at the final result, the process may seem difficult and daunting; however, by creating separate objects for each step, you’ll find that the process is very easy and fun.
You can start with a basic shape and add the other elements, such as eyes, ears, and hair, slowly over a series of steps. The same method is useful for any other complex drawing, which can be a puzzle of little shapes. The transparency controls for the mesh fill help you blend one shape with another, and the eyedropper makes it easy to copy exact colors from one object to another.
Mesh fill and other effects
You can use a mesh fill together with other CorelDRAW effects, such as drop shadow, lens, transparency, and more. Certain effects do not allow you to build other effects on top of them, so a workaround is to create duplicates. For example, you can apply a mesh fill to one of the objects, and place the mesh-filled object as a PowerClip within the duplicate object. But take care not to use too many effects at the same time. Remember, the simpler the object, the better the results you will achieve.