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Envelope Distortion in Adobe Illustrator

Using custom distortion objects to create a crumple effect By Dave Nagel
Today we break from our adventure in freeform painting and stop over for a quiet visit in the more genteel realm of vector illustration. And by that I mean Adobe Illustrator country, where a line is a line and a fill is a fill, and nothing unexpected ever happens that can't be undone ... or so folks around these parts would like you to believe. But does Illustrator country have a dark, messy secret these genteel folks are trying to cover up in order to maintain orderly appearances?

No sir, it doesn't.

Today we're going to take a look at envelope distortions in Adobe Illustrator, one of the application's more recent features and one that seems not to get a whole lot of attention.

"What's an envelope distortion?" you query. In a way, my friend, it's like a clipping mask, where object A is revealed through object B. But unlike a clipping mask, object A is not only revealed through object B, but also distorted by it. So object B not only "envelopes" object A but also "distorts" it. Hence "envelope distortion." Here's a look at the difference. The first image uses a clipping mask, the second an envelope distortion.

Not too tricky a concept to grasp. We're going to use this concept to create a crumpled effect on the newspaper image you see above.

Now, Illustrator 10 offers three different methods for executing an envelope distortion. First, you can use one of the pre-defined warp shapes included with Illustrator by selecting Object > Envelope Distort > Make with Warp. This will call up a dialog box asking you to choose your warp shape and warp options.

And it will produce a result that looks something like this:

The second option is an envelope distortion created using a mesh, which allows you to do things like this:

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