How to Make Smoke in Illustrator

Written by ehow computers editor
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Artists who understand the difference between vector and bitmap images might think it's impossible to create smoke effects in illustrator. Vector programs like Illustrator create shapes with hard edges. But Adobe has added a number of features to Illustrator to create effects that resemble photo effects. Your smoke won't be as realistic as if you created it with an image editing program, but you can get close.

Skill level:
Moderately Easy


  1. 1

    Open your Illustrator file. Create your background on one layer and your smoking gun (or chimney or pipe) on another layer.

  2. 2

    Select the background layer. Use the paintbrush to add a path for your smoke. Set the paintbrush to "Pencil-thin" to roughen the shape, and set the stroke size to 10 to 20 points. Make the stroke color light to medium gray, and make sure the fill color is empty.

  3. 3

    Load the transparency palette. Set the transparency to 20 to 50 percent. Change the blend mode to "Soft Light." The smoke path will show through to the background.

  4. 4

    Add a "Radial Blur" filter from the Effect menu Blur submenu (make sure to use the Effect menu, not the Filter menu). Set the blur amount to 20 to 40 percent, the blur method to "Spin" and the quality to "Good" ("Best" gives a better effect, but it slows down the rendering time and is more difficult to print). The smoke will spread and become more diffuse.

  5. 5

    Continue to add additional strokes to build up the smoke. Overlay them or separate them depending on the effect you want to achieve. Vary the stroke sizes, smoke color and layer transparency.

Tips and warnings

  • You can vary the smoke effect in a number of ways. Change the stroke size, radial blur strength or method, stroke transparency and blend mode, and even the stroke color. Experiment with the brush style; the "Chalk-Round" brush in the Charcoal brushes palette combined with a "Zoom" blur method diffuses the smoke; the "Chalk" brush with "Zoom" blur disperses the smoke as well.

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