The Designmark Graphics blog
Quality tutorials for Inkscape and GIMP
This tutorial was inspired by a Vector Tuts+ article by Iaroslav Lazunov which showed how to create clear water droplets using Illustrator. All credit to Iaroslav for the original idea.
We'll be creating our water droplet using Inkscape's Ellipse Tool, then carrying out some node editing to create the main shape. After that we'll get heavily involved with the Gradient Editor to really bring out the effect of light and dark and give it a proper, watery feel. Here's the final result so you can see what we're aiming for:
Skills you'll be developing in this tutorial
- Using the ellipse and node-sculpting tools to create shapes
- Creating and using gradients on shapes to give the illusion of light, shape and depth
- Using transparency settings to enable the shape to be used over any colour background
Step 1 - Create a simple background to work with
Open up Inkscape and let's just use the default, blank canvas in front of us for this project. It might help to zoom in slightly for much of this work, as we're going to be playing some tricks here that are particularly effective when you pull back from the image; I'm working at 200% to 400% size for most of this tutorial, occasionally zooming in further for the fiddly bits later on.
Starting on our initial layer, draw out a large box using the Rectangle tool (R on the keyboard) and fill it with a fairly dark colour - I'm using a medium shade of green here - by selecting it from the Fill and Stroke dialog box. Do this by pressing Ctrl, Shift and F and clicking on a colour from the Fill tab.
Bring up the Layers panel by pressing Ctrl, Shift and L. Click the + button to add a new layer and set it to be created above the current one. 'Lock' the bottom layer by clicking the padlock button next to it - you'll see it change to a closed padlock icon. Locking a layer allows us to click around over the top of our background without accidentally selecting or making changes to it, which would make our job awkward.
Step 2 - Draw the first droplet shape
Click on your topmost layer to make sure it's the active one, then switch to your ellipse tool (E on the keyboard) and draw an ellipse that is roughly 40px wide by 30px tall. Use the information toolbar at the bottom of the Inkscape window to guide you.
Convert your ellipse to a path by pressing Ctrl, Shift and C on the keyboard, which can be done using Path --> Object to Path in the menus.
Using the Node tool (F2 on the keyboard to activate it) click on your shape, then click and drag the bottom-most node up slightly so that your shape takes on a squashed oval appearance. There's a certain proportion we're aiming for here, and you'll quickly know what feels right for what we're looking to do.
Step 3 - Change the fill to create a see-through effect
Head back to the Fill and Stroke panel. Now, in order for us to see the effect of our droplet over a background of any colour, we're going to add some transparency to all the colours we're about to use.
Click on the Radial Gradient button on this panel, then hit the Edit button to go into the gradient editor. Here you can see your colour palette; the overall gradient at the top (running from a colour to transparent); a dropdown box showing the 'Stops'; some buttons to add or remove stops, and a bar with an 'A' next to it at the bottom, which tells us how transparent this colour should be at that particular stop.
Stops are points across a gradient where it designated to be a particular colour; Inkscape blends colours between stops to give a gradual fading from one hue to another.
Clicking on the dropdown box's arrow shows us the 'Stops' on this gradient. It's a radial one and there are only two stops on it, so the first one is the colour at the centre of the shape, and the second is the colour at the outermost edge of whatever we're looking at. They're usually assigned pretty obscure numbers (as of Inkscape 0.48), which doesn't help a great deal but the top-to-bottom ordering is the most important aspect here.
Select the first stop, and use the colour wheel (or the settings on another tab if you prefer) to set it to white. Then select the second stop from the dropdown box and change it to black.
Adjust its opacity by clicking on a point or dragging the arrows in the 'Alpha' (transparency) slider at the bottom of the Gradient Editor dialog. The number to the right of the slider is the opacity measure: 0 means totally transparent, 255 means totally opaque. The colour in the slider itself will give you a visual indication of what this looks like, as well as your shape on the canvas itself, of course. Set this stop's alpha to around 120, which is the equivalent of saying roughly 50% see-through.
Click the 'Add stop' button to create a third point along our gradient that will sit in the middle of the two end points we've got already. Select this new stop from the dropdown box, leave its colour as the mid-point grey between our white and black, but drag its opacity down a little to make the middle section of the drop more see-through and add just a hint more 'shape' to it.
While we're adjusting our opacities, select the first stop (which is our white colour) and reduce its opacity a little way, too. Not too much - we still want a nice bright spot to signify light being bent by the water drop - but a little so that the colour underneath just peeks through a touch.
Step 4 - Re-position the gradient to simulate the droplet's shape
Now to the magic moment. Close the Gradient Editor for now, and click on your shape on the canvas. Press Ctrl and F1 on the keyboard, or click the Gradients button on the toolbar. You should see some dots appear over your oval droplet. The square one represents the start of our gradient (white), the diamond one any mid-point stops we have along the way (transparent grey), and the circle shows where the end of the gradient sits (partly transparent black).
Use this tool to click and drag the square point over to one side of the droplet, then drag both of the circular end points (which represent horizontal and vertical stages of the gradient) so that they finish a little way inside the edge of our shape. Finally, move the middle diamond towards the square slightly to make more of the droplet dark and concentrate the white highlight to one side. You should end up with something resembling the below image.
Step 5 - Add other lighting effects
Excellent. Now switch back to your ellipse tool and draw an elongated shape off to one side of the droplet, next to the white area. Give it a black fill.
Activate your selection tool (F1 on the keyboard) and make a copy of our droplet on top of the original using a simple Ctrl and C, Ctrl, Alt and V operation. Hold down the Shift key and select your newly-created ellipse so that it, and your droplet copy, are selected. Either by selecting Path --> Difference from the menus, or by pressing Ctrl and - on the keyboard, carry out a 'Difference' operation on the shapes and create a shadow from the droplet.
Go back to the Fill and Stroke dialog and reduce the opacity of this shape so that it's around 10 - 15%.
We're very nearly there. Grab your ellipse tool one last time and draw some little spots over the back of the droplet, filling them with white and reducing their opacity using the Fill dialog box's slider to something around 40% or so. Draw a final white ellipse over the middle of the drop that covers the other highlights and has an opacity of 8%. This will accentuate the roundness we're trying to convey and give the impression of light reflecting from the shape, too.
Step 6 - Add a background to the piece
Time to replace that background with something more appropriate. Remember that bottom layer we created at the beginning of the tutorial? We're going to unlock that and create something a bit more interesting in its place. Bring up the layers panel again (Ctrl, Shift and L) and click the padlock icon on this bottom layer to open it up for editing again.
Click on your background to select it, and change the fill type to a radial gradient. Set the first and second stops to be fully opaque (Alpha = 255), with the first one's colour as R = 130, G = 230, B = 246, and the second's as R = 74, G = 144, B = 183.
You should end up with a smooth blue gradient filling your background rectangle:
Switch to the Gradient Tool one last time and move the centre of your background gradient so that the lightest part is situated above the droplet. Also, drag the horizontal gradient handle outwards so that its end-point is far away from the droplet. This will have the effect of cropping the gradient slightly, but it will make the light-to-dark colour transition lovely and smooth because it's stretched over a greater distance. Re-lock the background layer when you're happy.
Step 7 - Duplicate and resize the droplets
And with that, we're pretty much done. Using the Select tool (F1) again, draw a box around all the shapes you've made, and group them into one easy-to-handle bunch by pressing Ctrl and G on the keyboard, or by selecting Object --> Group in the menus.
Then you can copy and paste to create lots of drops, resize your copies and move them around to create the rain-pattered effect we've been after.
Wow, that's looking great, well done! Because of how we've set up these gradients, we can place our shapes over the top of any background, including textured ones, and see through them to whatever's below in the way we would expect in real life. And because it's Inkscape, we can export the droplets as PNG images, which means they retain their transparency after saving the file.
In the above image I imported the PNG from Inkscape to GIMP as a new layer, duplicated it, and changed the layer blend mode of the top copy to Dodge at 60% opacity to lighten the droplets because they're over a busy background. Of course, if I really wanted to go the extra mile, I'd add a lens effect to a texture underneath too, but that's a finishing touch for another day. :o)
Have you enjoyed this tutorial? Feeling like sharing your water drops with everyone? Leave a comment in the box below and let me know what you think or what you've made!
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