Illustrator Special Effects #6: Bokeh Background

bokeh special effect

In this quick tip tutorial I’m going to show you how to create a quick and easy bokeh special effect. You will learn interesting techniques on how to use a very useful Scatter Brush, along with the basic shape tools, the Gaussian Blur effect and a little dose of gradients. So, let’s get started!

1. Create a new blank document and set the dimensions of the Artboard to 700 x 500px. Go to the Layers Panel and create our first layer titled ‘Grayscale Background’. First, grab the Rectangle Tool (M) from the Tools Panel and create a rectangle with the same dimensions as the Artboard. Pick the color from the Color Panel and fill the resulting object with dark gray (R=26 G=26 B=26). Remember, if you fill it with pure black, the effect will not work!


2. Create a new layer and name it ‘Gradient Background’. Now, using the Rectangle Tool (M) create another rectangle and place it above the previous one. Activate the Gradient Panel and fill the selected object with linear gradients as shown below: dark blue (R=0 G=0 B=133), turquoise (R=27 G=218 B=235), dark pink (R=155 G=59 B=129) and golden brown (R=210 G=126 B=52). Of course, you can add as many colors to the gradient you are creating as you want. Do not hesitate to experiment with the colors to find out a unique style that suits your taste. In the Transparency Panel change the Blending Mode to Color (Opacity 65%).


3. Now we need to create a custom brush for the bokehs. Pick the Ellipse Tool (L) and draw a 200 x 200px circle (hold Shift to constrain the proportions). Open up the Appearance Panel and make sure the stroke and fill colors are set to pure black (R=0 G=0 B=0). Reduce the opacity of the fill attribute to 50%. Keep the object selected, and in the Brushes Panel click on the New Brush button. Pick the Scatter Brush option to open the dialog box. When the Scatter Brush Options appear, enter the values shown on the image below and click OK.


4. First, create a new layer and give it a name like ‘Large Bokehs’. In the Brushes Panel choose the Scatter Brush we have already created and using the Paintbrush Tool (B) draw a few freehand paths over the entire background. Go to the Stroke Panel and set the Stroke Weight to 1.5 to 2 pt. Select all the paths, and group (Ctrl+G) them first. Then, go to Effect > Blur > Gaussian Blur… and set it to 10 pixels for the Radius. Change the Blending Mode to Overlay (Opacity 100%) in the Transparency Panel.


5. Make a new layer and name it ‘Medium Bokehs’. Set your custom brush to about half size. For this example, that would be 0.75 to 1px. Grab the Paintbrush Tool (B) again and start drawing the paths, as you did in the previous steps. Once done, group all (Ctrl+G) the paths on the layer you are working on. Now select Effect > Blur > Gaussian Blur… and enter a 4px radius and click OK. In the Transparency Panel change the Blending Mode to Overlay (Opacity 100%).


6. Create a new layer and name it ‘Small Bokehs’. Set your brush to about half the size of the medium bokeh layer. I went with 0.6px, but you can try different settings until you are satisfied. Select all the objects on the layer and group (Ctrl+G) them. Go to Effect > Blur > Gaussian Blur… and in the Radius field enter about 2px. Open up the Transparency Panel and change the Blending Mode to Overlay (Opacity 100%).


7. We want to apply a clipping mask over the entire design, in order to block out all of the excess around the edges of the clipboard. Make a new layer and drag all the existing layers into in, making them sublayers. Now create the object we want to use as the mask. This object is called the clipping path. In the Layers panel, make sure that the masking object is at the top of the layer. Once done, select the ‘Clipping Mask Layer’ and click the Make > Release Clipping Masks button at the bottom of the Layers panel. We’re done with the tutorial now. I hope you liked it.

View the list of all 101 Illustrator special effects tricks at 101 Illustrator Special Effects.

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7 thoughts on “Illustrator Special Effects #6: Bokeh Background”

  1. Hi,
    I had a question, a co-worker of mine was trying out this tutorial and she was having some problems getting it to match up once she got to doing the brush steps (instead of being the color below, it still looks a dingy gray when she put the overlay setting on) I followed the steps to see if she missed something, but had the same problem myself… I tried to change the setting to color dodge and that was a little closer– but it still isn’t as bright of a color as in the tutorial. We double checked that we used the correct grey, and the correct black based on your RGB colors… and still wasn’t working for us.

    Is there anything that you can suggest that may help with this? Could it be because of the version of AI we’re on? We’re using CS6?

    Any information would be appreciated.

    Thank you!

  2. Both my coworker and I tried to follow the tutorial, but in step 4, all we end up is mud-colored bokehs. We are both using CS6. I know I’m not giving a lot of information to work with, but if anyone has any insight into what the problem might be, I’d be grateful if you’d share. Thank you!

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