January 23, 2022

Varying blurred object edges in Affinity Designer


Following the previous blog entry, I want to share some more detailed tricks to create vector objects, that have a variety of blur levels along their edges. This technique is useful when drawing realistic images in Affinity Designer, because hard edged objects rarely look realistic. This technique involves clipping of objects - placing one object inside an other - and gaussian blurring, which is applying a controlled blur ratio to objects. In addition gradient colour fills and gradient opacity can be applied to the objects to attain an appearance that makes objects look realistic. Apart from being useful in drawing realistic vector portraits, this technique has many other applications for artists who need to give their artwork a convincing realistic appearance.

First some basics. In the image below this paragraph I placed an image in which the basic principle is shown. After that I will go into more complex techniques that are nonetheless based on the same principle. To give an object a blurred edge, click the fx button at the bottom of the Layers panel. In the dialog that pops up after clicking it, at the top of the dialog, the blur ratio can be set in rounded numbers and can even be set as precisely in decimal values. That is rather basic, but in reality most objects have edges that have a level of blur in their circumference that varies in a non-linear way. This can not be achieved by just using the fx Gaussian blur function.

Basic clipping and blurring principle

Circle 1 has a blur ratio of 10 (roughly medium blurry) and is clipped inside a grey curve that has a blur ratio of 5 (less blurry). Where the objects intersect, at the top of circle 1, the intersecting area inherits the blur ratio of the grey curve - blur ratio 5, while the rest of the circumference of circle 1 maintains its blur ratio of 10. So at the top of circle 1, the edge is less blurry than in the rest of the circle.

Circle 2 that has a blur ratio of 24, which is more blurry than that of circle 1. Where circle 2 and the grey curve intersect, circle 2 will inherit the blur ratio of the grey curve, so the blurriness at the bottom of circle 2 is far less than in the rest of the circumference of circle 2; there is a greater contrast of blurriness along the edge of circle 2 than there is in circle 1.

By moving the right edge of the grey curve, by selecting the nodes at the top and bottom of its edge with the Node tool, closer to or further away from circle 2, the level of blurredness at the right side of circle 2 can be set quite precisely. Basically, the further away the edge of the parent curve is from that of the clipped child curve, the less its blurriness affects the edge of the child curve. When the edge of the parent curve overlaps the edge of the clipped child curve, the latter inherits the level of blur of the parent curve in the area where the overlapping is defined.

Below this paragraph I placed an image with a transparent curve with a blue outline (for clarity) that has no blurred edge, in which a transparent curve with a green outline is clipped that has a blur ratio of 6, in which a red circle is clipped that has a blur ratio of 50.

Objects clipped inside other objects, with outlines drawn for clarity

The crux is that the parent object in a clip always determines the blurriness of edges. Parent objects can both be given a higher or lower blur ratio than the objects clipped inside of them. If the clipping parent objects have no outline - which is the practical way to work with such a technique - the image shown above would look like the image below this paragraph, indicated by the yellow arrow. The resulting appearance of the clipped red circle becomes clear and this is how clipping and blurring would be used by graphic artists and designers that aim to create realistic objects or parts of objects.

Objects clipped in other objects, without the outlines, which is
how the clipping and blurring would normally be used

In the reality that most people experience, areas that have different ratios of blurriness along their edges, are the majority of what occurs / appears in this dimension. Also objects rarely have one equal colour throughout their shape, which is what in addition to the above, can be applied to the mix by giving objects a gradient colour fill or even clip differently coloured child objects clipped into parent objects to mimic reality even closer. Although what I described in this  blog entry is not always an obvious intuitive mode of operation, Affinity Designer is very capable of coming a long way in 2D design. Programs of Designer's competition may have Mesh Fill options, but creating those requires much more time and editing them afterwards even more.

January 6, 2022

How to avoid hard edges in vector portraits

In the images below cartoonish vector portraits of Rock & Roll legend Elvis Presley can be seen. This image was created in Affinity Designer. After having worked with Adobe Illustrator professionally, CorelDRAW privately and Inkscape occasionally for decades, I have come to the conclusion that the much cheaper one time fee, no subscription Affinity Designer is better suited to create vector portraits that do not have hard edges in the face, even if it does not include the Mesh Fill function, that is very time consuming and tedious to work with. The drawing and editing process - particularly when editing the drawing at a later point in time - in this program takes far less time and effort. Progress sequence of the portrait on the right can be seen in an other blog entry: https://communicats.blogspot.com/.../this-is-other-vector... 

Cartoonish vector portraits of Elvis Presley

The image below this paragraph is a screendump of the vector outline of the double portrait. Extensive use was made of Affinity Designers Gaussian blur function, which allows to avoid hard edges in the facial features, as are often seen in vector portraits created in Adobe Illustrator. Many of the curves with which areas on the face were drawn are made by applying multiple node gradient fills and gradient transparency. This method allows to quickly edit (also afterwards) of the drawing which is much faster than while using mesh gradient fill tool that isn't present in Affinity Designer. Personally, I don't miss it. A brilliant Russian artist who works with mesh fills in CorelDRAW once revealed that it took him months to draw a vector portrait, while it is possible in Affinity Designer to make the same effect in much less time. I used CorelDRAW for many years, but only after accidentally running across Affinity Designer I was able to create realistic vector portraits a lot quicker, while making editing afterwards easier and faster. More examples of realistic vector portraits and illustrations can be found in my website at: https://vectorwhiz.com/Vector.html

Vector outline view of the Elvis portraits

To create (gradient) tints and blurs in the facial area of a vector portrait, it often is necessary to draw curves that have a variable level of blur along their edges, meaning that some edge parts are just slightly unsharp, while other parts are blurred and yet other parts are very blurry. To achieve this effect, I apply the following technique that is below this paragraph:

In these vector portraits a Gaussian blur trick was applied in Affinity Designer, as can be seen in the third image. Ellipse 3 is clipped inside Circle 2 and circle 2 is clipped inside circle 1. In the image below you see, Circle 1 is transparent, the other two objects are opaque. Circle 1 has a minimal blur rate, Circle 2 has a higher blur rate and Ellipse 3 has the highest blur rate. The result of these settings are that circle one has an unsharp edge, circle 2 has a blurred edge to the left and an unsharp one to the right, while Ellipse 3 has a very blurry edge on the left and a less blurred towards the right. The blur values are indicated in the third image. The circle with the dotted line only serves to indicate the position and size of Circle 1 that is completely transparent, slightly blurred and used to clip the other objects.

Example drawing of Gaussian blur effects and object clipping

In the image below the Layer panel is shown containing the hierarchy of the objects in the image above this paragraph. Objects that are indented to the right are clipped inside the ones above them. The object names correspond with those in the Example drawing. The circles and ellipse are at the bottom of the panel. The objects marked with an 'A' thumbnail refer to the text in the Example drawing.

Object position in the Layer Panel

In addition all parts can be given a colour gradient and gradient transparency, all settings that are independently editable of the ones described above this paragraph. In doing so the annoying hard edges of shadows in the face of a vector portrait can be avoided that are almost always seen in vector portraits created in Adobe Illustrator. Adobe's marketing machine has managed to present this lack of functionality as some sort of gimmick, but I dislike such vector portraits. Affinity Designer allows to create far more realistic vector portraits in a much easier way that vector portraits created with the mesh fill function. The added benefit of working in this way is that at a later point in time all the parameters can be edited and tweaked to the preference of the vector portrait artist. Working in vectors with this method allows to resize the portrait without any loss of quality. Of course this technique can be applied to any shape you can draw, not just to circles and ellipses, that I used in the example above, as can be seen in the completed vector double portrait at the top of this blog entry and the vector outline view screen dump below it.