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I can imagine how it could be done in a dumb way. Are there any quick and scalable ways to produce line drawings with this gradient effect?

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    Is your "dumb way", by any chance, to just apply a gradient to the lines? If so, what better way are you hoping for? – usr2564301 Aug 13 '16 at 12:29
  • I'd start with gradient to lines (this wasn't always an option, glad Illy added this) and maybe something like this technique or just using 3d prog (Maya/Blender output to vector, or just trace) or doing basic (iso) 3d in Illy and enhancing with various Illustrator techniques? – mhulse Aug 16 '16 at 18:48
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If your artwork is made with only strokes or only fills (you could just outline all your strokes if you have fills too), then you can either create a compound path (select all and cmd+8 or Object → Compound Path → Make) and apply a gradient as either stroke or fill:

Compound Path Gradient Stroke

Or you can group your artwork and add the gradient to the entire group, or simply select an entire layer and add the gradient to an entire layer using the Appearance panel:

Appearance Panel Gradient Stroke

If your artwork is made up of both strokes and paths then it may be hard to get the continuous gradient to match over both...

Another option is to use your artwork as an opacity mask on a solid gradient.

  1. Group your artwork and make it all white.
  2. Place it on top of a solid gradient.
  3. With your gradient and artwork selected hit "Make Mask" in the Transparency panel.

Solid Gradient

Gradient with Opacity Mask

  • You dont need to make it compound the gradient tool can fill many paths as easily as one compound path. But yeah it makes it easier to handle. – joojaa Aug 13 '16 at 21:18
  • Yeh I generally just use a compound path anyway, but I don't think it works with strokes for some reason, only fills? Unless I'm doing something wrong :) – Cai Aug 13 '16 at 21:21
  • It should work. But there is a 3rd way by applying the gradient to the layer/group. – joojaa Aug 13 '16 at 21:25
  • Good point. Pretty sure the gradient tool doesn't work on strokes though.. – Cai Aug 13 '16 at 21:38
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    @RadLexus applying a gradient to a stroke is no problem, its using the Gradient Tool on multiple strokes at the same time which doesn't work (like it does with fills). – Cai Aug 13 '16 at 21:45
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You would need to use the pen tool to draw them and then yes, use a stroke with gradient. There used to be some sort of auto trace function years ago in illustrator, but I think it changed names.

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