Creating a transparent trailing blend or motion trail.

Was adding the project for Florida Chemical Supply to our logo gallery this morning and it jogged my memory about writing this post – something I’ve meant to do since finalizing that design. It has to do with trailing gradients (or blends) and their use with logos, usually something to do with “motion trails.” They can be a real headache if not set up properly and the issue has come up enough times at the shop – from designers and clients alike – that I’ve always meant to write a short technical tutorial about it. So here it is. The following assumes a fairly recent copy of Adobe Illustrator, a working knowledge of vector based artwork and the concept of transparent backgrounds.

The raw logo.

In its purest form, a linear black and white, the logo for FCS looks something like this:

Florida Chemical Supply panther logo
Simple. No foreseeable problems adding it to any media or application. Trouble is, that’s not the design in its full glory. This is:


The blue background color bar is a trailing blend – a color field that goes from solid color, 100% opaque to white. It’s a great effect and all, but it adds a wrinkle to setting up files – so much so, and while not exactly a design faux pas, we’ve generally advised against doing on various tutorials and tip articles. How so? Let’s take a look at the wireframe version:


The background bar is a box that’s filled with a gradient – the white on the left side is actually, well, white. It doesn’t actually trail off to “nothingness” at all. That means when we create PNGs of the logo, even with a transparent background, this happens when we try to put it anywhere:


This isn’t good at all. It also holds true to using the vector version in Illustrator. There are some workarounds mind you. We could for example, select another color as the trailing one – it would have to be the background color of where we’re using the logo, but that would also shift the overall gradient. Too, we’d need a different set of files for every background option, impractical and unwieldy in the brand asset management department. Luckily, Illustrator gives us a nice little tool to help us workaround this issue, keep the original logo intact, and have files that can be used anywhere. It’s called an Opacity Mask. And it’s about to become one of your best design friends. Especially if you like to add motion trails to things, in this case, logos.

Adding a transparent motion trail.

Not going to get into the whys and wherefores, just going to show you how to do it. Ready? Okay, select the area you want to trail, in the case of our panther is the blended blue background box. Clone it, paste in place (Shift + Command + V.) Like so:

Select color field paste in place

Select both of these objects and open the “Transparency” fly-out from your toolbar. Should look something like this:



If you’re using a multi-colored blend (as we are here) you may notice a little color shifting (and may have to adjust for it.) One and spot color gradients are usually fine. Click on the “Make Mask” button as circled. You should end up with something looking like this:


That’s about it. Your motion trail now blends on a transparent background as opposed to white. Here’s what that looks like:


Of course, we’ll have to change bits and pieces of the logo (brand assets should probably feature logos for both light and dark backgrounds anyway) and you have to remember that the gradient colors may shift because of the background color now “peeking through.” All things told though, it’s a decent workaround to an age old problem. Here’s our newly masked logo exported as a PNG with transparent background:


As we can see, the logo can now be used safely on all manner of backgrounds without that ghastly white bounding box.