Stylin’ Appearances

Graphic Styles are among my favorite tools in Illustrator because they give you so many options and can save you so much time. Styles in general are terrific — Graphic Styles, Character Styles, and Paragraph Styles — and I will go into detail on all of those some other time. Today I want to focus on graphic styles because I use those the most and I find them to be my biggest time savers. Plus, when you apply them to fonts they give you some really cool type effects and I just love me my type effects!

You can make graphic styles as simple or as complex as you need. Let’s start with an apparently simple one — a circle with a 3 pt blue outer rule, a 4 pt white inner rule, and a tinted blue fill. You could actually draw concentric circles, but if you wanted to draw several different sized circles it would a time-consuming nuisance to have to calculate the sizes of the inner circles so that the proportion of the outer dark blue rule and the inner white space stayed the same. You can’t just scale them because they will keep their relative proportions and resize thicker or thinner depending on which way you scale the circles, like so:


So the easiest way to maintain consistent proportions on the concentric circles is to create a style that you can then apply to circles of different sizes. The way you create such a style is by using the handy appearance panel, which I like to keep grouped with the layers panel since they present data in a similar manner. You start off with a single stroke and a single fill option but you can add additional strokes and fills to create the appearance you want, using the way the strokes and fills stack the same way you would use layers.


To create a style for this appearance, I created a circle with a fill of 50% blue, a 7 pt white stroke aligned to inside, and a 3 pt. 100% blue stroke above that also aligned to inside. By placing the 3 pt. stroke on top of the 7 pt. stroke, that gives me a visible inner stroke of 4 pts. (7 – 3 = 4) and placing the fill underneath all of it creates the inner circle. Now the proportion of outer rule and inner rule stay the same no matter what size circle you apply it to, as you can see here:


Let’s take this simple set of circles and create a style that’s a little more fun. Instead of a solid color fill we’re going to use a patterned fill and apply an effect to it. If you already have some patterned fills you can use those or you can load one of the many patterned fills included in Illustrator — I’m using “Wild Flowers Color” from the Nature_Foliage collection and I used a color from one of the flower groupings for the outer stroke. Now we’re going to add an effect to make it more interesting. Select the fill, then go into the Effect menu and select Stylize, then select Inner Glow. Set Mode to Multiply and make the color 100% Black, set the Opacity to 60%, the Blur to 15 pts., and click on Edge.


As you can see, this gives the appearance of having a cutout over a print. The only thing you need to be aware of is if you are using a large tiled pattern fill, the area that is being used will change depending on where on the page it lies. If you have a particular area you want to use as your focal point you will need to expand the fill, which will also cause the rest of the pattern to appear under the clipping path.


Not only can you apply effects to the elements in a graphic style, you can also use the Transform effect to move one or more of the layers for even more fun, and these are the ones that can be so impressive when applied to type. In this week’s download is a graphic style that is set up similar to the ones mentioned above, but I’ve also gone in and used the Transform effect to move the strokes down and to the right as well as adding a drop shadow to the fill. It’s not so impressive when applied to a path, but with the right typeface, it looks like a famous sandwich cookie!


Once you have everything set up the way you want it, all you have to do to make it a graphic style is to select the path and drag it over into the Graphic Styles panel, then give it a descriptive name. To apply that new style to a path, just select the path and click on the name in the panel.

2 Responses

  1. Great stuff, Robin. I forget that styles are just as powerful in Illustrator as they are in InDesign. It is just the coolest thing to apply all that tasty formatting to some plain vanilla vectors, with just one click. The only problem is now I must have a cookie!

  2. Mike, it’s the cheapest way I know to expand my font collections. You can really alter the appearance of a font by applying a style to it and I think I create more styles for fonts than I do for actual illustrations!

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