Creating Shapes with the Appearance Panel

Personally, I hardly ever use the appearance panel, certainly not for creating shapes. There are a lot of easier ways to change an object’s stroke or fill in the toolbar than to click into the appearance panel. Especially now with the Creative Cloud update that allows you to click an object and view appearance directly in the properties panel. Outside of adding and editing effects (which is not something I typically have to do as a graphic designer) you may wonder, as did I, the importance of the appearance panel. It wasn’t until I attended Adobe Max 2017 that I was able to answer exactly that question.

The real power of the appearance panel lies in the fact that you are able to take a simple form, such as a circle, and add multiple fills and effects to transform it into something completely different, like a button. This becomes valuable when you design and prototype mobile layouts in illustrator. Instead of having a button comprised of multiple shapes each with their own effects, you have one shape with multiple non-destructive effects. This in turn has the benefit of decreasing the complexity of your object and increasing your efficiency in mobile and website design.

Here is a simple tutorial for creating shapes and transforming them into a button:

  1. Use the ellipse tool to draw a circle
  2. Open the appearance panel. If you are working in the newest version of CC, clicking the (…) under appearance will expand the full menu.
  3. Add a new stroke to the circle by clicking the square outline at the bottom of the appearance panel.
  4. Drag the new stroke underneath the fill.
  5. With the stroke selected, click on the effect button and choose convert to shape > rounded rectangle.
  6. In the dialogue box that appears, keep the size relative, the width 20, the height 0, and the corner radius 20. Hit ok.
  7. Apply another effect to the stroke by clicking the effect button and choosing distort & transform > transform
  8. In the dialogue box that appears, move the stroke horizontally by 20 pts. Hit ok.
  9. Select the top fill and click the effects button > stylize > drop shadow. Set the opacity to 50 and the offsets to 3 pts each. Hit ok.
  10. Now you have a basic button shape which you can customize by changing stroke and fill color.