It's all about the Appearance!
Okay, now that I caught your attention, it's all about the Appearance Panel in Adobe Illustrator. Believe it or not, whenever I ask my audience "who from the depth of your heart and looking me straight into the eyes, can tell me that they use the Appearance Panel in Adobe Illustrator?", I get the same answer all over the world: a mere 3 to 5% of AI users in the room. Well, that would be fine if the Appearance Panel was a new feature (I mean there needs to be time to learn, no?); the trouble is that this feature was introduced in Adobe Illustrator 9, yes version nine, and that happened in the year 2000 (remember when we were all freaking out about the Millennium Bug?). So, basically, it is an old feature that very few of you have had a chance to discover. That is one of the reasons why we exposed it even more in Adobe Illustrator CS4; we exposed it so much, and made it so much more intuitive that it will be hard not to come across it.
As far as I am concerned, the Appearance Panel is one of the most powerful tools in Illustrator. It allows you to rapidly add fills and/or strokes to any vector graphic, text, or entire layers, apply effects and transparencies selectively, and duplicate the same attributes to other elements by simply creating Graphic Styles.
If you want to know about this old feature, read on.
Thanks Kristian Lengyel from Sweden, who asked me to write this long due post.
This is just one example of what you can do with the Appearance Panel in Adobe Illustrator; I am really just scratching the surface here. But it should give you a good start at using it. You may download my file to dissect it, and follow along.
To create the above style, here's what I did:
1. Write some text (although this also works with any vector drawing, text is a great example because it remains editable).
2. Add a Stroke by clicking on the button on the lower left hand side of the Appearance Panel. In this case I used a 20pt yellow stroke.
3. Add a yellow Fill by clicking on the button just right of the Add Stroke button.
4. Add another thinner stroke (1pt) and chose a red color.
The cool thing is that all of those fills and strokes stack up as if they were layers. Now onto the Effects:
5. Select the yellow fill (3) by simply clicking on it in the Appearance Panel and choose "Add New Effect" from the bottom of the Panel. I chose a drop shadow.
6. Select the red 1pt stroke and apply the effect Path > Offset path... I wanted the path to match up with the 20pt stroke created in step 2. So I offset the path by 10pt. We now have a problem because the paths overlap each other and it doesn't look good. Well, had this been normal vector graphics, you'd probably have opened the Pathfinder Panel to "Add" them together; here comes the magic: Pathfinder is also an Effect which can be found in the Appearance Panel. And this is just what I used (Pathfinder > Add).
7. To finish, select the whole object and apply a Warp > Flag effect.
What you will get is something that looks very much like what we have at the beginning of this page.
New in Illustrator CS4 is the ability to toggle the visibility of appearances on and off by clicking on the eye icon. Also new are the "hyperlinks" within the panel that let you open Opacity and Effects directly.
David Macy, our Sr. Product Manager for Adobe Illustrator sent me this beautiful file he created using the Appearance Panel.
Incredibly, this intricate pattern is just one vector object with a couple of circles and many effects (such as Transformation effects) applied through the Appearance Panel.
Enjoy, experiment, and go create!