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  1. Design & Illustration
  2. Adobe Illustrator

A Beginners Guide to the Appearance Panel and Graphic Styles

Read Time: 11 mins

In the following tutorial, you will learn everything about Illustrator's Appearance panel and how to use graphic styles in Illustrator.

Once you master Illustrator's Appearance panel and learn that graphic styles can be shared among Illustrator documents, you can try some amazing sets of graphic styles from Envato Elements. Here's just one of the many examples. Throughout this tutorial, we'll use several graphic styles from this pack to better exemplify the power of the Appearance panel in Illustrator.

retro graphic stylesretro graphic stylesretro graphic styles

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Are you a fan of video tutorials? Then you can't miss this video from the Envato Tuts+ YouTube channel. It's a complete video resource to learn about the Appearance panel in Illustrator and how to use graphic styles in illustrator:

What You'll Learn in This Tutorial on Illustrator's Appearance Panel

  • Where is the Appearance panel in Illustrator?
  • How to use graphic styles in Illustrator
  • How to remove graphic styles in Illustrator
  • How to copy the appearance in Illustrator

1. How to Use the Appearance Panel in Illustrator

Step 1

Let's start with the Appearance panel. First of all, where is the Appearance panel in Illustrator? You can open it either by going to Window > Appearance or by pressing the Shift-F6 keyboard shortcut. By default, you will have a white fill and a black stroke.

illustrator appearance panelillustrator appearance panelillustrator appearance panel

In the top-left corner (1), you'll find a thumbnail representing the existing Appearance settings. If you can't see it, you need to open the fly-out menu from the Appearance panel and select Show Thumbnail. Select Hide Thumbnail whenever you wish to remove the thumbnail from the Appearance panel. Drag the thumbnail onto an object from your design whenever you wish to apply the existing Appearance settings to that object.

Beside the thumbnail, there's the title bar (2). This bar shows the type of object that's selected (No Selection, Path, Type, Group, Layer) and lets you know if a graphic style is applied. You can click on it whenever you wish to be sure that an effect is applied to the entire selection, not just a particular fill or stroke.

appearance title barappearance title barappearance title bar

Finally, you have the Opacity bar (3). Click that underlined Opacity text to open the Transparency fly-out panel, where you can adjust the Opacity and Blending Mode settings. Again, these changes will affect the entire object, not just a fill or a stroke.

Step 2

To change the color of a Fill, select it and click the color thumbnail to open the Swatches fly-out panel, or hold down the Shift key and click that same color thumbnail to open the Color fly-out panel. The same commands apply when you need to change the color of a Stroke.

appearance panel fill strokeappearance panel fill strokeappearance panel fill stroke

Step 3

Select a Stroke whenever you want to adjust the Stroke Weight, and in order to further stylize a Stroke, you can use the Stroke fly-out panel. Just click that underlined Stroke text to open the Stroke fly-out panel.

stroke settings appearance panelstroke settings appearance panelstroke settings appearance panel

Step 4

Now that you understand the basics, let's focus on the buttons at the bottom of the panel and learn how you can use them.

First, you have the Add New Stroke (1) and Add New Fill (2) buttons. These can be used to add a new Stroke or Fill. Keep in mind that the new attribute is added on top of the existing attributes when you have none selected. If you have a Fill or a Stroke selected, the new attribute gets added right on top of your selection.

appearance panel commandsappearance panel commandsappearance panel commands

Use the Add New Effect (3) button to apply an effect to a particular Fill or Stroke or to the entire object. Alternatively, you can go to Effect in the menu bar, and you will find the same options.

Using the Clear Appearance (4) button, you can quickly clean up the Appearance panel. It removes all fills, strokes, and effects.

Use the Duplicate Selected Item (5) button to easily duplicate a selected Fill, Stroke, or effect.

To remove a particular Fill, Stroke, or effect from the Appearance panel, select it and click the Delete Selected Item button (6). Keep in mind that you can hold down the Control key or the Shift key to easily select more than one attribute from the Appearance panel.

appearance panel effectsappearance panel effectsappearance panel effects

Keep in mind that besides the buttons from the bottom of the Appearance panel, the Add/Duplicate/Remove/Clear commands can also be accessed via the fly-out menu.

appearance panel menu commandsappearance panel menu commandsappearance panel menu commands

Step 5

Before we explore the rest of the commands from the fly-out menu, let's have a look at a more complex design and see some other settings that can be adjusted.

First of all, using the tiny arrow icons (1), you can expand any Fill or Stroke. Once expanded, you will get access to a separate Opacity button (4) which can be used to adjust the Opacity and Blending Mode of that particular element.

With a Fill or a Stroke selected, you can apply an effect (3) just to that specific element.

Finally, the eye icons on the left-hand side (2) can be used to enable/disable a Fill, Stroke, effect, or even the Opacity settings. Disabling the Opacity will replace the existing settings with the default ones. Whenever you wish to enable all hidden attributes, open the fly-out menu and go to Show All Hidden Attributes.

appearance panel settingsappearance panel settingsappearance panel settings

Step 6

Open the fly-out menu from the Appearance panel and go to Reduce to Basic Appearance whenever you wish to remove the existing attributes and keep just a single Fill and Stroke.

reduce to basic appearancereduce to basic appearancereduce to basic appearance

Step 7

Open the fly-out menu from the Appearance panel and disable the New Art Has Basic Appearance option if you want new objects to inherit the existing Appearance settings.

If you prefer to keep a single Fill and Stroke from the existing attributes for your new objects, open the fly-out menu and enable the New Art Has Basic Appearance option.

new art has basic appearancenew art has basic appearancenew art has basic appearance

2. How to Use Graphic Styles in Illustrator

Step 1

Once you're happy with the look of a design, you might want to add the same Appearance settings to a different object. You have several options whenever you wish to copy the appearance in Illustrator.

First, you can drag that thumbnail from the Appearance panel on top of another object. Second, you can open the Layers panel (Window > Layers) and focus on the target icons on the right-hand side. Hold down the Alt key click the target icon that stands for the object with the Appearance settings and just drag it on top of the target icon that stands for the other object.

copy appearance illustratorcopy appearance illustratorcopy appearance illustrator

Third, you can save the Appearance settings as a graphic style and then use that graphic style to easily apply the same attributes to different objects. To start, you can open the Graphic Styles panel by going to Window > Graphic Styles or by pressing the Shift-F5 keyboard shortcut.

In order to save a new graphic style, all you have to do is check the New Graphic Style button from the bottom of the panel. Right-click your new graphic style for a larger preview.

To apply a graphic style, select the object and simply click your graphic style. Hold down the Alt key as you click the graphic style to apply the graphic style attributes and keep the existing Appearance settings.

illustrator new graphic styleillustrator new graphic styleillustrator new graphic style

Step 2

Now that we've covered the basics, let's focus on the rest of the buttons from the bottom of the panel and learn how you can use them. As with the Appearance panel, all of these commands can also be accessed via the fly-out menu.

First of all, you should know that the New Graphic Style button (1) can also be used to duplicate one of your graphic styles. All you have to do is drag a graphic style on top of the button.

Use the Delete Graphic Style button (2) whenever you wish to remove a graphic style in Illustrator. Remember that you can hold down the Control key or the Shift key to easily select more than one graphic style.

graphic styles panel commandsgraphic styles panel commandsgraphic styles panel commands

The Break Link command (3) goes hand in hand with the Redefine Graphic Style command from the Appearance panel's fly-out menu.

Let's say that you apply the same graphic style to several objects from your design. When you select these objects, you'll be able to see in the title bar of the Appearance panel that a graphic style is applied. Clicking the Break Link button will cut the ties between these settings and your saved graphic style.

Now, if you select another object with the graphic style applied and make some adjustments, when you go to Redefine Graphic Style, the graphic style is automatically updated in the Graphic Styles panel with the new settings, and the rest of the instances where your graphic style is used get updated as well. The only object that doesn't change its appearance is the one that's not linked to the graphic style.

In some cases, you might want to keep both the original graphic style and the edited one. This is where the Duplicate Graphic Style command can come in handy. All you have to do is duplicate the graphic style before you apply the Redefine Graphic Style command.

redefine graphic style illustratorredefine graphic style illustratorredefine graphic style illustrator

Graphic styles can be shared among Illustrator documents. Using the Graphic Styles Libraries (4) button, you can open some panels with built-in graphic styles (A), you can save your own set of graphic styles (B), or you can open other sets of graphic styles (C).

graphic styles libraries illustratorgraphic styles libraries illustratorgraphic styles libraries illustrator

Step 3

Hold down the Control key to select more than one graphic style, open the fly-out menu, and go to Merge Graphic Styles to create a new graphic style that combines the attributes from your selected graphic styles.

merge graphic stylesmerge graphic stylesmerge graphic styles

Step 4

Go to Select All Unused (1) in the fly-out menu to quickly select all of the unused graphic styles from the panel.

graphic styles menu commandsgraphic styles menu commandsgraphic styles menu commands

Go to Sort by Name (2) in the fly-out menu to organize your graphic styles based on their names. To rename a graphic style, select it and go to Graphic Style Options in the fly-out menu.

graphic style namegraphic style namegraphic style name

Check one of the two options to preview your graphic styles applied either to a shape or to text (3).

graphic styles previewgraphic styles previewgraphic styles preview

Under the default Thumbnail view, you have two other view options (4). These can be useful if you wish to know the new look of your graphic style. Remember that you can still right-click any of your graphic styles for a larger preview.

graphic styles viewgraphic styles viewgraphic styles view

Step 5

Finally, Override Character Color will only affect the text in your design. Keep it enabled if you wish to remove the original type color as you apply a graphic style, or disable it if you wish to keep the type color.

overtide character colorovertide character colorovertide character color

Congratulations! You're Done!

That's everything you need to know about Illustrator's Graphic Styles and Appearance panels.

Feel free to create some new designs which take full advantage of the Appearance panel in Illustrator. You can find some great sources of inspiration at Envato Elements, with interesting solutions to create more intricate graphic styles in Illustrator.

Popular Illustrator Graphic Styles From Envato Elements

Envato Elements is an excellent resource for Illustrator graphic styles. Here are some of the most popular resources that you can find.

Retro Vintage Text Styles (Ai)

This set of retro text styles is another great example of what you can achieve using the Appearance panel in Illustrator. Give your design a retro feel with just a few clicks.

retro graphic stylesretro graphic stylesretro graphic styles

Paper Kingdom Illustrator Graphic Styles (AI, EPS, PNG)

This extensive design toolbox comes with 260 Illustrator graphic styles, 260 textures, 320 vector shapes, a vector alphabet, and five premade compositions. It's the perfect solution if you're looking to create unique and eye-catching paper designs.

paper graphic stylespaper graphic stylespaper graphic styles

Knitted Text Effects: Illustrator Graphic Styles (AI)

Now that you know how to use graphic styles in Illustrator, you won't have any problems applying a knitted effect to your designs with just a click. You have 20 graphics styles to choose from.

knitted graphic stylesknitted graphic stylesknitted graphic styles

Text Effect Editable Comic Style (AI, EPS)

Here's a good example of what you can achieve using Illustrator's Appearance panel. The text remains fully editable, which means that you can easily replace the text with the words you need.

comic text stylecomic text stylecomic text style

1980s Illustrator Graphic Styles (AI, EPS)

Here's a cool set of vibrant 1980s Illustrator graphic styles. Pick the one that you like, and feel free to adjust it now that you know how to use the Appearance panel in Illustrator.

1980 graphic style1980 graphic style1980 graphic style
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