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Creating the Sole of a Sports Shoe With the Appearance Panel

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Read Time: 13 min

In today's tutorial I'm going to show you how I used the Appearance panel to create a stylized version of the bottom of a sneaker. It's a great exercise for those who are just getting to grips with the Appearance panel.


The other month I showed you how to create a conceptual sneaker illustration. In the process of creating this illustration, I was checking out a variety of stock images I felt would best suit it. While searching on "sneakers" and "sports shoes" I came across a stock image of the bottom of a pair of sneakers. Anyone else perk up and think "Appearance panel"?

In today's tutorial I'm going to show you how I used the Appearance panel to create a stylized version of the bottom of a sneaker. It's a great exercise for those who are just getting to grips with the Appearance panel. So enough talking, let's get started...

Step 1

I'm going to start with a New document and File> Place the stock image on the art board. I've used the Free Transform Tool (E) to shrink it to fit within the Artboard boundaries.

I've organized my layers as shown below and double clicked on each layer to rename them accordingly. In the "BG" folder there is a white fill Rectangle (M) set to Opacity 50% (by just hiding and unhiding the layer it makes it quick to dim the reference image). As you can see I've drawn on the image to work out which shapes have similar patterns and styles. The main ones are on the right and left of the image (in magenta and cyan) with some similar styles in the center.

Step 2

I'm going to create a shape for the most complex looking shape on the sole. This is so I'm testing my new Graphics Style on the fly. So I've drawn the shape towards the heel and I've used as little points as I can with the Pen Tool (P). I've added two points for each curved corner.

Step 3

We're going to be working in the Appearance panel today. So go to Window> Appearance panel if you don't have this active or Shift + F6. You'll notice from this panel, you'll be able to manipulate attributes of the Stroke and the Fill. Just as with the Layer panel, you can hide and unhide elements using the eye icon on the left.

By selecting a fill or stroke, go into the drop down menu and you can Duplicate Item. This will duplicate all attributes and effects applied to a fill or stroke. From this menu, you can also Add New Fill and Add New Stroke. You may notice you can do this also from using the first two buttons on the bottom left of the Appearance panel. These three commands we'll use most in this tutorial.

What we are going to start with is two fills and no stroke. The lower shade of grey is C=0, M=0, Y=0, K=80 and the pink is C=0, M=95, Y=20, K=0.

Step 4

One of my favorite Effects when using the Appearance panel Offset Path. From this you can increase or decrease the boundaries of the stroke or the size of the fill. If you use a positive value, it will increase the size and if you use a negative value, it will decrease it. So highlight the pink fill and go to Effects> Path> Offset Path or click on the FX button along the bottom of the Appearance panel. I'm going to shrink the pink fill, so I'm going to input the value "-15pt" and then click on Ok.

With this in mind, I'm going to add the following New Fills to create a band effect around the shape:

  • C=0, M=95, Y=20, K=0 Offset to -20pt
  • C=0, M=0, Y=0, K=95 Offset to -17pt
  • C=0, M=0, Y=0, K=90 Offset to -13pt
  • C=0, M=0, Y=0, K=80 Offset to -3pt
  • C=0, M=0, Y=0, K=95 The original fill without Offset Path applied

Between the -3pt and -13pt Offset Paths will be the thickest band. This is because of the leap in values.

Step 5

So we've played with offsetting fills, now to try with a stroke. I'm going to Offset Path a stroke at -8.5pt. I've used a bright color and ticked Preview to show me where the stroke will be. I've wanted it in the middle of the thickest band I've created with the Offset Paths.

Step 6

I'm going to use an Art Brush which is created by using Blends along the the 8.5pt Offset stroke. You can make it from checking out my jellyfish tutorial. I've given it a medium grey stroke color (C=0, M=0, Y=0, K=50) and a 0.75pt Stroke Weight.

You may notice that some corners, the blend brush has not connected seamlessly. I've modified the corners by altering the handle bars on the corners points using the Direct Selection Tool (A).

Step 7

I've moved the blend brush stroke on top of the thickest band and then added a 2pt Stroke on top of all the fills with a stroke color of C=0, M=0, Y=0, K=95. A default stroke will have the width center aligned along the stroke. So half of the width will be outside aligned and half of the width will be inside aligned on the stroke. This means with a 2pt stroke weight, our shape has increased by 1pt.

Step 8

I want to add a texture to the thickest band. If you're like me, you can get confused to which of the many elements in the Appearance panel you're wanting to add to. So first for testing purposes I alter the fills in the Appearance panel to find out which fill is the thickest with a contrasting color. So in this case, a bright yellow fill!

Now that I'm satisfied I've found the right fill, I'm going to Duplicate Item and then apply my texture. This can be found by going into the Swatch panel's drill down menu, then Open Swatch Library> Patterns> Basic Graphics> Basic Graphics_Textures and I've selected "USGS 7 Vineyard". I've then set this to Blending Mode Multiply and Opacity 50%.

I've then returned the yellow to it's original fill color and then set to blend brush stroke to Blending Mode Screen, Opacity 60%.

Step 9

I'm going to apply another pattern to this. So highlight the pink fill and go to Duplicate Item. Go to Open Swatch Library> Patterns> Decorative> Decorative_Geometric 2> Stars 3D Color. I've then changed the Blending Mode to Multiply and Opacity to 50%.

Step 10

I want to create a subtle 3D effect to the pink patterned area. So I'm going to Duplicate Item and alter the Offset Path to -23pt.

I've then applied a cyan to cyan transparent linear gradient at a 135 angle, set to Blending Mode Color Dodge, Opacity 60% to give that subtle shine as shown below.

I've then duplicated the fill of the Offset Path -3pt fill and applied a dark grey transparent linear gradient set to Blending Mode Multiply, Opacity 100%. This will give a slight shadow.

Step 11

I want to soften the edges of the shine, so I'm going to add an Offset Path -23pt stroke (not fill) around the shine. It's going to have a yellow stroke color, 0.5pt Stroke Weight and set to Blending Mode Overlay and Opacity 50%.

Step 12

To save the style you've created, go into the Graphic Styles panel and click on New Graphic Style. Double click on the icon in the Graphic Styles panel to rename it to "Shoe Sole 1" and click on Ok. Then with the Pen Tool (P) draw the rest of the shapes for the shoe sole and then Select All (Ctrl + A) and then click on the icon for "Shoe Sole 1" to apply the Graphic Styles.

Step 13

I've now Grouped (Ctrl + G) our first set of shapes and locked them so we don't affect them. Now I'm going to use the Pen Tool (P) to draw the shapes on the right of the sole and apply the "Shoe Sole 1" Graphic Style.

I'm going to use our first Graphic Style as a template for our next. So first take advantage of the hide/unhide function to find out which attributes we don't need in the "Shoe Sole 1" Graphic Style. Then select them and Delete Selected Item. With the remaining attributes, I've created a New Graphic Style and renamed it "Shoe Sole 2". I can then use this as a base for the next two Graphic Styles.

Step 14

On the original reference image, there is a wavy pattern in the shapes to the right. I'm going to create a pattern pretty similar to this to add to our Appearance panel. First draw a vertical line using the Line Segment Tool (\). Then go to Effects> Transform & Distort> Zig-Zag and use the below settings.

Step 15

While your wave is selected, go to Object> Expand and it will expand the Zig Zag Effect to a single waved line. Then in the Appearance panel you'll want to give it a 5pt light grey stroke (C=0, M=0, Y=0, K=40) and then a New Stroke with a dark grey 2pt stroke (C=0, M=0, Y=0, K=90).

Then use the same attributes with the Line Segment Tool (\) and draw strokes behind the wave. Aim for the center of each wave peak and trough, if you've got Smart Guides (Shift + U) enabled it will make it easier. Then draw a line between the peak and trough lines.

Step 16

I've added lines to the top and bottom of our wave pattern and then I've put a Rectangle (M) behind the lines with the same dark grey fill (C=0, M=0, Y=0, K=90). Again use Smart Guides (Shift + U) to help you line this up. You'll notice that the lines you've created on the top and bottom of the pattern will overlap the Rectangle (M). Again, this is because strokes are aligned along the center of the path, therefore half of the stroke weight will be on either side of the line.

We're going to be overlapping the edges again, this time with the Ellipse Tool (L) to create circles in every trough.

Step 17

Duplicate the rectangle and then Group all the elements for your pattern (Ctrl + G), leaving your duplicated rectangle above the group. Use this to then create a Clipping Mask (Ctrl + 7).

Duplicate the Clipping Mask group and Align them vertically as shown below. Group them together (Ctrl + G) and then drag and drop them into the Swatch panel to create a pattern.

Step 18

I've selected the fill with the transparent linear gradient and then Duplicated Item. I've then used our wave/line pattern as the fill and set it to Blending Mode Screen, Opacity 50%.

Step 19

I feel the pattern is too large, so I've selected all the shapes for the right of the sole (Ctrl + A) and then highlighted the fill with the pattern on in the Appearance panel. Then go to Object> Transform> Scale and make sure the only box which is ticked is "Patterns". This will then scale only the pattern and in this case, reducing the pattern to 75% of it's original scale. Then click on Ok.

Go into the Graphic Styles panel and make the attributes in the Appearance panel a New Graphic Style and rename it "Shoe Sole 3".

Step 20

Although I'm happy with the current Graphic Style, I want to rotate the pattern slightly for each one of the shapes. So again with the pattern fill selected for one of the shapes, go to Object> Transform> Rotate. Make sure that just the "Pattern" box is ticked, enter your value and click on Ok.

I've done this for each one of the shape individually with the below values. Once done, I've Grouped all the shapes (Ctrl + G) and locked them.

Step 21

I've drawn a new shape, below the two groups and applied the "Shoe Sole 2" Graphic Style. I've then duplicated the -3pt Offset Path fill and changed the value to -5pt. I've then changed the fill to a lighter grey (C=0, M=0, Y=0, K=60). Then go to Effects> Stylise> Scribble and apply the below settings. Once done, change the Blending Mode to Multiply.

I've used exactly the same attributes to create a shape for the toe and an Ellipse (L) on the bridge of the sole, however I've hidden the Opacity element for the Scribble Effect fill. If you hide the Opacity element in the Appearance panel, it reverts that individual fill or stroke to Blending Mode Normal, Opacity 100%. Once done, add New Graphic Style and rename it "Shoe Sole 4".

Step 22

Use the Pen Tool (P) to draw a shape for the overall foot and apply the "Shoe Sole 2" Graphic Style to it.

As we've done previously, I've modified the attributes. From the bottom upwards:

  • The original fill, I've changed to a medium grey (C=0, M=0, Y=0, K=50).
  • The -3pt Offset Path I've changed the value to -2pt and then changed the fill color to an off white (C=0, M=0, Y=0, K=5).
  • The fill with the "USGS 7 Vineyard", I've changed the Offset Path value to -5pt and then the Blending Mode to Multiply and Opacity 5%.
  • The top fill has now been changed from a linear gradient to a radial gradient with an Offset path of -3pt. It's also set to Blending Mode Multiply, Opacity 50%. Use the Gradient Tool (G) to alter the dimensions of the gradient.

Once done, add New Graphic Style and rename it "White Sole".

Step 23

I've used the "White Sole" Graphic Style to add extra shapes drawn with the Pen Tool on the heel and the arch of the foot. However I've went into the Appearance panel and modified the fill with the gradient with the Gradient Tool (G) as shown below.

Step 24

Now we have our basic shoe sole, Group up all your shapes (Ctrl + G). Then duplicate the group and move it to the right. Use the Align panel to Vertical Align Top.

As we don't have two left feet, despite what my partner will lead me to believe, select the group on the right and go to Object> Transform> Reflect and reflect on the Vertical Axis. Click on Ok.

Step 25

As you've reflected the shoe, it's also reflected the direction of the highlighting and shading gradients. Check out the direction of the highlight of the pink as shown below.

You're going to need to go into each of the groups to change the direction of the gradients, either by using "Reverse Gradient" in the Gradient panel...

Or by changing the value of the angle of the gradient.


I've finished my shoe sole illustration by giving it a background with the "White Sole" Graphic Style and deleting the fill which contains the gradient. It brings it together well don't you think?

I hope you've enjoyed today's sporting tutorial and learnt how precise and speedy the use of the Appearance panel can be. I know once I learnt how to use it, it certainly streamlined my workflow!

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