In this tutorial we will take an in-depth look on Illustrator’s Appearance panel. With it, we’ll create an amazing effect that you can apply to any type text, while preserving the text’s editability.
As result, you’ll master the Appearance panel’s features to the extent where you can build your own styles.
Difficulty: I’ve heard about the Appearance panel
Completion time: No longer than a movie
Tools: Illustrator CS3 or newer
- Abraham Lincoln font http://www.losttype.com/font/?name=Abraham%20Lincoln
Final Image Preview
Inspiration. Well, how would you know how a print block looks like if you don’t see one, right? I’m sure you don’t have one laying around, so look for a photo of it on the internet.
Break it down. Every shape, in its core, is defined by a really simple shape, such as a circle, or a rectangle. The rest are just details around it. With this in mind, we can build a draft and start from it. Nothing fancy, just the shapes with some base colors.
If we’re to break this draft into pieces, we’ll be left with just this:
- Base Letter
- Metal block
- Block extrusion
Adapt to needs. What the effect must do is to preserve the text’s editability. So we need to find a way to put those shapes from STEP 2. The Appearance panel provides these features, now we must find the formula for it.
Build a foundation. We know what we want from the result, now we have to find a way of how to do it.
First, grab the Type Tool (T), click on the canvas and write one letter, preferably capital.
Building the basics. Open the Appearance panel (Window > Appearance). Now click the “Add New Fill” button. You’ll now see two new additions: a fill and a stroke with no color. It’s similar to the Layers panel, but the difference is that you can only have a single shape on each and it’s bound to the shape applied to. In this case, the shape is the type text.
Let’s try using a “Move” effect on one of the fills!
Gradually building the structure. Add another fill and place it below the others. This will be the metal block, so we need that fill to be a rounded rectangle. But how should we transform it into a rounded rectangle, all within the appearance?
Well, the “Convert to Shape” effect is what we need here.
Add a new fill and make it orange, like in the main sketch.
Up next, we need the extrusion. Since it’s the same “rounded rectangle” effect, we can duplicate, change its color and use the “move” effect on it.
Let’s see how it will look.
Adjusting the color palette. Now we have to set in some colors for each surface. Since the blocks are made of steel, we’ll go with a dark gray as base color.
Furthermore, change the other colors, as well – the purple will be a gray darker than the one above it, green will be a light gray and magenta will be a midtone, but darker than the one below it.
Some basic shading. The Appearance panel is generous enough to provide us with some raster effects. This time, we’ll use “Drop Shadow”.
You’re probably thinking “Hey, this isn’t 100% vector anymore!”. True. But that doesn’t mean the effect isn’t scalable. It still preserves the scalability feature.
Let’s start with the biggest element – the metal block. We need a shadow under it, so we’ll need something to act like a mask, so the shadow doesn’t go over the letter, or have the same shape as the letter.
Instead, we’ll apply the effect on a lower Fill, one that has the “Rounded rectangle” effect on it. This way, we’ll have a rectangular shape and the Fill will act as a mask.
If you want to edit this later, you don’t have to delete the fill and apply the effects again. Simply click the blue text, it will pop the settings window for each effect.
More shading. That embossed letter will also drop a small shadow, let’s see how we can add that, as well.
This time, we need the letter-shaped Drop Shadow effect, but we also need the shadow to be above the emboss. Thus, we’ll apply it on the layer above it – the light gray one.
So far, the Appearance panel will look like this:
Texture. So. It’s metal, and it’s used, with all sort of dents and scratches, right? Let’s see if we can come up with something for it!
Pro tip: default patterns may not seem much, but if we edit them a bit, it will provide us with some really cool textures. After some search, I found the “Elephant” pattern under the “Animal Skins” category.
From the newly open palette, click-drag the pattern onto the canvas, so we can edit it.
We only need the scratches, so we can get rid of the shape inside. But do not delete them, just remove their fills. Use the Direct Selection Tool (A) to select each shape, then hit / to remove the fill.
Matching colors for the texture. Using the Selection Tool (V), overlap the texture, over our letter. As you can see, it has a slight brown tint and the lines are too thick to pass as scratches.
We’ll need to scale it down and recolor it to gray.
Now, the coloring part is a bit tricky. It needs to be visible on both light gray AND dark gray surfaces. But do not panic, we can use opacity!
With the Selection Tool (V), double-click the texture to enter group edit, grab the Magic Wand Tool (Y), click one of the lines and change the color to a light gray.
Now another problem has come up: the texture is too dense! There is no way a print block to have so many scratches.Solution? We’ll delete some lines, of course. Pretty obvious, huh?
Applying the texture. Okay, it looks nice, now it also has to be functional. To make it back a pattern, click-drag it into the Swatches palette.
Let’s apply this pattern to our design, starting with the metal block. Let’s see…
We’ll need a new Fill to apply the pattern on…
… a fill that has the same shape and size as the block.
Thus, we can duplicate that Fill and just apply the pattern to it.
But, as we said before, we have to reduce its opacity.
Next, the block’s extrusion. Duplicate it and apply the pattern to that Fill. As you’ll see soon, the “Drop Shadow” is now too intense. That’s because there’s another effect overlapping the original. We’ll have to remove the second one.
Don’t forget about the Fill’s opacity!
For the letter’s texture, set its transparency to “Overlay” and opacity to 60%.
Fine touches. We’re almost ready, now we just need a few more touches. Let’s see… metal block, it means there will be some highlights.
Perhaps, now the block should be slightly darker, and the scratches on the letter, more intense?
A small shadow for the block’s extrusion? Gradient on Multiply!
Some slight increase in the contrast for the gradient above…
.. and done!
Now we need to save this as a graphic style.
Saving the graphic style. Toggle the Graphic Styles panel (Window > Graphic Styles).
With the letter selected, click the “New” icon in the panel.
Saving it as a library. From the same panel, open the menu shown below.
Now it will be available from the same menu, under the “User defined…” option.
Now you can even rotate letters, use different fonts, add a background and it will come out something like this…
Now that we can see it in a final form, we can determine any flaws it may have.
The most obvious would be the scratches, they stand out too much. That, and also the flat look of the block. There are no tone variations across it.
Change the texture’s opacity from 20 to 8% for the block and from 5 to 2% for the block’s extrusion.
Let’s also add some local spot variations to the block!
Remember the elephant skin texture? Delete everything else but those random shapes, them make it a pattern again. Apply it on the print block, then set its opacity to 15%. Save the graphic style again and apply it to the other letters.
So much better!
Note: To scale all the effects, double-click the Scale Tool and check all the boxes, then hit OK.