In this article, design, trainer and all-round Illustrator expert Monika Gause delves into live Effects and the Appearance Panel. To demonstrate these functions within native Illustrator, Monika created this intricate editable text example artwork. Intentionally, this article does not require any plug-ins to follow it – you can do this in any of the latest versions of Illustrator. But if you want to create and control live Effects quicker, more intuitively and interactively, take a look at Stylism which is available as a full 14 day free trial.

Setting out the text

I created this Stylism example artwork based on a theme of classic circus posters. Like many of my designs it started with a question in a user forum on how to build this kind of typographic treatment. And yes – this artwork is fully editable text with a series of live Effects carefully applied!

I admit that i got carried away. Maybe even a little far away. Why should one create an appearance stack like this? Nerd answer: because you can. The nerdy answer is perfectly valid when you do this as a hobby. Like opening a bottle of beer with an excavator.

But what if you need to feed a husband and kids with your work? Or just a cat? You want to get done and move on to the next job. Even in this case these techniques are useful. Quite useful indeed.

Typographic treatments like borders, shadows and the like affect the distance between glyphs, so you might want to be able to easily move the letters whilst seeing the effect and judge everything based upon it.

With some clients you might want to be able to change everything until 5 minutes before going to press… we all know these clients.

The basis of all this is creating additional strokes and fills in the Appearance Panel.

So what can you do with it and what's so great about it? Let's suppose you actually have to do a design like this. You would start with a sketch and then decide on how exactly you want it to look. Then you start with the typesetting, apply the font and size and use the Touch Type Tool (Illustrator CC onwards) to move the letters around. This tools helps a lot at this stage, because it makes the manipulation easier without having to experiment with numerical values in the Character Panel.

You can also convert type to paths and still go on with this workflow.

Layering on the Effects

If you want the letters to have a stroke running around them, you'll want to apply it before moving them around with the touch type tool. In this example I created the stroke by applying a new fill to the letters in the Appearance Panel and using Effect > Path > Offset path on it.

Next, create the "shield" behind the type. Apply an additional fill using the Appearance Panel. Then apply Effect > Path > Offset Path. Applying all this via the Appearance Panel and effects gives you the opportunity to fine tune everything. You can adjust the offset so that it fits all and you can adjust the letters if necessary where the offset doesn't work or where the distance between letters doesn't fit with the "shield".

The shield has a stroke around it. You can create a new stroke in the Appearance Panel and make a copy of the effect you just created by moving it from the fill to the stroke with Alt-key pressed – this would also work if there were more than just one.

Make it a thick stroke in the Strokes Panel. Now we need the stroke to form one single shape. For this apply Effect > Pathfinder > Add.

I wanted the stroke a little closer to the letters. My first idea would be to have a little less offset in the Offset Path effect. Let's see if that works:

Not quite. We have to trick Illustrator. Instead of editing the existing Offset Path effect, we leave it alone and add a second offset path where we inset the path. For this to work we have to watch the order of the effects. In the Appearance Panel effects inside each fill or stroke are executed from top to bottom. Take care that the order of fills and strokes represents their stacking order.

Then you need the lights. We create them as dots in order to find out what looks best. Make a copy of the stroke you just created. To get the circles you now need to make it a little thinner. Then dash it using a stroke length of 0 and a dash length of whatever you like (the dash length represents the gap between the dots).

Because we have tricked Illustrator with the two offset path effects we need to "preserve exact dash and gap lengths". Adjusting them to the corners just doesn't work with two offset path effects.

Final experiments

With this approach, you ensure maximum flexibility. You can still adjust the font or text size. You can adjust the position or rotation of letters and the settings of the shield. And you can adjust the lightbulbs.

Creating this artwork in this manner may not make sense workflow-wise, because it might look better if you create those lightbulbs "conventionally" allowing for more options and realism. Instead, you should just practice using the Appearance Panel – it will help you stay flexible and experiment. Ultimately, you also need to know when it's better to expand appearance and continue using other methods…

Download the artwork

Click here to download Stylism which contains the original Illustrator example artwork by Monika Gause

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I didn't know Illustrator could do that!

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