The Appearance Panel in Illustrator is the place to go to view and edit the appearance attributes of elements within your document.

appearance panel in illustrator

You’ll see a list of all the styling applied to any selected item, everything from fill and stroke attributes through to effect settings, all of which can be accessed and edited directly from the Appearance Panel.

From here we can also add additional fills, strokes and effects using the 3 icons at the bottom left of the panel and arrange them as we would in the Layers Panel by dragging up or down. The visual hierarchy works the same as the layer panel – the topmost elements are in front, the lowest are at the back.

However, the power of the Appearance Panel goes beyond individual elements. Appearance attributes can be applied to multiple items, grouped items or even whole layers!

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separate elements with appearance applied

In the example above I have 2 separate elements with different appearance attributes applied to each and if we select both items and look at the Appearance Panel we can see it says Mixed Appearance. However, Stroke and Opacity settings are still editable and I can even add a new effect which will be added to the existing appearance attributes of each item.

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But the fun doesn’t stop there! If we group the 2 elements we now have full control of the Appearance Panel. Notice we also now have a Contents ‘layer’ – appearance attributes can now be place above or below the contents of the group.

contents layer in illustrator appearance panel

In the example below I’ve added a 10pt black stroke to the group and placed this behind the contents. Notice how this stroke maps the outline of the combination of both shape. Without the Appearance Panel this effect could only be reproduced by copying and combining both elements into a third shape and assigning the stroke to this additional element.

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As a final party-piece we can also use the Appearance Panel to assign styling to whole layers.

Deselect any items in the document. Now target the appearance of the layer by clicking the small circle to the right of the layer name in the Layers Panel – when selected this will have a double outline.

Assigning appearance attributes globally in illustrator

In the Appearance Panel it should now say ‘Layer’ at the top and, as with groups, there will now be a Contents ‘layer’.

Assigning appearance attributes globally to whole layers can be useful when you want elements to share a common effect. If you wanted all text on a layer to have the same Drop Shadow for example. This is also than easier to edit and/or remove globally later on.

Experiment with assiging Appearance attributes to groups and layers – whilst you might sometimes get a little tied up in knots you will also discover some great effects and some real time-saving combinations. But most of all, enjoy it!

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