Create and Use Graphic Types in Illustrator

Graphic styles can preserve your creative hard work and save you time and effort. After you’ve carefully created vector graphics with just the right fills, strokes, and effects, you can save their appearance as a graphic style and then apply that exact look to new graphics with one click. You can also explore and use styles in other Illustrator files and from the many presets included with the application. Let’s get started right away and learn how to use this great feature.

Figure 1 – The stamped ink graphic style applied to this text has 10 different appearance attributes.

Starting point – the graphic styles panel

Choose Window> Graphic Styles or press Shift + F5 to display the control panel. A graphic styles icon is also available on the right side of the Essentials Classic workspace, grouped with the Appearance panel. I prefer to tear it down and make it a floating panel.

Figure 2 – The Graphic Styles panel grouped with others in the Essentials Classic workspace

Now draw a shape and click one of the style’s thumbnails in the panel: this will instantly change the look of your shape. But the real fun is creating your own graphic styles, so let’s do that next.

More after the jump! Read on below ↓
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Create works of art with multiple appearance attributes

I often work with text that needs to be styled in a certain way to grab attention. To do this, type in a word, choose a font, then use the direct selection tool to select the text, and you can start applying display attributes. Start by applying whatever fill and outline you want. Next, display the Appearance panel by selecting Window> Appearance or press Shift + F6 on your keyboard. Notice that the keyboard shortcuts for appearance and graphic styles are next to each other? It’s not a coincidence.

In the Appearance panel, you can apply additional strokes (including Brush strokes), Fills and effects. You can learn more about using the Appearance panel in my previous article. How to make woodcut style lettering in Illustrator.

Figure 3 – The Appearance Attributes of Metal Silver Style Text

When your picture is ready, select it, drag it to the Graphic Styles panel, or click the + button at the bottom of the panel. You can also click the panel menu and choose New Graphic Style.

Illustrator Graphic Styles panel menu

Figure 4 – Graphic Styles panel menu

This will create a thumbnail of your graphic style. When you drag artwork in thumbnail view onto the panel, Illustrator gives it a default name. Choose Small List View or Large List View from the panel menu to view and double-click style names to edit.

Deselect everything on your artboard by selecting Select> Deselect (Shift + Command / Ctrl + A) then type D on your keyboard to revert to Illustrator’s default fill and stroke. Draw a new shape or enter new text and click the thumbnail of your new graphic style to instantly transform the artwork.

When you apply a graphic style to editable text, the original font color is retained by default. To override this with the style’s main fill color, choose Override Character Color from the panel menu and reapply the style.

Editing graphic styles

To edit graphic styles, first apply a graphic style to an object. Edit any of the fills, strokes, or other appearance attributes of the artwork – you can easily do this in the Appearance panel. Now hold down the Option / Alt key while you drag the graphic into the Graphic Styles panel, over the thumbnail of the style you want to edit. This will update this style with the new attributes. Any artwork that the style has already been applied to is updated instantly.

To prevent style overrides, you can select your graphic and choose Unlink Graphic Style from the panel menu.

More ways to apply styles

With no graphic selected, drag one of the graphic style thumbnails from the control panel onto your artboard and hover over an object until a green + appears next to your cursor. The style is applied when you release the mouse.

Red dashed line showing the path from the graphic style menu to the shape

Figure 5 – Drag and drop graphic style

You can also merge two styles. With stylized artwork selected, press Option / Alt and click another thumbnail to add the attributes of that graphic style to the existing one. The appearance window now shows all attributes of both styles. To merge styles without affecting the graphic, press Command / Ctrl, click two or more style thumbnails, and choose Merge Graphic Styles from the panel menu.

Loading and saving graphic styles

Explore Illustrator’s many styles by selecting Open Graphic Style Library from the panel menu or by using the library icon in the lower left corner. Explore styles in other files by selecting Open Graphics Style Library> Other Library and selecting any Illustrator document. When you apply a style from a library to your artwork, it is loaded into your document and from then on it appears in the Graphics Styles panel.

To save the styles you created for easy reuse, select Save Graphic Style Library and you will be presented with a save dialog box. Graphic style libraries are saved as normal – but empty – Illustrator files.