Recently, I've been going over some Lynda tutorials for Adobe Illustrator and there are several sections where the presenter uses the appearance panel to modify the shape and stroke (and add additional shapes and strokes) and create various effects on the objects (or type) by utilizing the distort & transform effects. The results were either a sort of a 3D effect, creating copies of strokes to create a complex network of strokes or simply offsetting the original shape.

These results could easily be recreated by copy/pasting and using the pathfinder/shape builder options, so what I was wondering was: is there a difference between these two methods and should I prefer one over the other? As far as I can see, the only difference is economy of layer space (the layer's panel doesn't get too crowded, which, of course, you could easily avoid by properly grouping the objects).

Aside from this, I would appreciate if someone could elaborate what are the other reasons, if any, for using the appearance panel.

I did a short search here for this question but couldn't find anything relevant. Please excuse me if this has already been answered.

1 Answer 1


The effect is live. That is it will recreate itself whenever you make a change to the underlying object. Some of the things can simply not be done in any meaningful way with other methods, such as drop shadows.

The benefits are:

  • Less objects, less data to upkeep. More efficient workflows.
  • Easy to replicate, you can save the style stack for reuse.
  • Some especially the pixel based effects can not be easily replicated in other ways.
  • You can apply effects to groups and layers.
  • you can use effects to recolor symbols for automated color variations.

But yes for obvious reasons there is nothing that stops you from doing most of these things, same goes to most tools, manually. I mean you can make an ellipse with the pen tool too, but mostly we find that its a waste of time.

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