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In all aspects of graphic design, the purpose is to communicate a message to your audience. This means that we have to call attention to our text by adding different effects to our typefaces. Some designers add glow effects, some, add drop shadows, but another important method in calling attention to our text is to add a stroke around our typeface. Of course, this is mainly meant for headers and display type, such as a title or large text. You don’t want to add a stroke around a long body of text, because it will be hard to read.

Adding a stroke to anything inside of Illustrator is fairly straightforward and simple. For example: select the Rectangle Tool using your Color Panel, select a fill and stroke color for your rectangle. To control your stroke’s size and to access more options, open up the Stroke panel. There, you can control how your stroke is aligned, its miter limit for the corners, you can make it solid or dashed, add arrows, and alter the stroke profile, making it variable width. Adding a variable width stroke can make your work look more organic and natural, while still being more controlled than freehand.

This panel will allow you to decide whether your stroke is on the outside, the inside, or whether it is aligned in the middle, which means the middle of the stroke follows the contour of the path. With these three options, your stroke is always over the top of the object or text. With text, the inside and outside options are not available, so you have to rely on less obvious methods to adding a stroke around your text.

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For text though, you have to consider how the stroke interacts with the text. For text, it is recommended that you use the Appearance Panel. In the text below, notice how the stroke creeps in on the lettering, destroying the integrity of the bold typeface.

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It would be even worse if we had chosen a sans serif or thin typeface:

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This causes some legibility issues with our typefaces. The way to fix this is to open up the Appearance Panel. As shown in the image below, the Appearance Panel looks similar to the Layers Panel, where the fill and stroke and on different layers. In the case of our type, the fill is on the bottom and the stroke goes over the typeface. This is actually the default setup for Illustrator, so when you create an object or text, the fill will be on the bottom and the stroke will be on top visually. This is where the root of our problem is. Essentially the stroke is covering up part of the structure of our typeface, distorting its look and lessening its impact.

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To fix this, make sure that your text is selected, and just like you would in the layers panel, click the layer with the stroke and drag it under the fill layer. This way, the stroke gets larger or smaller as you adjust it, but your typeface stays in tact. You can notice the difference in the example below:

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There are many different benefits to using the Appearance Panel to control your stroke and fill settings. The first one is that you can add multiple strokes to the same typeface directly inside the Appearance panel. You can click the flyout menu and choose “add New Stroke” or you can click the second icon from the right at the bottom of the Appearance panel, which duplicates the selected layer. Just make sure that you have the stroke layer selected. Then, click and drag the new stroke layer to the bottom and increase the stroke size. It needs to be larger than your original stroke layer, so that it comes out from behind the original stroke layer.

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You should get results similar to the example below:

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The great part is that, depending on the look you are going for, you can do this as many times as you’d like. The effects are always live, and you can always go back, change them, rearrange them, delete the ones you don’t want and anything else you would like, and you don’t have to worry about starting all over again.

Another reason that you would want to use the appearance panel is that you can control the opacity of your fill and stroke color, but you can also control the overall opacity of the entire object, which includes the fill and the stroke combined. This allows you to fine tune your artwork or text to get the results you want. You can actually control all three separately, so you have complete control of each and every detail of your work.

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Any effects that you do are also shown in the Appearance Panel. This means that if you add a drop shadow to your text, you can find the effect in the Appearance panel, click on it, and edit it as many times as you want. Being able to go back and change your settings as many times as you want gives you unlimited flexibility, and saves you from having to start all over again with your artwork.

Another useful aspect of using the Appearance Panel is the Clear Appearance feature. Sometimes in our exploration, we get carried away, and it is nice to have a button that instantly brings you back to a clean slate. Sometimes it is best to start from scratch in order to get back on track, and the Clear appearance button, which is third from the right at the bottom of the appearance panel, helps you to do that.