Digging into Illustrator's Graphics Styles

Users of page layout applications like QuarkXPress and Adobe InDesign who frequently work with long documents are all too familiar with style sheets: saved text attributes, such as font, size, color, kerning, leading, justification and more, that get automatically applied to blocks of content. They’re an incredible time-saver and make for a consistent document appearance.

The usefulness of style sheets doesn’t stop with text though. Adobe Illustrator also offers a style sheet feature called Graphic Styles. You use Graphic Styles much the same way you do text-based style sheets except that you can apply Graphic Styles to any object in Illustrator.

Setting up a custom Graphic Style is simple. Select an object and style it in any way you wish, such as adding a stroke, specific fill color, add a drop shadow or scribble effect, or numerous other customizations. Use your Appearance palette (Shift + F6) to tweak the styles to get them just the way you want them.

Once you have your object styled to your liking, visit your Graphic Styles palette (Shift + F5) and click the New Graphic Style icon at the bottom of the palette. You will see a rough preview of your “style” appear in the palette next to the default style icons. Once that style icon is there, you can apply this style to any object you draw or have already drawn simply by selecting the object and clicking the style icon from the palette.

Illustrator's Graphic Styles

Now you may be thinking that this is handy, but “my Illustrator files are fairly simple in nature and it’s easy to apply each style to the objects I wish.” That may be true, but let’s say you have many Illustrator files and you need to apply the same style to just a few objects in each one of those files. You could apply them manually. But there’s an easier way.

Once you’ve created a style in an Illustrator document, you can use that style in any other Illustrator document by one of two easy methods.

The first method is to go to the Graphic Styles palette flyout menu and select Save Graphic Style Library and give the file an applicable name such as “red border - drop shadow.ai” and save it in an easy to find location. Then on future documents, you can simply visit the Graphic Styles palette flyout menu again and select Open Graphic Style Library - > Other Library and select that saved style. A new Graphic Styles Palette will open containing any styles you saved earlier.

The second method doesn’t require you to save a style document, rather it relies on you having an existing document containing the style you wish to use already on your hard drive. Make a trip to the Graphic Styles palette flyout menu and select Open Graphic Style - > Other Library and select that already existing Illustrator file—any styles used in that document will be loaded into a new Graphic Styles palette in the same way as the first method.

Obviously, if you apply the same style or styles to objects in many documents, it will be much easier to save a dedicated style document. But either way you do it, Illustrator’s Graphic Styles feature can be a real time-saver.

[James Dempsey runs the Creative Guy blog, which offers tips, tricks and opinion on a variety of design topics.]

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